More Millennials Living At Home Reflects How America Has Changed

People don't pair off and move in together in their 20s anymore because they don't feel forced into marriage.
Living at home may help millennials pay down their student debt and be ready to contribute to the economy a decade from now.
Living at home may help millennials pay down their student debt and be ready to contribute to the economy a decade from now.
Chip East / Reuters

Being in your 20s is no longer a guaranteed marker of adulthood. The life steps that are most associated with becoming a "real adult," like marriage, buying a home and having children, are now more likely than ever to be put off into one's 30s.

It then should not be a surprise that more millennials, the largest crop of whom are in their 20s, continue to live at home. The change in living situations is a rational response to the way society has changed for young adults.

A new report by Pew Research on the living arrangements of young people shows that more of them are living with their parents now than they were in any year after World War II. Thirty-two percent of millennials live with their parents, slightly more than those who live with a partner or spouse. The percentage of those living at home is up more than 10 points since the 1950s. Meanwhile, the percentage of young people married or cohabiting has almost been cut in half since 1960.

That a plurality of millennials live at home is not necessarily an indictment of today's young people. It's a reflection of the way that adulthood has changed. Young people are much, much less likely to be married before 30 than they were half a century ago, and the way their lives have changed has affected where they live. The report shows increasingly stratified classes of people choosing where to live based on careers, income and education, rather than family life.

From an economic perspective, it's a good thing when people pair up and form households. Marriage means shared incomes and all the purchases that come along with that (a new refrigerator, perhaps, or a washing machine, and eventually maybe a few thousand diapers). Even a young person leaving home to live with a roommate adds to the economy. So it can be worrying if a huge crop of young adults stays at home longer.

But for individuals the story is more complex: real median incomes have fallen since 1999 and nearly 70 percent of college graduates are carrying debt, with the average debt load nearing $30,000. Meanwhile, rents are rising around the country as the aftershocks from the housing crisis continue to ripple through the economy. For a millennial facing a tough economy and not much societal pressure to pair off or have children, saving money by living with mom and dad makes a lot of sense. It will help them pay down their debt and be ready to contribute to the economy a decade from now.

Here's a look at today's living arrangements, and how they've changed since 1880:

Pew Research Center

The report shows that while an increasing amount of young people are choosing to stay at home with their parents through their 20s, for those who can afford to move out, there is also a proliferation of different living situations. They might be living alone, or with roommates, or cohabiting with a partner they aren't married to. This data shows that for those fortunate enough to be able to afford to move out, it's much more acceptable to live alone or with roommates than it was in the mid-20th century.

Then there are the really fortunate: 14 percent of young people live on their own, which was virtually unheard of until about 30 or 40 years ago. They're mostly well-off professionals with college degrees, according to the report.

It's much more popular to live with roommates or another family member -- included in the "other living arrangements" category -- than it was in the mid-20th century. (Notably this category also includes those in prison, which is its own story.) About 22 percent of young people live this way, which is about the same as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when young, unmarried adults, often women, flocked to the cities for factory jobs and ended up in boarding houses.

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