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April 16, 2014

Dude, You’re Still Living in Mom’s Basement?

Garvens Mortgage Group image.

We’ve all heard of them. Why there may be one in your basement or it could be you.

We’re talking about young adults who, for a variety of reasons – most of them financial – are still living with their parents or a parent.

It’s a growing trend, as surveys have found, and showing little or no signs of abating.

Even the online Urban Dictionary has termed “mom’s basement” as part of the lexicon to describe a slacker or someone who needs to get a little ambition injection.

Stereotypical home for the geek, nerd, fatbeard, loser, etc. The term implies that the individual still lives with one or both of his parents despite being a grown man. Reasons for still living at home may include a lack of drive and ambition, being unable to afford a place of his own due to spending all of his money on his hobbies (i.e. Star Trek figurines, comic books, and online role-playing games), or just plain being a mama’s boy.

“Jeff is such a loser. He really needs to move out of his mom’s basement and work on getting laid rather than spending every free minute playing World of Warcraft.”

But while the numbers are increasing, as shown by census information, it’s also not emotionally healthy for someone dwelling for years in “mom’s basement.”

The Census Bureau has charted a “significant” increase in the number of young adults living with mom and dad.

 Jason Eppink photo via Flickr.

Jason Eppink photo via Flickr.

As was reported earlier this year, the Census Bureau said 13.6 percent of Americans ages 25 to 34 were living with their parents in 2012, up slightly from 13.4 percent in 2011. Though the trend began before the recession, it accelerated sharply during the downturn. In the early 2000s, about 10 percent of people in this age group lived at home. It concluded that “the share of young adults living with their parents edged up last year despite improvements in the economy — a sign that the effects of the recession are lingering.”

By contrast, roughly half of 18- to 23-year-olds, many of whom are still finishing their education, are currently living at home.

Many might recall the phenomenon served as the basis for the movie Failure to Launch. Matthew McConaughey plays Tripp, 30-something bachelor whose parents want him out of the house.

Gallup reported tracking interviews conducted from Aug. 7 through Dec. 29, 2013, in which adults younger than 35 were asked about their current living arrangements. The Gallup report focuses on the 14 percent who are beyond college age and living at home.

As cited by the polling firm, an important milestone in adulthood is “establishing independence from one’s parents, including finding a job, a place to live and, for most, a spouse or partner, and starting one’s own family.”

A statistical model that takes into account a variety of demographic characteristics indicates that three situational factors are most likely to distinguish the group of 24- to 34-year-olds living at home from their peers:

  • They are much less likely to be married.
  • They are less likely to be working full-time and more likely to be unemployed or underemployed.
  • They are less likely to have graduated from college.

According to Gallup, young adults between the ages of 24 and 34 who live at home with their parents are significantly less likely to be “thriving” than those in the same age group who don’t live with their parents.

Gallup used a tool known as the Cantril Scale to determine the well-being of young adults living with their parents compared with those outside the home.

Simply, the Cantril Self-Anchoring Scale, developed by pioneering social researcher Dr. Hadley Cantril, consists of the following:

Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.

The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.

On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present)

On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)

The surveys, released in February, showed show that young adults who live at home are significantly less likely to be married, to be employed full time, and to have a college education than those who are the same age but don’t live at home. Because all three of these characteristics are related to how people evaluate their lives, it is not surprising to find that those living at home are less likely to be thriving.

The percentage of young adults living at home who described themselves as thriving was 51 per cent. Those not living with parents tallied 57 per cent. Likewise, 48 per cent of those in mom and dad’s basement said they were “struggling” while only 42 per cent outside the home gave that response.

“Even after accounting for marital status, employment, education, and a number of other demographic variables, those living at home between the ages of 24 and 34 still are less likely to be thriving. This suggests that while living with one’s parents may have some benefits for young people who have not yet found their full footing in society, the net effect of living at home lowers young adults’ perceptions of where they stand in life,” Gallup concluded.

How long is long enough for the basement dwellers?

The Wall Street Journal cites a study by realtor Coldwell Banker that suggests five years after the last day of college is the absolute ‘get out of Dodge’ moment.

That’s how long, on average, parents said it was OK for adult children to live at home. And that’s how long millennials, those between the ages of 18 and 34, said was their limit to room with mom and dad.

Other parents won’t set a boundary on the time they’re willing to let their kids live with them: 24 percent of all parents polled think it’s fine for adult children to live at home as long as they wish to eat mom’s home cooking.
According to the Wall Street Journal site Market Watch, the reasons more kids are living at home longer are, again, easy to explain and almost always financial.

“Some of these millennials are coming out and have huge college loans. And also the jobs being offered out there are very often temp jobs and part-time jobs,” said Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist who worked with Coldwell Banker on the survey. These realities have helped remove the stigma that used to come with living with your parents as a young adult.

Ludwig said joked it’s almost to the point where age 27 is the new 18.

As has been cited here, researchers have determined there are a number of factors involved in kids — well, adults really, who ‘fail to launch’ and move out on their own. As the data from various surveys and studies have shown, factors range from socio-economic conditions, like a declining marriage rate and poor job growth, as well as an increase in college enrolment. When you think about it, it does compute — if you can’t find a job, one’s chances of raising the money to move out diminish.

But, at what point does risking one’s long-term mental and emotional health become too great to spend another day asking mom ‘What’s for dinner?’

Ludwig told Caldwell Banker the young adults really are holding back their future the longer they stay rooted in the home.

“There’s a point where it’s not healthy,” Ludwig said. The kids regress and postpone their journeys into the “real world,” while their parents may be dipping into their retirement money to help them.

As the economy gets stronger, stays at home are likely to be less common and will probably be of shorter duration, Ludwig said.

But she also noted millenials are known for having good relationships with their parents. That can make it harder to leave the nest—even in a more favorable job market.

Many of us of a certain age couldn’t wait to get out on our own, to spread our wings, if you will. Not so with today’s young adults, said the psychotherapist. “Part of what can encourage millennials to move out of the house is the arguing. But millennials do look to their parents for advice. Getting along makes it much cushier,” Ludwig said.

It seems as life gets easier, financially, for the momma’s boys and girls, and moms and pops get fed up with shaving off chunks of their retirement income to keep the kids fed and watered well into adulthood, the nudge will become a shove and we’ll see the numbers come down for percentages of basement dwellers.

Meantime, let’s hope they’re at least mowing the lawn.


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Chris Malette is a retired newspaper journalist with 35 years of experience as a reporter and city editor. Over his career, Malette covered municipal and federal politics, military, health and court beats. He has reported from Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti and covered relief efforts in Honduras in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. He now works for SPN News as an editorial columnist.

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