The United States has always been a country of independence. Adult children would normally leave home to go to college or to work at the age of 18 (or even at 16 or 14 during the 1800’s) and do everything they could to not come back home for more than a visit. It was seen as a sign of maturity to have your own place and take care of yourself. This was especially true of men, and few women would date a man who still lived at home with his parents before recent years. This made sense since if a guy could not take care fo himself, why would you want to start a family with him?
Today this is shifting to where about a quarter of young adults return home after college and continue to live with their parents until late into their thirties or forties. Even those that don’t still sponge off of their parents for many years for things like utilities, health insurance, and cell phone bills. Money Magazine reports that many parents are now expecting their children to continue to be supported until they are maybe 25-30 as there is now a new transitional phase and children are continuing to be dependent longer. The children are expecting that support to continue until they are 27-32.
Some of this change is due to millennials coming of age during the “Great Recession,” a term I use in quotes because it really wasn’t that bad in comparison with other recessions we had despite the news media playing it up as much as possible. What is different, perhaps, is an increased difficulty in finding good full-time jobs, largely driven by the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers who have 50 or more full-time employees, defined as those that work more than 29 hours or week, be provided full coverage health insurance. For many jobs where the employer doesn’t make that much per hour per employee, the only solution to stay in business is to cut all employees below that threshold. This means that not only is a barista only making $8 per hour, he also can only work 29 hours per week unless he gets a second job.
The other difference is the expectations of millennials in what their living conditions should be. Those before them mostly spent their 20’s in small 1-bedroom apartments, 2-bedrooms they shared with a roommate, or even in the rented room in a house while they worked their way from entry-level to better paying, higher-level jobs. Some individuals now are expecting to move right into a four bedroom ranch with a bonus room like the one their parents have. Not having the resources to do this, many figure it is better to stay at home and live rent-free.
America is somewhat odd, however, in the expectation that adult children leave home. In many cultures, particularly in Asia, families all live in the same home, with sons bringing their wives into the home and eventually taking over their parents’ room and their role as head-of-household. In many ways this makes sense. Having several people supporting one home reduces the cost each must pay for upkeep and utilities. In places like Tokyo children would probably never be able to afford a home on their own, at least for many years, and paying out high rents may make it difficult to ever save up enough to do so. Living at home also provides readily available people to help watch and raise the children. It also gives individuals more time to spend with their parents, children, and grandparents. Moving out greatly limits the time you have to interact with your parents and grandparents, which is time many people miss once their relatives have passed.
The difference between these cultures and the new American culture, however, is that while adult children may still live at home, those in Asian culture mature and support the home while some in America live as perennial teenagers. This is largely the fault of the parents who allow their children to sleep until noon, go without a job, and not contribute for rent and food. Certainly continuing to do their laundry and not expecting them to help with cleaning and yardwork also is a contributing factor.
Perhaps adopting the Asian culture and having children live at home wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the children were given the responsibilities that any adult should have. This first starts with doing everything needed to not place a burden on others, including paying for their food, doing their own laundry, cleaning up after themselves, and paying for other expenses they generate. The next step would then be for them to really step-up and contribute to the upkeep of the home, including helping with mortgage payments, helping maintain and clean the home, and eventually helping with major household decisions. By pooling labor and resources, this would help everyone in the household to live a better life financially than they could on their own. They would also have a lot more time together.
Another aspect of Asian culture is that children care for their parents in their old age. Living in the same house would also make it much easier for adult children to look after their parents in their declining years. Many would probably rather not have this burden, but it seems only fair after the years the parents spent raising the children and helping with the grandchildren. Living in the home would ensure that someone was there in the night to help as needed and professional nursing help could be hired during the day when the children were working to support the household.
While it certainly wouldn’t be the ideal choice for everyone, maybe having children stay at home is a good choice for some people. The key is to require that they grow up and accept their share of the load rather than letting them continue to live as children with the advantages of being an adult. In some cases this will help them leave the home sooner as they learn the skills needed to live on their own and they would rather have their own place than continue to live under the roof and rules fo their parents. In other cases children may choose to stay at home their whole lives, but this would provide a lot of advantages to the typical separated American family.
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