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George and Tracy Jirout sit down and tell stories with their daughter Jasmine, 21, in the family's living room in Grand Forks. One year from graduating college Jasmine is in the process of earning her Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education at Northland Community and Technical College and is currently still living at home with her parents. Luke Franke / Forum News Service

Not-yet empty nest: Highest percentage of young adults in 40 years live with parents

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Grand Forks, ND - For college student Jasmine Jirout of Grand Forks, living with her parents has its ups and downs, but she is not yet financially able to get her own place.

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Jirout, 21, has been working as a barista at a coffee shop to chip away at her student loan debt, which hovers around $10,000, a figure that will rise, she said, as she continues her studies at Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks, Minn.

“I have saved so much money” living at home, Jirout said. “I have no rent, thankfully.”

Living with her parents has made it possible for her “to focus on school without the stress of money,” she said. But the situation is not stress-free.

“Taking five classes and living with four other people at the same time has its serious disadvantages,” she said. “It gets noisy,” which makes it difficult to study, write a paper or take a test.

Her parents, Tracy and George Jirout, “are incredible people for allowing me and my two brothers to live at home while we sort life out and decide what we are going to do,” Jirout said. Her brothers are 24 and 19.

“It’s great sometimes, but oftentimes it leaves (an) ache in your stomach that you haven’t moved on like the people around you.”

Jirout and her brothers are not alone in terms of their living arrangements. 

A report by the Pew Research Center last year found that 36 percent of adults ages 18 to 31 live in their parents’ home – the highest share in at least four decades. Higher than the 32 percent who lived at home in 2007, at the onset of the Great Recession. Higher than the 34 percent who lived at home in 2009, when the recession officially ended.

Higher, too, than the 32 percent who lived at home in 1968, the earliest comparable data available.

Nearly half unemployed

While young people worldwide are obtaining more education than ever, they’re not necessarily getting jobs. Forty-five percent of the millennials living at home are unemployed.

The Pew report prompted a slew of alarmed reactions from sociologists, economists and wealth managers weighing in with theories and advice. But some social scientists see the situation in a positive light, suggesting that it’s evidence that this generation is making wiser, more careful choices.

A closer look at the 2012 Census Bureau data analyzed by Pew – and the factors driving those numbers – may yield a more favorable picture, some sociologists say.

Of the 21.6 million millennials living with their parents in 2012, the majority were younger than 25. Only 16 percent of 25- to 31-year-olds lived at home, compared with 56 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds.

Rising college enrollment is one of the leading causes behind those figures. The census counts college students – even those living in dormitories during the academic year – as living with their parents. In March 2012, according to the Pew report, 39 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in college. That’s a 4 percent point increase compared with March 2007.

These are hardly directionless slugs, said Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, executive director of the Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood.

“The stereotype of kids moving home in order to mooch off their parents for as long as possible doesn’t hold up,” said Arnett, author of “When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?”

In his book, he writes: “In 1960 only 33 percent of young people attended college, and most of them were men; today, 70 percent of high school graduates enter college the next year. It now takes an average of five to six years to obtain a ‘four-year degree.’”

High expectations

People in the 18- to 31-year-old age group prioritize “purpose, meaning and self-growth in their careers,” said Varda Konstam, professor of counseling and school psychology at the University of Massachusetts and author of “Parenting Your Emerging Adult: Launching Kids from 18 to 29.”

“That differs somewhat from previous generations.”

Young Americans change jobs an average of seven times from ages 20 to 29, which is a significant departure from earlier generations, who settled into stable careers shortly after graduating from high school or college, Arnett said.

Millennials, often pegged as commitment-phobic, are also wary of entering into unfulfilling marriages, Konstam said.

“They have high expectations for their relationships,” she said. “Those high expectations are a mixed bag, because on the one hand you’re aspiring to something that will yield meaning and purpose. But, on the other hand, it may be very frustrating to achieve.” 

Lifestyle perks

People in this age group “almost all move home for economic reasons, and they almost always move out as soon as possible,” Arnett said. 

Economics figured into Ian Roche’s motivation for moving back to his parents’ home after earning a college degree out of state, he said.

“But the support I get from them, too, is very helpful – it’s just as important, if not more.”  

A University of North Dakota medical student, Roche, 26, said living at home with his parents, Scott and Sharon Roche of Grand Forks, saves him not only money – he pays no rent – but also a lot of time.

“My mom is a stay-at-home mom,” he said. “Her main job is taking care of me.”

She prepares meals and does laundry, which frees him to concentrate on his medical studies.

“It’s a time-saver,” he said. “I can use that time to study.”

Some of his classmates who don’t enjoy the same support “are jealous of how much money I was able to save, and the free time I have,” he said.

“A good number of them are going to move back into their parents’ home for their third and fourth years (of medical school).” 

In those years, students spend most of their time working alongside practicing physicians in clinics and hospitals throughout the state. 

‘Pros and cons’  

There are “pros and cons” to his current living arrangement, but readjustment to his parents’ home was not difficult, Roche said. “My parents let me do my own thing. They respect me and my freedom. I respect that they make everything easy for me.”

Around friends, he is not vocal about living at home, he said. “I’m not embarrassed by any means. I don’t think I should be. If I needed to move out and be on my own, I could do it.”

For now though, he said, “the benefits of staying at home outweigh the benefits of being on my own.”

As for Jirout, living with her parents is “bittersweet,” she said. “I absolutely love it and I absolutely hate it sometimes.”

“It makes me feel like a kid, a little held back. I can’t ask people to come over” because of her parents’ health issues, she said.

“I feel a little constraint that other college kids may not feel.” 

At the same time, “I’m nervous for (the day) when I do get an apartment, and not being able to see my family every day.”

The experience has taught her “to remain content in your situation,” she said. “Any situation can be bad, but it won’t last forever.

“I’m hoping the payoff in the end will be worth it.” 

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