“Within the last 10 years, the breadth and speed of change in living arrangements have been tremendous.”
More young adult Americans live at home today compared to 10 years ago.
In 2005, a majority of young adults — those aged 18 to 34 — lived either alone, with a spouse, or with an unmarried partner, according to 2017 report from the Census Bureau. Independence from one’s parents was the majority living arrangement in 35 states.
Fast forward to 2015: Only six states had a majority of young adults living away from home.
Some point a finger at “lazy millennials,” but that characterization misses some of the big socio-economic changes that have occurred over the last several decades.
“Within the last 10 years, the breadth and speed of change in living arrangements have been tremendous,” Jonathan Vespa, a demographer in the Fertility and Family Statistics Branch of the US Census Bureau, wrote in the report. “If one theme describes how adulthood has changed over the last 40 years, it is growing complexity.”
While in the 1970s, people largely got married and started families in their 20s, today, young Americans tend to believe they should finish school, be gainfully employed, and have some sort of financial security before getting hitched.
More young people pursue higher education — instead of getting a job right out of high school — and young women have made strides in financial security. Young men, on the other hand, are more likely to be out of the workforce or in lower paying jobs nowadays, in part because of changes in the US manufacturing sector. Those living at home, consequently, are more likely to be young men, according to the Census.
Young people’s economic fortunes have also changed. In 1970, 92% of American 30-year olds earned more than their parents did at a similar age. In 2014, only 51% did, according to a study by a team of economists and sociologists from Stanford, Harvard, and the University of California.
“Taken together, the changing demographic and economic experiences of young adults reveal a period of adulthood that has grown more complex since 1975, a period of changing roles and new transitions as young people redefine what it means to become adults,” Vespa said.
We illustrated the changing percentage of adults aged 18-34 who lived in their parents’ home in 2005 compared to 2015, using Census data. First up, 2005:
And here’s 2015. As you can see, in most states, the percentage of young adults living with their parents has increased.
One notable exception is North Dakota. This can likely be connected to its recent oil boom.
The Census also examined the differing economic characteristics of young people who lived on their own compared to young people who still lived at home.
More than half of the 28 million younger millennials, aged 18 to 24, lived in their parents’ homes in 2015. But that group is more likely to be enrolled in school, as opposed to working full-time, than those in other living arrangements. In other words, part of the reason why there are many younger millennials living at home is because they are pursuing further education.
Of the older millennials — aged 25 to 34 — who tended to live in their own households, 41% had at least a bachelor’s degree, and about two-thirds had a full-time, year-round job. Millennials who live alone also tended to have higher incomes.
The report doesn’t talk about this explicitly, but several decades ago young Americans could get a decent job with a decent wage with just a high school diploma. Today, those with a only high school diploma earn about half of what their college-educated counterparts make, on average. So, it makes sense that, in the past, young adults left home without going to college, expecting to make a decent living, while today that option is much rarer.
Older millennials who lived with parents or roommates were less likely to have a degree or a full-time job. About one-quarter of older millennials who live with their parents are “idle,” which the Census defines as people who are neither working nor in school. As for who makes up that group, the report says:
“They tend to be older millennials who are White or Black and have only a high school education, compared with their peers who are working or going to school while living at home. But they may not be idle for want of effort. They are more likely to have a child, so they may be caring for family, and over one-quarter have a disability of some kind. That so many are disabled suggests that they have limitations in their ability to attend classes, study, find work, or keep a regular job. Recent stories on boomerang children returning home focus on economic downturns, unforgiving job markets, and high rents. Though often overlooked in these stories, young people’s health may play an important role in their decision to live with parents.”
In short, more young people today are living at home than in the past, and that trends reflects a wide range of socio-economic changes that have occurred in recent decades.