The Parent Trap: More And More Young Adults Are Moving Back In

Robert Hiltonsmith
Jack Temple

The Census Bureau recently released new figures revealing record-high levels of young adults moving back home to weather the storm of the recession. While these numbers are disturbing, there is reason to believe that they actually underestimate the severity of the problem.

According to the Census, the share of 25-34 year-olds living at their parents' home increased from 13.5 percent in 2010 to 14.2 percent in 2011 - this is a significant jump. But, as Demos and Young Invincibles documented in a newly-released “The State of Young America” report, the share of 25-34 year-olds living at home has actually been increasing steadily for the past decade; just 10.3 percent of all 25-34 year-olds lived with their parents in 2003. According to a 2007 Census Bureau paper that examined the trend in more detail, the primary factors that these “not-so-young” adults were living at home were, perhaps unsurprisingly, low incomes and unemployment. As the Great Recession has hit young people particularly hard, pushing more and more 25-34 year-olds into these two categories, it’s no wonder the trend of these young people moving back home has only accelerated.

But the Census figures actually paint an incomplete picture. The 14.2 percent of young adults that the Census recognizes as living with their parents are young people who live with their parents full-time; i.e., their parents’ home is their permanent address. In the second part of “The State of Young America”, we conducted a poll in which we asked 25-34 year olds "Have you lived at your parents' home any time in the past year?" Fully 21 percent of respondents answered "yes" -- that's 6 percent higher (plus or minus the poll’s margin of error) than the Census figures indicate. In other words, in addition to those moving back in with their folks on a semi-permanent basis, there are plenty more young Americans still depending on their parents for a place to say for shorter periods of time.

And let's be clear: we're not talking about kids who just graduated from college, moving back home because they haven’t figured out what to do just yet. These are young Americans in their late 20s to early 30s who could otherwise be buying their own home, starting a family, or at the very least living independently. The fact that 20 percent or more of these young people are, largely because of economic conditions, postponing this critical step of adulthood deserves stark notice: for this generation, the middle-class lifestyle of many of their parents may be further and further out of reach.