I was recently at one of those end of summer shindigs that was well attended by family friends and long-time acquaintances. While eating cheap hamburgers off of even cheaper paper plates, I became the target of a barrage of questions by the parents of old friends. As they often are, they were curious as to how I had been. At first, I talked about many of the positive things in my life. “Yup, still in college, Mrs. Schulte.” “Oh yes, I have a significant other, Mrs. Brentano.” “Yes, Mr. Joyce, my school schedule sure is hectic but I think I’ll survive.” I am, after all, doing well. But then I was thrown a curveball. “Say, Alex, where are you living these days?” I was asked. I began to wilt. Sweat formed on my forehead, as a golf ball magically appeared in my throat. Like a criminal coughing up the truth, I responded, “I’m living at home.”
With a seemingly benign question, a humiliating sense of failure seeps into my being. The phrase, “When I was your age…!” comes to mind and I become very aware of the prevalent expectation among older generations to be independent by your early 20s. School is expensive just in terms of books and materials alone, rent costs more than I can reasonably make by working part-time throughout the year, and the general cost of living away from home is more than I or my folks are willing to shell. And the situation after graduation appears similarly tough even with a decent entry-level job, which is no-longer guaranteed.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Many of my friends, regardless of their educational enrollment, are living at home. Yet they are the opposite of the stereotypical young slacker, as every young acquaintance of mine either works full time or attends college.
After feeling a contradiction in expectations and realities, I decided to do a little research. I’ve come to realize this contradiction may be the direct cause of both rapidly changing economic and social factors. According to an article released by the Pew Research Center in 2014, the most prevelant living arrangement for young adults (ages 18 to 34) is with their parents. Mind you, this is the first time in 130 years young adults are more likely to be residing with their parents. The article goes on to blame what it calls the “Great Recession (and modest recovery),” stating that living at home has provided a mean for which young adults can “weather the economic storm.”
A more recent report by the United States Census Bureau shows that this demographic shift is relatively recent. In 2005, most young adults were living on their own. After the recession and just 10 years later that changed, with 1 out of 3, or 24 million young adults living with their folks. The report shows that this is in contrast with earlier statistics which maintains that over 45 percent of those between the ages of 25 and 34 in 1975 were homeowners, with both marriages and full-time careers.
So demographics have changed. That much is obvious. Looking at my parents for instance, they were both married homeowners with a child on the way by the young age of 24. But what is more subtle is that this change has occurred faster than the societal norms surrounding what it means to be an adult has. The Census Bureau further reports that when surveyed, the most recurring answer for what age someone should be financially independent is just 21. Most prevalent, individuals thought that young adults should be able to maintain a full-time job by the age of 22. However, as the report was able to show, only around half of young adults finish schooling by age 22 and only 37 percent of 22-year-olds are fully employed.
So I believe that young adults who are distressed by living at him is the direct cause of a contemporary situation that in no way reflects the realities of our parents. What was for them easily attainable at an earlier age, is not for our economically stressed generation. And so, while I might feel the expectation to be out of my parents house creep up when I’m at an extended family get together or at a town barbecue, the fact of the matter is that I, like many young adults, live and will continue to live at home in order to help achieve both educational and financial goals. From my perspective, my generation has not entirely refrained from ideas of hard work and independence. Nor have we failed to reach maturity. We have only managed to cope with changing realities.
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