Working Strategies: Land or Launch: Should 20 somethings be living at home?

22 June 2024

Amy Lindgren

Here’s a hot potato topic for your next dinner party: Should adult “kids” land back in their parents’ home in their 20s, or should they launch into living independently?

The statistics are a bit gummy, but most data indicate that about half of America’s 18-29-year-olds live in the family home, with another 11% of 29-34-year-olds still harboring in their childhood bedrooms. Depending on the data set, these numbers are the highest in 70 years, meaning that we could be seeing an evolution rather than a short-term trend.

So, what do you think: Good or bad idea to house these young adults in the family nest? Here are arguments for both sides.

Positive aspects of housing adult “kids”

Cost savings is the point most often raised in favor of young adults landing back at home. I’ve written more than once of a young client who lived at home and managed a fast-food restaurant for two years after graduation, completely erasing her $30,000 student loan. That early sacrifice let her then pursue her chosen field while still moving out on her own.

Depending on their goals, working adults living rent-free can save a chunk for retirement, put together a decent down payment for a house, pay cash for a car …the possibilities are nearly endless, assuming (a) the young adult is working and (b) he or she is actively saving the income.

Another positive aspect of living at home can be the sharing of responsibilities that parents would otherwise shoulder alone. With the young adult home, the parents can more freely go on vacations, for example. Or, adult children might babysit their younger siblings. In some families, the young adults contribute to expenses, easing the parents’ financial load.

One person who has been particularly vocal in her advocacy for adult kids living at home is Michelle Singletary, who writes about financial advice for the Washington Post. Here’s one that’s pertinent, but you may find yourself behind a paywall.

Unintended consequences of housing adult “kids”

It’s nearly impossible to counter the financial benefits of this arrangement — at least on paper. If the theory becomes reality and the young adults do work, do save their money, and do ease their parents’ burden, it truly is an ideal arrangement.

But this is a situation where the ideal might not happen very frequently, leading to unintended consequences. First, in order for the 20-somethings to best leverage the situation, expectations must be made clear — something that is quite difficult for some parents to do. Then, the rules must be followed and enforced — again, not easy.

So what happens when there are no expectations or they’re not followed? Pretty much what you’d expect: Kids who don’t get or keep jobs, because they don’t need the money; kids who do keep jobs but use their income for fun instead of goals; kids who become depressed and isolated because they’re not building professional relationships in the outside world.

The parents aren’t always faring well either. Some studies show 50% or more reporting financial struggles because they are supporting their adult children. These parents may forgo their own goals for retiring or downsizing a costly home, or may be dealing with the bad habits and overnight guests of their offspring.

Not surprisingly, the internet holds a number of conversation threads bemoaning the downsides of this arrangement. Click here for one that provides more space than most for individuals to describe their experiences.

And here’s what I think…

While acknowledging that this situation could work, I don’t see that as often as I’d like. In my career counseling, I’m frequently talking with parents who feel trapped by their adult kids’ continued presence in the family home. I also see young adults who struggle with their stay-at-home situation, sometimes from a lack of personal agency.

Understanding that families and individuals are different, my default setting is still going to be “launch.” If the young adult lives with roommates, uses an income-dependent loan repayment program (for student debt) and works full-time, in most cases they’ll be just fine. Truly, I promise you. And if not? Then they can move back home.

For those who need convincing, running the numbers might help. Rent is doable when split with others. And a modest income of even $10 an hour can be enough for basic expenses. This isn’t luxurious but that’s not the goal. In the end, there’s really no substitute for what can be gained in living as an adult, not as an adult “kid.”

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Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at [email protected].

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