In recent years, almost every month brings a new article in the New York Times, The Guardian, or other news outlets about the high percentage of young adults continuing to live with their parents. The popular perception is that adult children living at home have “failed to launch.” The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly shifted living arrangements, putting “boomerang” young adults in the spotlight, who are perceived as failures but are frequently employed or only temporarily living at home. Recently, furious debates among The Guardian readers centered on whether and how much parents should charge their young adult children if they continue to live at home. Proponents argue that adult children should contribute to rent and expenses, while opponents contend that it is unfair to force struggling young adults to pay, especially if the parents own the house.

What happens when younger adults who are fresh out of college go back to their parental home? It has recently become more common for young adults to move back to their parents’ house. But for how many years? Staying in the parental household can help young adults recover after a financial hiccup, yet what happens if they stay too long? 

In our recent research, we seek answers to these questions and look at the consequences to young adults’ early careers when they live with their parents in the United States. We analyzed survey data to find answers.

We found that living at home with your parents is associated with men’s employment, but not women’s. This is likely because typical adult roles such as marriage and motherhood shape women’s life course differently than men. Also, women have slightly lower rates of living with their parents, and they tend to leave their parents’ house earlier than men. 

We show that almost half of young men in their late twenties live with their parents at some point in the US, and one in four continuously live with their parents between the ages of 24 and 29. Then we found that living with your parents short-term (about 1 year) is in fact associated with an improved likelihood of full-time employment. More so, living with your parents for 2 to 3 years has no association with full-time employment. However, living with your parents longer-term (four to six years) is negatively associated with occupational standing, a measure to rank prestige of an occupation. 

What about the conditions that predetermine the possibility of living with your parents? By the age of 24, young adults have experiences, like being married, divorced or parenthood among others, that could both affect their likelihood of returning to their parent’s home and also shape their employment outcomes at age 32. Using the strength of our data set, we control for many personality characteristics and experiences that may affect both employment outcomes and likelihood of returning to parental home. 

Although parental co-residence is often depicted as problematic for both parents and young adults in the media, our findings suggest otherwise. Parents of young men may be reassured by our findings that having your adult child live with you for up to four years is not associated with negative employment outcomes in men’s early 30s. In fact, a brief spell of moving back home with your parents may even yield some benefits. Our finding that one year of living with your parents has a positive association with employment outcomes suggests that parents continue to provide an important buffer for many men well into adulthood. However, the cautionary note that living with your parents for more than four years could have lasting negative consequences for their employment prospects might urge parents to reconsider allowing their adult sons to remain in their household for too long. 

Many social trends likely contribute to young men’s prolonged dependence on their parents, including rises in student debt and increasing housing costs. These issues are being addressed to some extent through recent efforts by the administration, such as student loan cancellation initiatives and they should continue to alleviate financial burdens on young adults. Moreover, we need to recognize that the transition to adulthood is extending into later years. Instead of demonizing this shift, we should highlight ways to adapt to and support these evolving living arrangements.

Asya Saydam is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and a Population Research Center (PRC) Graduate Research Trainee at the University of Texas at Austin. Asya’s research interests are at the intersection of family demography, gender, and work, with a specific focus on marital and household dynamics and health outcomes over the life course. You can follow them on Twitter @asyasaydam