It used to go like this: high school. Try to contain happiness while moving to college. Relish freedom of college. Graduate. Move to apartment or house and celebrate the official start to adulthood.
But as many college graduates will attest, that trajectory has taken a surprising turn. Now, an increasing number of students find themselves returning, diploma in hand, to mom and dad’s house.
These grads, dubbed “the boomerang generation” by social scientists, are undoubtedly on the rise, according to research. In 2010, a poll by marketing and research company Twentysomething Inc. revealed that 85 percent of college seniors intended to move back home with their parents.
High housing costs and a slow economy were the reasons Chris Leer, who graduated from UC Davis this past winter with degrees in sociology and communication, opted to move back home. He plans to live in his mother’s Oakland home for one to three months, until he has saved enough money to live on his own.
“I wanted to find someplace [to live] where I wasn’t putting myself in debt,” Leer said. “My parents were fine with it. My mom thought it was a good idea, to save some money [by living at home].”
Leer does have a job lined up with fire and police equipment company L.N. Curtis and Sons, but said that he still thought paying for his own housing did not fit into his budget. A 2009 Pew Research Center study found that 10 percent of adults aged 18 to 34 blamed the poor economy for their moving back in with their parents.
According to research conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2011 graduates can expect to earn a starting salary of about $50,000 a year. In 2009, the New York Times reported that the average college debt was $24,000.
Nira Azulai graduated this past winter with a degree in human development and said due to her family’s living situation, she was unable to move home after earning her diploma – but wished she could. Most of her friends moved back home for at least a short time after graduating.
“I would definitely have taken that option if I could have,” said Azulai, who plans to begin a radiology technician program in Los Angeles in September. “I really don’t have any money. I’ve been taking out student loans and I’m going to have to take more out.”
In addition to financial motivations for students, parents may be more likely to not only accept their children back into their homes, but also to maintain an active interest in their children’s well-being. UC Davis director of Parent Programs Maria Zalesky said she thought children’s closer relationships with their parents also contribute to their willingness to go home.
“I used to hear students say, ‘I just don’t want to move home,’ almost like it was admitting defeat. Now, more and more I hear students say, ‘I’m going to move home for a while and get on my feet,'” said Zalesky, who has a daughter currently in college. “I think probably the general feeling of most parents these days is not, ‘OK, they’re out of the house, we’re done with them.’ I think parents are happy to help get them started.”
Students graduating now are in the millennial generation, and many of these students have formed close relationships with their parents, Counseling and Psychological Services director Emil Rodolfa agreed.
“Some parents who continue to take a lot of responsibility for their kids and excessively want to protect their kids from harm may strongly encourage their kids to return home and even look for work in their hometowns,” Rodolfa said.
Leer’s mother, at least, was not against her son moving back in after four years at college, though Leer said he is not enthusiastic about living at home for very long.
“My mom’s pretty lenient so she’ll let me stay as long as I want. If it gets to be ridiculous, then she’ll tell me I need to move out, but I don’t think she’ll be the person who’s going to kick me out,” Leer said. “I don’t think any 22-year-old who just graduated from college is excited about moving home to live with their mom. It’s going to be me pushing myself out.”
Despite the financial benefits of living at home rent-free, the day-to-day grind of sharing a home with one’s parents does have its ups and downs, to say the least.
Rodolfa cited following house rules and negotiating children’s independence as potential problems for returning graduates.
“Kids are pushing for independence and it is hard to feel and be independent when they are financially and in other ways dependent on their parents,” Rodolfa said. “Who does the laundry? Who makes the rules? Are they children who have returned home or adults living in their childhood home?”
Azulai has heard mixed reviews from friends experiencing life under the same roof as their families
“Some of my friends enjoy being around their parents and they feel like they get spoiled and their laundry gets done and they get their meals cooked,” Azulai said. “For others, it’s hard if they have a girlfriend or boyfriend. Their parents get into their business a little bit. Their romantic life isn’t as romantic, I guess.”
Still, with their futures uncertain and parents willing to take them in, the lure of home may overcome any downsides associated with living with parents. The decision of whether to live independently or with family has become a choice many students must confront.
“In today’s economy, if you have the money to move to New York City after you graduate then do it. But if you think you don’t have enough money, living at home is a good option,” Leer said.
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.