Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
For the first time since the 1880s, more young Americans are living with their parents than with a romantic partner.
From stealth dorms to pod apartments, young Americans are finding all kinds of new ways to live within their means, on their own. But a historic share of 18- to 34-year-olds are relying on the most affordable housing strategy of all: their parents’ house.
A new report by the Pew Research Center finds that for the first time since the 1880s, more young adults in the U.S. are living with their parents than with a romantic partner in their own household. This turn comes as the result of shifts in marriage norms, grim economic realities, and growing college enrollment, both before and after the Great Recession and recent improvements in the labor market.
For more than 130 years, the most common living arrangement for young adults had been to live with a spouse or significant other. The U.S. hit peak-romantic-cohabitation in the 1960s, when 62 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds were coupled off in their own households and 20 percent were living with their parents. By 2014 the former share had fallen to 31.6 percent, while the latter rose to 32.1 percent—a turning point in the modern era. (The remainder were heading up their own households, or living in the home of another family member, a friend, or in dorms.)
These trends break down differently across genders. Since 2009, a higher share of men ages 18 to 34 have been living with mom and/or dad than with a partner in their own home. In 2014, 28 percent were living as part of a romantic couple, while 35 percent were living with parents. Young women, meanwhile, are actually still more likely to be living with a spouse or partner (35 percent) than they are to be living with their parents (29 percent). But they, too, are approaching that threshold.
Education levels have played a significant role in determining who is living at home and who is on their own. As the chart to the left shows, young people without college degrees are more and more likely to be living under their parents’ roofs than their more-educated peers.
What is driving these changing housing dynamics for young Americans? The sour economy is surely one factor. As employment and average wages have dropped—a trend in force not only since the Recession, but since 1970—young men in particular have become more and more likely to be living with their parents, using their family homes as a safety net.
However, that may not be a sufficient explanation for housing trends among young women, who have had growing success in the labor market since the 1960s, unlike young men. That’s where delayed marriage, and perhaps an increasing rejection of romantic partnership in general, may enter the picture. Again, these are trends that started well before the Recession. “While cohabitation has been on the rise, the overall share of young adults either married or living with an unmarried partner has substantially fallen since 1990,” the report states. A previous Pew analysis projected that up to a quarter of today’s young adults may never marry. What all of these shifting dynamics mean for the future of housing, families, and work has yet to fully emerge.