The nest isn’t empty, and that’s mostly good

The kids are living at home these days in numbers not seen since World War II. According to a new report from Pew, a third of young women, and more than 40 percent of young men, are now living with relatives (not a spouse). Forget empty nests; the chicks have returned, and they’re prepared to settle in.

Pew offers a few reasons that we may be seeing this trend. There’s the Great Recession, of course, but the trend actually started around 2000, and has continued to rise long past peak unemployment. More important is the fact that more people go to college (often living at home while they do so), and fewer people get married at a young age. The traditional milestones that begin financial independence are coming later, and so, therefore, is the independence.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I finally moved out of my parents’ house for good when I was 30 (yes, yes, tee up the Irish jokes), and on the whole, I’m glad I waited that long. I’m not glad that I was unemployed for two years after graduate school, which is the ultimate reason I spent so long living at home. But I got to spend time with my parents as an adult, which was very different from living with them as a fractious teenager. My stay was not exactly voluntary, but if I had to do it over, I’d happily choose to repeat it.

Keeping multiple generations under one roof has its costs, which are well (perhaps excessively) documented in mid-century novels. But it also has its compensations, emotional and economic. More family members means more people around to take care of you if something goes wrong, more economic stability for the household. It also means that the money that you’re not spending on four walls and a set of appliances can be put to some other use, such as going to college.

When the “kids back in the basement” story first surfaced after the financial crisis, it was the subject of much hand-wringing by kids and parents alike. But we may simply be rediscovering the benefits that our grandparents already understood.

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