BOOMERANG KIDS. GROWING-UPS. FAILED FLEDGLINGS. Young adults who live with their parents have been called not-so-nice names over the past decade or so. Along with being somewhat derogatory, they don’t provide an accurate picture of this complex and growing social trend. According to a Pew Research Center report from last year, 15 percent of Millennials aged 25 to 35 were living in a household with a parent as of 2016. That percentage is higher than Generation Xers in 2000, late Baby Boomers in 1990 and the Silent Generation in 1964. The report’s author, senior researcher Richard Fry, writes: “Through both recession and recovery, the share of young adults living in their parents’ home continues to rise. Today’s young adults are also more likely to be at home for an extended stay compared with previous generations of young adults who resided with their parents . . . .”
There have been plenty of reports, books and articles written on the subject; different theories point the finger at everything from the recession to immaturity, student debt to laziness. Whichever theory you subscribe to, it would be difficult to dispute the fact that today’s young adults are growing up in a different world, with different economic challenges from the ones their parents and grandparents faced.
While young adults are delaying leaving the parental nest in record numbers, they’re delaying other adult milestones as well, including getting married and buying a house. That trend isn’t likely to change in the near future. Compared to their counterparts, Generation Z (the generation after Millennials) is delaying dating, getting a job and obtaining a driver’s license, and they’re having less sex. Studies suggest that today’s teenagers are maturing at a slower rate, which may not be a bad thing. Researchers at Australia’s Royal Children’s Hospital are even leaning toward expanding the definition of adolescence to include a 20-something.
When teenagers turn 18, they are legally considered to be adults in Western culture. In the past, that usually meant it was time to make your own way in the world. But what if you aren’t ready to leave the nest at 18 or 30? What if continuing to sleep in your childhood bed, secure under your parents’ roof, was viewed as a slow adjustment to adulthood rather than immaturity, laziness or failure? Do today’s young adults need to try out their wings before they leave home?
Different cultures may have already set a more realistic timeline for young adults. Sacramento is an incredibly diverse city, so what is true for the country may not hold true for households here. Yet current American Community Survey data estimates that about 33 percent of young adults 18 to 34 years old lived with their parents in Sacramento County.
For Dr. Ellen Berg, professor of sociology at Sacramento State University, a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of causation may not be enough: “Anecdotally, some of the impacts I see are that while some students benefit financially from living at home, others are contributing some of their earnings to help their families, and some are trying to balance their own work, studies and lives, but are also helping with caring for their younger siblings, or in some circumstances their parents, but that is less common unless the parent is ill.”
It would be a mistake to lump all young adults who live with their parents into a homogeneous group in any case. The Sacramentans I interviewed were employed and/or attending college. They didn’t fit into a tidy narrative. They did offer a look into what it’s like to live with your parents as an adult.
When we talked, Tim Pham was finishing up his third year at Sacramento State. He’ll graduate in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Pham uses the word family a lot. The 21-year-old selfdescribed “family man” doesn’t plan to move out of his parents’ home until he is 30 or so. They are a “really close” family, he says, and he hopes to take over the family’s business in the future.
For now, he works part time with his father and at the Student Affairs Office at Sacramento State. He’s seen students show up in that office, holding three-day eviction notices, needing help. The college has emergency funds and can find a temporary place for them to stay, Pham says, but these are young adults who might not have a familial safety net; they could end up living on the street without additional financial support.
His father takes care of everything financially, but Pham pays for his gas and some food. He’s invested in Apple and Tesla stocks, as well as bitcoin, and he has a Roth IRA and savings accounts. When he was a senior at Inderkum High School in Natomas, Pham recalls, “I wasn’t even thinking about making it into a really good college like [Sacramento State].” How did the family decide what he was going to do after high school? His parents told him, “You’re always welcome [to live with us].” Pham is Chinese-American and says it is traditional to keep family close. “I love being around my parents,” he says, and he sounds like he means it. He has “complete freedom” to come and go, but he’s not much of a party person as he’s focused on school and his future.
What do his friends and peers say about his living situation? They live with their parents, too, so they have no problem with it.
Young men are dealing with less-than-stellar incomes, and they are also more likely to live with their parents than young women. Jonathan Vespa from the U.S. Census Bureau looked at “changes in young adulthood over the last 40 years.” In that 2017 report, he writes: “More young men are falling to the bottom of the income ladder. In 1975, only 25 percent of men, aged 25 to 34, had incomes of less than $30,000 per year. By 2016, that share rose to 41 percent of young men.” More startling, Vespa writes, “Of young people living in their parents’ home, one in four are idle, that is they neither go to school nor work. This figure represents about 2.2 million 25- to 34-year-olds.”
Henry Stroud, age 26, “boomeranged” into his parents’ home in 2016. Stroud attended the University of Southern California, but after six years of living in Los Angeles he was ready to return to Sacramento’s slower pace. He was shocked by how expensive everything had become. A beloved pet presented an additional challenge. For a couple of months, Stroud and his 70-pound pit bull lived rent-free in his parents’ guesthouse.
