Why Some Kids Never Leave the Nest

According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of Americans aged 18-29-year-olds were living with their parents as of July 2020, double the record low 26% level recorded in the 1960s, a trend that has steadily risen over the past decades. There are many reasons why, most often financial, why some adult children may not leave their family home or return to live for a period of time.

And although every family dynamic is different, there are specific steps that parents can take to reduce the potential for adverse effects on their kids and themselves.

Key Takeaways

  • According to the Pew Foundation, slightly over half of 18-29-year-old live at home with their families.
  • Adult children come home for various reasons, but finances most often play a role in their decision. 
  • Parents may need to set definite boundaries and rules for their adult children living at home. 
  • The high cost of college and university may keep some young adults living at home instead of on-campus.

Why Adult Children Return (or Remain) Home

Growing up is not only challenging, but it is also increasingly expensive. The rising cost of higher education (especially the cost of living at university or college) has amplified financial stress for young people.

Four years of college or university may mean starting young adulthood with hefty student loans. Add in the cost of a car, food, clothing, shelter, and social life, and suddenly a young adult may find themselves digging out of personal debt. When things get hard, it may be tempting to return home or remain there.

What's a Parent to Do?

Clearly, moving back home (or never moving out) has enormous and immediate advantages for the kids, but, depending on the parents, it might not be such a great deal for the parents and, in the long term, it may not be suitable for the kids either.

Some parents may be too kind to kick out their still-dependent kids, so instead of using their prime earning years to save and invest for retirement, the parents are pouring their money into adult children who can't or won't strike out on their own. Furthermore, in addition to jeopardizing mom and dad's retirement, Junior isn't learning a thing about the responsibilities that come with being an adult.

Most young adults and adult children remain at home or move back due to financial stress and debt.

Set Rules

If your adult kids want to come back home, or they won't leave, you need to lay down the law. Teach them that there's no free lunch in life. Maintaining a household is an expensive proposition, so everyone living under your roof needs to carry his or her weight by paying his or her fair share of the expenses. This includes paying rent, paying utility bills, and paying for food.

While the kids are chipping in to pay for telephone and cable service, the parents need to make sure to keep their wallets closed. Your children need to pay their bills. This includes car payments, insurance, gasoline, credit cards, and cell phones. Kids need to learn that if they incur expenses, they are responsible for paying them.

More than Money

Besides learning to pay their way, your children need to understand that households don't keep themselves up without some assistance. Everyone living in the house needs to be responsible for keeping it clean and keeping it maintained. Mowing the lawn, weeding the flower beds, painting the shutters, and cleaning the bathroom are par for the course when you own a home. If the kids are living at home, they need to do their share of the work.

The Bottom Line

When kids learn to manage their money and maintain a household before they leave home, they (and you) will be better off in the long run. But if your adult children are struggling financially, returning to their familial abode may make sense—for a while. Creating a game plan with them and setting and keeping household rules (paying their bills, helping with chores, and creating a timetable for when they will depart) may go a long way towards maintaining harmony in the home.

Article Sources
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  1. Pew Research Center. "A Majority of Young Adults in the U.S. Live With Their Parents for the First Time Since the Great Depression."

  2. The Chronicle of Higher Education. "Report: Living Expenses, Not Tuition, Are the Problem."