Repeatedly at SocImages, we’ve offered data showing that the middle class is shrinking. The rich are getting richer, while a rising percentage of Americans are having trouble making ends meet. One measure of this is the number of households that include both adults and their adult children. About 12% of 25 to 44-year-olds lived with their parents in 1960, that dropped to 9% by 1980 and, in 2010, topped out at 17%. Almost one-in-five adults were living with their parents at the turn of this decade.
There are two scenarios, here, however. One indicates the decreasing financial well-being of the elderly: parents move in with their children because they can’t afford to live alone, perhaps after retirement. The other indicates the decreasing financial well-being of young and mid-life adults: children are moving in with their parents because they can’t get a good start to life.
It turns out that the first scenario is actually on the decrease, while the latter is on the increase. The rise in co-residence is a consequence of the failure of our economy to integrate young people into jobs that pay a living wage. Literally, a growing number of Americans — both young people and those in mid-life — can’t afford to leave the nest. And, no, this didn’t start with the recession, it started in the ’80s.
We’ve done a decent job trying to ensure that the elderly don’t live in poverty, it’s time to start working on making sure the rest of America doesn’t either.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.