Empty nests are an endangered cultural phenomenon

by Ashley Bloemhof
Posted 5/28/16, 10:00 am

Ross Van Groningen struggled to land a job right out of college. The 23-year-old graduated from Dordt College last year and headed to his hometown of Ripon, Calif., to find a job. With a business major, he thought he’d be fine.

“I feel like I was decently marketable,” he said.

While searching for a job, Van Groningen lived with his parents. A year later, his address remains the same, but everyone’s ready for the next step: He’s ready to move out, and “they’re ready to be empty-nesters,” he said of his parents.

For millennials, moving back in with parents—or never leaving—is no longer the fallback. It’s the game plan. For the first time since 1880, 18- to 24-year-olds’ most common living arrangement has them sleeping in their childhood beds.Nearly one-third of millennials in the United States take advantage of this opportunity.

Though unconventional by recent standards, experts like Jeffery Jensen Arnett believe the shift is positive. A research professor at Clark University, Arnett conceived the concept of “emerging adulthood,” a term representing young adults’ discovery of their true selves throughout their 20s.

As part of the Clark University Poll of Parents of Emerging Adults, Arnett and his staff collected data from 18- to 29-year-olds and their parents across the country.

The study found parents “miss their kids when they move out and enjoy having them live at home, even when they move back in. There are conflicts, yes, especially over money … but parents are generally willing to support their kids emotionally and financially.”

Steve Vander Molen, 24, a registered nurse at Doctor’s Medical Center in Modesto, Calif., said his parents never protested when he approached them about moving home to save money to pay off bills or save for a house. They were “fine with me moving back in for as long as I need to.” 

He estimates nearly one-quarter of his college friends moved back in with their parents and that almost half of his high school buddies never left home.

American millennials are not the only ones moving home. In a March 2014 article, Eurofound (European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions) reported that 48 percent of Europeans age 18 to 34 live with their parents.

That’s 36.7 million people across 28 countries.

And while American families with returning millennials claim to have happy home lives, the same cannot be said for many Europeans in multi-generational homes.

“Really we see that multi-generational households have very low life satisfaction and a very high level of deprivation and perceived social exclusion,” Eurofound research manager Anna Ludwinek told The Guardian. Economic setbacks, such as high unemployment rates, led many European millennials to return home.

Families in Japan face similar struggles, though for different reasons. For Japanese millennials, the desire to live at home involves an avoidance of marital commitment.In 2012, Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications reported 48.9 percent of millennials live with their parents.

In 1999, Chuo University professor Masahiro Yamad labeled millennials living at home “parasite singles.” JapanToday said he used the term to refer to young adults “who enjoy cozy lives, delaying or refraining from marriage while continuing to live with their parents.”

Back in Ripon, Van Groningen understands why millennials want to delay marriage. He sees his married friends’ tight schedules and can’t imagine himself in their position.

“I feel like I’m the actual millennial and they’re the weird ones. … I don’t want to answer to anyone. I want to live my own life,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ashley Bloemhof

Ashley is a World Journalism Institute graduate.

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  • William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    agree it's a good effect but overall negative situation. Lack of jobs, "gender studies" type degrees, etc. 

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    I was a late bloomer, but I managed to get an apartment across the street and start learning about life that way.  I guess each person is different.

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    Moving out away from family is likely an isolated "cultural blip" in the west. We knew missionaries in Latin America who said that the 80s TV show Dallas resonated well with most of South America. JR after all was a rich successful executive who still lived at home with his parents. Italy is a tad further along in the trend of young adults moving back home. They are even called Mamm-istas in Italy. Excepting school and the military I doubt I would have ever moved away from home or too far from it but for many youngsters, parents need to encourage them to stretch their wings and leave the nest even if that means darling daughter moves in with church singles. In Austin Tx our church had a burgeoning singles dept with several such all women living arrangements and young men often did likewise. Invariably folks move out to marry and a vacancy comes about and having other WORKING Christian housemates is a great way to foster accountability.

  • Meg I
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    Some key cultural facts are glaringly missing from this article.  I have lived in Japan for 32 years - over half of my life.   Multi-generational living has been the norm here for centuries.   Throughout Asia, if done correctly (not with 20 or 30 something young men sitting on sofas play video games), it is a powerful testimony of the family -  three or four generations of the family.   Yes, American culture has perverted this idea and now many city dwelling young Japanese have too, but here in Okinawa, the norm is to see three or four generations living together.  Along with this, if someone here says they are 75 years old, the attitude is, "Ah, still young."   There is something about this lifestyle of living with family, that strengthens a person physically, emotionally and spiritually.  

  • Zinger
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    After graduation from college, I "found myself" in the rice paddies of South Vietnam.  Seemed to have a crystallizing effect on my growing up.