The New Normal?

I do a lot of reading about adult children living at home. In the last little while, I’ve seen more and more journalists referring to the phenomenon of adult kids living at home in their twenties and even early thirties as the “new normal.” Is it the new normal? This doesn’t quite site right with me for a couple of reasons.

First, while the numbers of adult children living at home are increasing, for all age groups over 25, they are still in the minority. Adult children over age 25 are living at home in increasing numbers, but that number is firmly in the minority category. Even for the 18- to 24-year-old age group, the number just squeaks into majority territory (52.8% of 18 to 24-year-olds live with their parents according to researchers at Columbia University in New York based on data from the U.S. Current Population Survey). Fifty-two percent is not a large enough number to say “everybody’s doing it.” In fact, it’s only just over half. Is this the new normal?

Second, when things become “normal,” that generally means we know how to deal with them as a society. But the trend of young adults moving back in with their parents is not yet something we are equipped to deal with in North American society. The rules about financial support are especially unclear. In societies where it really is normal (and expected) for adult children to live at home, there is also an expectation of reciprocal support. Adult children live with their parents and may receive financial support, but they have defined roles within the household that may include looking after younger siblings or cousins, or contributing to the household work and cooking. When parents are elderly, their children are expected to return the favor through financial and emotional support. It’s a balanced system that is not currently in place in the broader North American society.

And third, calling adult kids living at home the new normal minimizes the emotional and financial impact it can have on parents, both of which are very real — and very challenging.

Adult children living at home may be a growing trend, but it is not (yet) the new normal. Both parents and adult kids living in this situation need to plan for the emotional and financial challenges and work hard to make the situation function well for both generations.