Why Junior Lives in the Basement

Why can’t the kids leave home already? According to an article by Robin Marantz Henig in the New York Times, this is getting weird:

It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be — on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on.

The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un¬tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

Apparently some forty percent of people in their 20s move back into their parents’ house at least once. So it’s taking longer for people to turn into adults. Why is this? Well, people can talk about changing child rearing practices or other ambiguous characteristics, but come on.

What’s really fueling this inability of 20-somethings to leave home is economic. The average college graduate now holds some $23,000 in student loans. And “job opportunities” for recent college graduates are mostly internships. Both of these things make it pretty hard for someone to afford a deposit on his own apartment.

But then, a little perspective might be in order. Living at home with parents is fairly normal in Europe and Asia, where young professionals frequently return home after university, and stay there until they get married. And this is in parts of the world where higher education is cheaper.

These sorts of arrangements can actually be economically beneficial. By some accounts the fact that huge numbers of Asian professional women live with their parents and don’t pay rent accounts for entire industries like luxury goods.

So the kids are still at home. Is it failure? Maybe, but maybe it’s just a good investment.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer