Millennials Delay Cutting Apron Strings after Recession

By Dinah Wisenberg Brin Sep 18, 2015
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Americans ages 18 to 34 are more likely to be living with their parents now, during the economic recovery, than during the Great Recession. This trend could help explain some workplace dynamics involving young adults, according to a new study.

Millennials may be finding it hard to forge their own paths as they continue to rely on Mom and Dad, some experts say. But others suggest that the study could indicate that Millennials are continuing to live with their parents out of a careful, mature desire to fortify their finances.

While the five-year-old U.S. economic recovery has brought lower unemployment, more full-time jobs and more-robust wages, Millennials are less likely to be living independently than Americans who were the same age during the recession, according to the study by the Pew Research Center.

Pew’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, which the center released in July 2015, showed that the number of 18- to 34-year-olds heading their own household hasn’t grown since 2007, before the recession started, even though the population of people that age has increased by nearly 3 million in that time. (Today’s 18-to-34-year-old group is comprised only of Millennials, while a few years ago that age range included Millennials and members of Generation X, Pew noted.)

“The declining numbers reflect a decrease in the rate of independent living during the recovery,” wrote Pew senior researcher Richard Fry in the report. He noted that 69 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds lived independently in 2010, compared with 67 percent in early 2015. During that same time, the ranks of young adults living in their parents’ households rose to 26 percent from 24 percent.

The trend is occurring even as the unemployment rate for young adults in this age range has declined to 7.7 percent in early 2015, down from 12.4 percent in 2010, according to Pew.

This year, 25 million young Americans head their own households, compared with 25.2 million in 2007, the research center reported. The decline in independent living was similar across education groups, indicating that large student debt isn’t the only reason young adults are choosing to live with parents.

“This may have important consequences for the nation’s housing market recovery, as the growing young adult population has not fueled demand for housing units and the furnishings, telecom and cable installations, and other ancillary purchases that accompany newly formed households,” Pew noted.

Parental Oversight

Employment experts said the figures also have consequences for workplace dynamics. Some Millennials may choose to live in their parental home until they become more financially stable, but in some cases, a lack of boundaries and independence appears to be following them into the office.

Additionally, younger workers living with parents may be scoffed at by their colleagues who see them as coddled and not prepared to pull their own weight, said Lee McEnany Caraher, president of the Double Forte marketing agency and author of Millennials & Management: The Essential Guide to Making It Work at Work (Bibliomotion, October 2014). They may also slow the work pace “because employees are having their parents weigh in on their work—true story I heard over and over again,” said Caraher.

Parents who hover over their grown children—and their work—“aren't doing their children any favors,” said Caraher. For instance, she said, some parents show up with their adult children to interviews. “One of our clients has just invoked a ‘No parents at interviews policy,’ ” she said. “Who would have ever imagined that this was necessary?”

Parents who contact bosses to protest what they think are unfair job reviews or workloads “are making a big negative impact on their kids' opportunity,” Caraher wrote in e-mailed comments to SHRM Online. “Who's going to hire someone who can’t stand on their own [and] who needs someone else to advocate for them?”

“When I’ve given workshops around the country, I ask people to raise their hands if this has ever happened to them, and in every single workshop, at least 30 percent of the people raise their hands,” said Caraher.

Saving Money

Other experts, however, note positive outcomes from Millennials’ living with parents.

“Many younger workers may choose to live at home with their parents in order to achieve financial stability or to build their savings,” said Tonya Lain, regional vice president of Adecco Staffing USA. Adecco’s Way To Work survey, she said, found that 34 percent of Millennials expressed that financial stability was their greatest aspiration for the next 10 years.

The need to repay student loans contributes to many Millennials’ decisions to live with their parents for longer, and more than half of Adecco survey respondents cited such debt as a major consideration in school and career choice, according to Lain.

“Companies looking to recruit and retain Millennial and Gen Z talent may be surprised to find that some of the perks they highlight to candidates, such as friendly work environments or flexible schedules, rank lower on respondents’ list of priorities for a first professional job,” said Lain. “Our survey indicates that employers should instead focus on the opportunities for career growth, stability and fulfilling work.”

A TD Ameritrade study from July 2015 reported that Millennials are delaying buying homes because of the economy.

Richard Tuck, CEO of skill-building assessment platform Riipen Networks Inc., pointed out that the country’s economic improvement isn’t necessarily evenly distributed. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has put underemployment for recent college graduates at about 44 percent, while other studies show unemployment of young adults is double the national average and student debt remains high, he said.

“Young people,” Tuck said, “simply cannot afford to start their lives without a little help from Mom and Dad.”

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.

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