Short duration is one place where Stroud’s experience differs from the traditional “boomerang” narrative. Pew researcher Fry writes, “Among young adults who moved back in with their parents (implying that they had moved out at least once), the median estimated length of time spent . . . was three years.”
Stroud’s experience doesn’t match the statistics either. When he returned to Sacramento and lived at home, he had his eye on a job as a volunteer and outreach coordinator with nonprofit 916 Ink (which he ended up getting). He plans to attend law school in the future, and that should eventually place him in a higher wage bracket.
“It was fun being closer to my parents,” he says, but he fell back into old behaviors when he lived with them. He became “high school Henry” again, mainly because he didn’t have any adult duties, like shopping, cooking and cleaning. His parents were happy to have him back home, as both he and his brother had been out of the house for a while. It was the first concerted time he had spent with his parents since starting college, so the relationship felt different—more adult—despite some regressive high school behavior.
He has since moved into a shared house with roommates, but he plans to move back home before he attends law school to save money. The finite length of both stays has helped him feel positive about the experience. He has friends who have moved back in with their parents long term, but Stroud says there’s social stigma attached to how long you end up staying.
The stigma of living with parents as an adult is lessening. According to Vespa, commenting on the results from a 2012 Pew study, most parents who had adult children living at home are “just as satisfied with their living arrangements as parents whose adult children lived elsewhere,” and “more than two in three young adults who live at home are very happy with their family life.”
NEXT GEN HOME
For Phi-Mai Quesada, 34, and her husband, Jemuel, 35, his mother’s illness was a strong motivating factor in their decision to live with parents. Phi-Mai is a hairdresser at Mosaic Salon in Sacramento and Jemuel is a firefighter, but when they met more than a decade ago, Jemuel was still living at home. Phi-Mai was making minimum wage and renting a room in a friend’s house.
At that time, his mother was on dialysis, so Jemuel helped his father take care of her. After Phi-Mai moved in with Jemuel’s family, she pitched in with her future mother-in-law’s care. The couple paid utilities and some rent, and they contributed food to the household. After Jemuel’s mother passed away, the family continued living together until his father’s death.
After living on their own for a few years, the Quesadas realized they could handle a monthly mortgage payment. Coming up with a significant down payment was the issue. That’s where their narrative takes a twist. Today, the Quesadas live with Phi-Mai’s mother and stepfather, who are retired, in a new Next Gen home—it’s two houses in one. Homebuilder Lennar calls it “a home within a home.” Phi-Mai’s mother provided the down payment, and they share the remaining costs.
Each house has a separate entrance and a shared backyard. There’s an interior door (which is kept unlocked) connecting the residences, and the Parental Units knock, call or text when they want to come over. The family shares the stove, a printer, cooking utensils and rice. They picked out the furniture for the family room together. “It’s like having roommates,” Phi-Mai says.
Buying a house with her mother wasn’t something Phi-Mai planned, as they hadn’t seen eye-to-eye when she was growing up. Her mother came up with the idea of buying a house together. “I never thought it would ever happen,” Phi-Mai says, but her mother told her, “‘If I had had help at your age, I would have taken it.’”
Phi-Mai’s friends have said, “‘We could never live with our parents,’” but she thinks she and Jemuel have made a practical choice. “It’s different for us,” she says. “We’re both only children.” The mortgage will be paid when the Quesadas are in their 40s, and her mother can travel without worrying about what’s happening at home. “It helps us out and it helps her out,” Phi-Mai says.
Strong family ties can create a nurturing environment where young adults thrive until they are ready to head out on their own. Rachel Ricchiuto, 21, has lived in the same house since she was 2 years old. She was able to take college classes when she was 16 because she was home-schooled. When it was time to choose a university, she spent a day with her father opening mail from various institutions. Although she was accepted at colleges in Oklahoma and Los Angeles, she had a difficult choice to make. Her parents offered to pay tuition, wherever she ended up, but Ricchiuto would have had to pay room and board if she attended college out of the area. “I spent several months looking at my options,” she says. “I didn’t want to be in debt when I got out of school.”
She knew friends in similar situations who were stressed and struggling to make ends meet, which tipped the scales in favor of living at home and attending local colleges. “It was a very conscious decision,” she says. Like Pham, she’ll graduate from Sacramento State in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree, and she is contemplating continuing to live at home while she gets a master’s.
In terms of contributing to the household, she says she doesn’t spend “enough” time helping with chores. She works as an American Sign Language interpreter and attends school, so she’s not home a lot. Sometimes she cooks dinner and vacuums; she does laundry for herself and her mother and helps care for the family’s golden retriever.
As her parents have financed her education and covered her living expenses, she was able to buy her own car. She’s saving money for a down payment on a house; she likes to check Zillow to see what’s available.
The strong support she’s received may not have been available had she chosen different living arrangements. “Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I could have made,” she says. “I don’t know if I would have done as well emotionally.”