The Changing Face of our Households

adult children living at homeOver the course of the last century, our nation (and indeed much of western civilisation) has become increasingly mechanised, industrialised and subject to an ever-hastening pace of technological development. Indeed, as western society has changed, the structure of our households has changed along with it. Much has been written about the apparent rise of cohabitation and the growing number of single person households[1]. However, the focus of this article is the increase in the number of young adults (20-34) living with their parents. We will first look at what the numbers tell us before moving on to talk about possible causes and finally discussing some of the implications.

The available data on this topic is certainly interesting. In the UK for instance, a survey carried out by Aviva demonstrated that in 2011, 73% of those asked said they had lived with an adult relative at some point, with most of the 73% identifying themselves as young adults living with their parents.[2] This trend is backed up by data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which indicates a 20% increase in young adults living with their parents between 1997 and 2011.[3] What is more, this marked increase is despite the population of this age group staying largely the same during this period.

There are numerous claims as to the reason for this change. Some argue that the recent financial downturn has resulted in young adults no longer having the financial capital to move into their own home as early as might have been the case in the past.[4] This is despite it apparently being cheaper than ever to purchase a home.[5]However, this is heavily contingent on the ability to muster together a deposit, which most agree is far more problematic than before the financial crisis. Regardless of one’s desire or ability to move into their own home however (whether rented or purchased), the evidence suggests that there are substantial personal savings to be made from young adults living with their parents, some £225 per month according to Aviva.[6]

Quite apart from the economic factors, there are social and cultural considerations to ponder too. Some identify a period of ‘prolonged adolescence’ that is becoming increasingly normalised among young adults. In other words, many argue that young adults today simply do not want to ‘grow up’ and become ‘proper’ adults.[7] Others point to shifts in cultural norms, marriage being a key example. Whilst in the past it was deemed conventional to move out and get married in one’s mid 20′s, many in this age bracket are now putting this off until a later point in their lives.[8] Another aspect that has apparently shifted over the course of time is that of expectation. That is, certain young adults aspire and expect to move out into a home of similar ‘quality’ to that of their parents.[9] Whilst this is deemed unattainable (presumably due to the current housing market), many choose the relative comfort of the parental home until such aspirations become realistic.

Having explored just a few of the reasons behind the changes we have seen, we now turn to consider the implications of such behaviour. On the positive side, many parents whose adult children now live with them report reduced levels of loneliness[10]; something which The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says is a prevalent issue throughout the UK.[11] Furthermore, some parents also note that having adult children around the household can lead to a sharing of caring responsibilities.[12]

On the other hand, some argue that many young adults, by living with their parents, aren’t caring enough! Whilst they are happy to reap the benefits of living in the parental home, some are perhaps unwilling to ‘pull their weight’ in undertaking routine households tasks.[13]

Furthermore, some parents say that as a result of their children ‘flying the nest’ at a later point, their own finances can suffer quite considerably.[14] This is food for thought given the social pressure some parents may feel to allow their children to remain living at home; particularly if they feel the child would be under significant financial stress if they were to leave the family home.

It is clear that, as has always been the case, today’s households are reacting to economic realities, social shifts in attitudes and changing cultural norms. The fact that households are changing in tandem with the changing views of how young adults view themselves and others, has profound implications for a number of individuals and groups. What is altogether harder to fathom however is whether this change is positive, negative or a bit of both? Are young adults reacting sensibly to tough economic times and a hostile housing market? Are they reacting to and catering for the changing emotional and physical needs of their parents? Or is there an abdication of responsibility where perhaps there wasn’t in the past?  Are young adults in an increasingly consumerist and materialist culture expecting too much in terms of where they expect to move out to? In an environment where the topics of housing provision and prices are increasingly up for debate and where family budgets are under scrutiny, these are all crucial questions for young adults, parents, government and society to answer.


[1]    Family Law, Number of Cohabiting Couples increased to 2.9 million in last decade, 2012. Accessed August 2012: http://www.familylaw.co.uk/articles/CohabitingFamiliesIncrease20012012-653

[2]    Osborne, Economic pressures drive young adults home to roost, The Guardian, 2012. Accessed August 2012:http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/aug/22/economic-pressures-young-adults-home-to-roost

[3]    Office for National Statistics, Young adults living with parents in the UK – 2011, 2012. Accessed August 2012:http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/young-adults-living-with-parents/2011/young-adults-rpt.html

[4]    Osborne, August 2012

[5]    Collinson, Average cost of buying home falls to lowest in 15 years, The Guardian, 2012. Accessed August 2012: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/aug/27/cost-buying-home-mortages-lowest-15-years

[6]    Osborne, August 2012

[7]    Parsons, Why so many 20 year olds are failing to grow up, The Daily Mail, 2012, Accessed August 2012:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2181789/Why-20-year-olds-failing-grow-up.html

[8]    Office for National Statistics, Statistical Bulletin: Marriages in England and Wales 2010, 2012, p.7

[9]    Brown, Boomers go bust over kids, Sydney Morning Herald, 2011, Accessed August 2012:http://www.smh.com.au/money/planning/boomers-go-bust-over-kids-20110910-1k2rs.html

[10]  Osborne, August 2012

[11]  Hurrell, How can communities find their own ways to reduce loneliness?, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2011, Accessed August 2012: http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2011/08/how-can-communities-find-their-own-ways-reduce-loneliness

[12]  Osborne, August 2012

[13]  Parsons, August 2012

[14]  Brown, August 2012

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