Why Kids Don't Leave Home -- It's Not (Just) The Economy

By the time PolitiFact tracked a frightening statistic about how many recent and current college graduates (85%) will be moving in with their parents this year to its source and proved it was a hoax, I was on the hunt, spurred on by the repetition of this figure in Time, CNN, and even HuffPost, paying special attention to what happened when the Boomerang Generation began coming home again. Their numbers began rising even before that, doubling between 1980 and 2008, long before the economy tanked, and has risen only 5% since then, which casts reasonable doubt on the conventional wisdom that the phenomenon is all due to the recession.

The reason more kids move back home isn't just because they can't afford to move out or even because they can have sex under the parental roof -- something their parents never could. Baby boomers have been enabling their kids' extended adolescence for over two decades, spurred on by their desire to have a more honest, authentic, intimate connection with their children than most of them enjoyed with their own parents. Technology helps -- staying tethered electronically 24/7 keeps them in the kind of touch that was (fortunately) impossible when we came of age; we created our young adult lives and made our mistakes and missteps largely out of their sight, and what they knew about them was only what we offered in a carefully edited phone call or letter. The high rate of divorce and the concomitant increase in single parenting in the last quarter of the twentieth century also changed the parent/child dyad, furthering the mutual emotional dependence of boomers and their offspring. And while working mothers proliferated during that same period, the satisfaction we took in our careers diminished when we bumped into the glass ceiling on our way to the top; many turned instead to a more satisfying and enduring role, "professionalizing" parenting and devoting the energy and competitiveness that previously went into jobs into raising perfect children. The timing of life stage events like completing school, leaving home, beginning a career, marrying and raising children changed, too. The consequent delay in engaging with the developmental tasks appropriate to their life stage had a ripple effect on both generations: it's not just 20 and even 30-somethings who don't want to grow up. If 30 is the new 21, 60 must be the new 40, because their parents aren't any more eager to move on from midlife than they are from adolescence.

A 20-something coming and going between jobs, roommates and romances for a few years is the new normal, but having adult children as long-term roommates has implications of a greater social change; it's a hallmark of the redefinition of the family life cycle, the psychosocial meaning of independence, and a new life stage located somewhere between middle and old age - Permanent Parenthood. Because the real statistic we all ought to be noticing is the 30% increase in 2011 of 25-34 year olds living at home. In many cultures and ethnicities, living at home until (and even after) marriage is normative. But in middle class America, whose graying "post-parents" couldn't wait to leave home, there's a growing concern about whether their kids ever will.