Why most young adults choose to live with their parents
Posted June 2, 2016
For the first time in more than 130 years, young adults ages 18 to 34 are more likely to live in their parents' home than in their own household with a spouse or single, according to a new Pew Research Center study.
"This turn of events is fueled primarily by the dramatic drop in the share of young Americans who are choosing to settle down romantically before age 35," the study stated.
Researchers pointed out that the 32.1 percent of young adults living in their parents’ household in 2014, compared to 31.6 percent who were married or cohabiting in their own household, is not the largest percent of young adults to live at home. That happened in 1940, when 40 percent of them lived with their parents. The difference today is it's the first time living with one's parents is the most common arrangement, according to the study.
Besides a romantic relationship, education levels are another strong indicator of whether young adults are living with their parents.
"Living with your parents is most common among less educated young adults," said Richard Fry, a senior economist and an author of the study. "It's highest for those who haven't finished high school. College-educated young adults are the ones who are least likely to be living with mom and dad."
According to the study, among young adults who possess a bachelor's degree, 46 percent were married or living with a partner, while 19 percent were living with their parents. Among young adults who had not completed a bachelor's degree, 27 percent were living with a spouse or partner, while 36 percent were living with their parents. In 2014, 40 percent of those who had failed to complete high school were living with their parents — the highest amount since the 1940 census.
“Since around 1980, the success in the labor market of college-educated young adults has risen, whereas high school educated young adults have sinking fortunes in the U.S. labor market,” Fry said.
The Pew findings correspond with recent research showing the millennial generation is the least likely to be married before they reach 35 years. A new Gallup poll shows that 60 percent of millennials have never married compared to 16 percent for Generations Xers and 10 percent of baby boomers at the same age.
The Pew report reveals some of the reasons why millennials aren't marrying like previous generations, as it connects the factors of marriage, education and employment. Young adult males who are out of work or underemployed because of a lack of education are not as attractive as mates, Fry explained. That means women, who have had rising success in the labor market since the 1960s, are delaying marriage because of the unsuccessful labor market outcomes for men.
The Pew report said that during the Great Recession, 67 percent of young adult men were employed, compared to 84 percent in 1960. Wages for young adult men have steadily declined since the early 1970s, when median annual wages peaked at $27,300. In 2014, the median annual wage was $15,000.
In the same period, the employment rate and wages for young adult women have steadily increased, the report said, but the likelihood of them living with their parents has increased since 2000 because they are not getting married.
Another dynamic at play is that earlier generations made marriage a stepping-stone to achieving their education and career goals. Today's young adult generation sees marriage as a final step, according to Fry.
"Today's young adults are sort of unique, at least in the past 120 to 125 years, where they are waiting until they feel financially and job-wise stable and successful until they're willing to make commitments to a partner," Fry said.
Education and employment
But achieving those education and career goals are more difficult for today's young adults than for previous generations, experts say.
"The two big things are the cost of college and the cost of housing," said Frances Goldscheider, a professor of family science at the University of Maryland.
Tuition for public, four-year universities has increased 75 percent since 1980. The average cost of college for state residents attending public universities is now $9,410 and $23,893 for out-of-state residents. For the 2015-16 school year, the average cost for room and board was $10,138 at four-year, public universities and $11,516 at private universities, according to The College Board.
Fry explained that a lack of education is the main factor why most black and Hispanic young adults, many of whom can't afford such high tuition, are choosing to live with their parents. The Pew study found 36 percent of both black and Hispanic young adults living at home compared with 30 percent of white young adults living at home.
"Generally, young adult blacks and Hispanics lag behind young whites both in terms of educational attainment and employment status," the study reports.
Lacking in education and job prospects, Goldscheider said, young adults conclude they can't afford to get married.
"Two people can live more cheaply than one and can manage through low wages," Goldscheider said. "But that's not how people think these days. They think they have to have a big wedding and that marriage comes last after your career and housing."
Facing the high cost of education and the challenge of finding a job that pays well, living at home can be an attractive alternative, particularly if a young adult's parents are economically stable.
Goldscheider said the parental generation in their 60s to 80s is the most stable with the most wealth in housing, allowing their children to live at home with reasonable privacy. But that may not be the situation for the parental generation in their 40s and 50s, who lost a substantial amount of their housing wealth and savings due to the Great Recession.
According to the study, employed young men are more likely to live on their own than unemployed young men. In 2014, only 29 percent of employed young men were living in their parents' household compared to 48 percent of unemployed young men.
Neil Richards, a 25-year-old recent graduate of Utah State University, living with his parents in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, wants to move out as soon as he is economically able.
With a bachelor's degree in parks and recreation, he plans to find a job in the recreation field. For now, he has a paid internship as a supervisor for Wasatch Teens Adventure Camp, after which he will start searching for a full-time job.
He said living with his parents has helped him save money to prepare for his future plans because he has no obligation to pay rent. Also, most of his friends around the Salt Lake County area are either married or living at home.
"I plan on moving out ASAP," Richards said. "I love my parents, but it is nice to be out of the house and independent."
Megan McNulty is an intern for the Deseret News National Edition. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org