It was not so long ago that if you let slip on a date that, as a late-twenty-to-mid-thirtysomething, you still lived with your parents, that date was over.
Your former future soulmate might sputter something like: “You live with your mom? Call me never!”
In films, it was a trope used to fly a red flag, a symptom of arrested development, a failure to leave the roost or at least proof of an immature desire not to.
Fast forward to today. Your date might lean over and purr into your ear,
“It’s so attractive how you’re willing to sacrifice in order to achieve your long-term financial goals.”
Millennials, love them or hate them, have become pragmatists. The rent is too damn high and house prices have been out of reach for too long, so the generation twice bruised by financial crises has gone and eroded the stigma about moving in with mom and dad. Forget symbolic independence, for those who can, living at home is the new frugal-chic.
We were already the most likely generation to live at home. In 2018,
15 per cent of American millennials lived with their parents despite high rates of employment, according to Pew Research. In the UK, the number of 20 to 34-year-olds living at home rose 46 per cent over the past 20 years to 3.5m.
Most countries and cultures do not stigmatise intergenerational cohabitation the way that white Britons and Americans have, criticising millennials for a “failure to launch”, delaying marriage and starting families.
Moving in with the folks is a move straight out of the economic-crisis playbook, and accelerating under the weight of the pandemic.
In March and April this year, 2.7m Americans moved back home, according to analysis by real-estate website Zillow. In a recent survey by TD Ameritrade, an online broker, 39 per cent of 24 to 29-year-olds said they had or were planning to move home as a result of the pandemic.
Without the diversions that make living in urban shoeboxes worth the expense, expiring leases are not renewed or, if they are, break clauses are included. “Until 2021, then we will see” is the refrain I hear from friends.
This return to the roost is sometimes camouflaged as “going to spend some time with family”. Now that remote work can be performed from anywhere, no parents-formerly-known-as-empty-nesters are safe.
To give them credit, it was forward-thinking of baby boomers to buy up and sit on such spacious properties. Those spare bedrooms will come in handy, though it is less clear how parents feel about this migratory shift.
A 2018 study by Pew entitled “Parents Are Doing Too Much for Their Adult Children” found that 64 per cent of Americans believed children should be financially independent by age 22.
But recently there has been a noticeable shift in tone. No longer is moving home a regression that parents whisper about, using the words “a bit lost” or “figuring it out”, but rather a badge for children with properly aligned priorities.
“Saving money” rings of got-it-togetherness. Some may not move home by choice as job losses mount and the economy contracts, but in a global pandemic that has left everyone a “bit lost”, we all benefit from this rebranding.
For those sitting on decades of capital gains rather than exposing themselves to the cold face of the rental market, a little context. In New York, rents have risen faster than incomes for years and, in most cases, tenants are required to earn at least 40 times their rent. A person must earn $60,000 a year to qualify for a $1,500-a-month apartment,
yet the median one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan currently costs $3,350.
In Los Angeles, the median-rent-to-income ratio is 49 per cent. In London it is 36 per cent.
The young people of “generation rent”, struggling to save, are tired of chasing rainbows. If you want to get on that gilded property ladder, why would you do the financial equivalent of driving a brand new Volkswagen Golf into the sea twice a year when you could just . . . not?
The option to move home is an unfair privilege for children of parents with the willingness and space to support a long-term barnacle on the
SS I Thought We Were Free.
Home may not be a mentally healthy option for everyone. The near necessity of a dual income or family support risks further exacerbating the divide between the homebuying “will haves” and “will probably never haves” with long-term economic consequences.
There are also demographic consequences to extended time at home, and birth rates have fallen in the countries where high numbers of adult children live with their parents. You’re not swiping right on Hinge or Tinder watching Netflix with dad. Overnights risk teenage-level awkwardness.
Lucky friends report happy relations with their new parent-housemates, who are “pretty chill” and “do their own thing”. Like SpareRoom without the dirty dishes. Parents surveyed seem to enjoy having the kids a little closer to hand and catching a glimpse into their mysterious adult lives.
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The trend has another side. A few people I spoke with moved home because parents, in a vulnerable age bracket and unable to work from home, have lost their jobs. Moving back means children can help financially by sharing the rent burden.
Millennials moving home, could bring the US and UK more in line with cultures where intergenerational homes and finances are more normal, even expected, and in turn change the way we support ageing populations.
Millennials are not failing to launch. Like every generation before, we are just busy rewriting our happily ever after.
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