Adult Children at Home: Don’t Blame This

Ben Casselman, 538:

The image of the 20-something still living in his parents’ basement has become a well-worn media trope in recent years. And unlike some commonclaims about millennials, this one is true — today’s young people really are living at home longer. In 1960, according to census data,1 less than one in six 25-year-olds still lived with mom and dad; in 2014, nearly one in three did. (Separate data from the Current Population Survey, which is used in the chart below, suggests that the trend continued in 2015.2) The Pew Research Center this week reported that for the first time in well over a century, more young people are living with their parents than with a spouse or partner.

It’s tempting to blame the trend on the economy. As this chart shows, the share of young people living with their parents was pretty steady in the 1980s and 1990s and then rose rapidly after 2005, right when the economy was turning south. But that makes the continued rise in the number of people living with their parents seem like a bit of a mystery. After all, the economy has improved significantly in recent years: The unemployment rate for Americans ages 18 to 34 was 7.4 percent in 2015, down from 12.7 percent in 2010.

It turns out, though, that the recession wasn’t what led millennials to move back into their old bedrooms (or to not leave in the first place). Rather, long-run shifts in demographics and behavior have been pushing them in that direction for decades. Most importantly, Americans are waiting longer to get married, a trend that long predates the recession. Other long-run trends in education, childbearing and racial diversity (blacks and Hispanics are more likely to live with their parents and are a growing share of the young adult population) have also played an important role. Economist and FiveThirtyEight contributor Jed Kolko recently found that demographic trends explain the entirety of the 20-year increase in the share of young adults living at home.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.