Pressed by hard times, an increasing number of college graduates are moving in with their parents to save money.
Two college-educated daughters are squeezing into the second bedroom of Isabel’s modest Cambria Heights apartment in Queens. Isabel, 54, works in a hospital as a patient-care assistant. Her oldest daughter, Lillian, 24, moved home after completing a master's degree in public health. Then Lillian needed orthopedic surgery and remained home to recover. Now, two years later, she is rehabilitated and job-hunting. Isabel’s middle daughter, Maryam, 23, is a nurse in a local hospital. The youngest daughter, Delia, 19, joins the squeeze during breaks from the University of Florida and expects to move in when she graduates. This family believes in staying together.
In Ramsey, New Jersey, two rivers and a world of economic difference away, newlyweds Larry and Roz occupy a spacious bedroom with its own bathroom in the comfortable five-bedroom house of Larry’s parents. Larry uses a second room for work.
The young couple gave up their own apartment about two years ago when Larry decided to quit his job and form his own marketing business. But when new clients failed to flock immediately to his door, their savings eventually evaporated and they could not live on Roz’s income as a medical-office manager. So they moved in with Larry’s dad, a stockbroker, and his mom, an artist and editor.
Perhaps due to their upper-middle-class upbringing and an expectation that parents “owe” them indefinitely, Larry and Roz rarely contribute to household chores. “I wash their towels when I wash my own,” says Larry’s mother, 55-year-old Sally, “but I won’t go into their bedroom to pick up their dirty clothes.” The Queens sisters, on the other hand, with a more participatory background, regularly do the entire family’s laundry when they do their own.
As for cooking, mother Isabel in Cambria Heights does it all: “Cook for one, cook for all” could be her motto. In Ramsey, Sally does the lion’s share: “I cook for four every night, and they either join us or they don’t. I never know in advance.” Just once Roz, who was working full time at the doctor’s office, “volunteered to make a big pot of soup once a week, and I said I’d buy the ingredients if she made a list. It happened just once.”
The economic level of parents may affect how much children pitch in, both financially and in terms of household chores. But in truth the heart of the matter seems to lie in parental reluctance to broach the matter. Without Mom or Dad asking whether the kids intend to pay rent or how much they will be paying—questions that make many parents uncomfortable—children are unlikely to make an offer.
However, the emotional issues for parents go well beyond the question of whether live-in children will make financial contributions and are surprisingly alike: What can we expect our children-in-residence to do around the house? Do we owe them help and support, no matter how old they are? What can we do to help them become increasingly independent? Meanwhile, while they’re in residence, how can we maintain our own privacy?
A great many parents across the United States are asking these questions: Several studies show a marked resurgence in the incidence of college graduates and post-college-age children moving back home.
When we, the parents of today’s young adults, reached our late teens, we typically went off to college and often graduate school, expecting to be self-sufficient after graduation, with an income and a dwelling place of our own. Both were likely to be modest, but they would be our own.
Today, many children are caught in a prolonged adolescence, due primarily to the tough job market. Regardless of educational level, many are not finding jobs or are taking jobs with meager earnings. Meanwhile, the monthly rent on apartments fit only to house sardines may be beyond their reach. More than one twenty- or thirty-something has had to move back with Mom and Dad when a roommate departs and even sharing quarters becomes unaffordable.
“You’re still a child if your parent is 90,” says Judith Pfeffer, a psychologist in Warrington, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. “How can you let your child, even an adult child, go without needed medical care if you can afford to help out?"