Explaining Why so many Young Adults Live with Their Parents

You might like this video version of some of the material discussed below

According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2011, nearly 3.0 million adults aged between 20 and 34 were living with a parent or parents, an increase of almost half a million, or 20 per cent, since 1997. This is despite the number of people in the population aged 20 to 34 being largely the same in 1997 and 2011. This means that nearly 1/3 men and 1/7 women in the UK now live with their parents.

If you look at just 30 somethings, however, then the numbers drop to just 5% of women and 10% of men living with their parents

However – Not all ‘Kippers*’ are the same! (*Kids living in their parents’ pockets)

It is important to keep in mind that not all ‘adult kids’ are the same; experiences of living at home with your parents into your 30s will vary.

For example, the experience of being a NEET and living at home with your parents may well be different to being one of the ‘Boomerang Kids’ – who move out to go to university but then move back in with their parents afterwards

Some adult kids would have lived at home continuously, but many would have moved out for a period with a partner, and then moved back in again.

Adult-Kids will also vary as to the extent to which they are forced into living with their parents due to financial reasons, or choose to do so for ‘lifestyle reasons’.

Experiences will also differ depending on parental attitudes to having their adult children living with them.

Why are increasing numbers of ‘adult children’ living with their parents?

Many commentators stress that young adults have no choice but to live with their parents, focusing on structural (mainly economic) reasons that force people to live with their parents.

The following structural changes mean it is harder for young people to transition to independent living.

  1. The massive expansion in higher education has seen the number of undergraduate students triple since 1970, from 414,000 to 1.27 million – this means more young adults are not in work and economically dependent on their parents for longer.
  2. The recent recession has been accompanied by a sharp increase in unemployment rates among young adults,” This means that recent graduates, especially men, are increasingly returning to live with their parents after graduating.  Their numbers are being swelled by the increasing levels of student debt they have accumulated by the time they finish their studies.
  3. Then there are changes in the housing market. Even those in work cannot afford to move out of the family home as first-time buyers now face house prices that are, on average, five times average incomes, compared with a multiple of three times 20 years ago.

However, there are also cultural changes which mean young adults are more likely to choose to live with their parents even when they could move out.

  1. There is more uncertainty about what a ‘normal relationship’ is. Changing roles of men and women and changing expectations of relationships and family life result in young people being more reluctant to settle down in a classic long term relationship.
  2. The meaning of ‘being 20 something is different today to what it was in the 1970s. Today, we simply want to ‘settle down’ later in life – 20s have become about ‘pulling and dating’, ‘30s about serious long term relationships, and late 30s about children. Of those 20 somethings who do flee the parental nest, they are increasingly likely to either live alone or share with friends. The number of young couple households has been decreasing in recent years.
  3. The increasing number of ‘kippers’ might also be linked to the increasing instability of relationships. There are plenty of late 20s and 30 somethings who have previously moved in with a partner for a few years, suffered a relationship breakdown, ended up back with their parents and are now reluctant to recommit!

See this Guardian post for further info

Perspectives on the ‘not quite children’

Most of the commentary on this social trend seems to be negative – focusing on such things as:

Some research, however, suggests that adults living at home with their parents can be a positive thingAs this research, based on 500 ‘adult-kids’ in the USA suggests

‘Few 20-somethings who live at home are mooching off their parents. More often, they are using the time at home to gain necessary credentials and save money for a more secure future.

Helicopter parents aren’t so bad after all. Involved parents provide young people with advantages, including mentoring and economic support, that have become increasingly necessary to success.’

Find out More

For More posts on families and households please click here

For a more extended discussion of trends which lie behind increasing family diversity please click here

Nice blog post on ‘how returning to live with our parents in our 30s benefited both sides’

BBC News – 1.6 Million people aged 20-40 live with their parents

Barbara Ellen of the Guardian really doesn’t approve – NB most of the commentators don’t approve of her views either!

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Is Childhood Disappearing?

There is an argument that childhood as we know is disappearing; that the distinction between adulthood and childhood is narrowing. Neil Postman (1994) argued that childhood is ‘disappearing at a dazzling speed’.

As supporting evidence he looked at the trend towards giving children the same rights as adults, the growing similarity of adult and children’s clothing and even cases of children committing ‘adult crimes’ (murder, rape).

Postman’s theory is based on the view that communications technology is the primary thing which shapes society.

Following Aries, he suggested that in the middle ages most people were illiterate (they couldn’t read or write) and speech was the main form of communicating, thus there was hardly any distinction between adults and children.

Postman argues that childhood emerged along with mass literacy. This was because the printed word created a division between those that could read (adults) and those that couldn’t (children). This division emerged because it takes several years to master reading and writing skills.

HOWEVER, he argues now that things like television and the internet blur this separation and that children are now much more able to access the ‘adult world’. As a result, childhood as we know it is disappearing.

Three pieces of supporting evidence for the disappearance of childhood –

  • Growth of the Internet/ Social Media means parents and children are becoming more equal
  • The ‘Learner Voice’ in education – and children being used on interview panels for some new teachers
  • Children having the same rights as adults (UN’s rights of the child)
  • ‘Kidults’ – adults becoming more like children!

Criticisms of the theory that childhood is disappearing

  • It’s more complex than just ‘disappearance – several trends going on at once
  • E.G. Children are more protected (labour and welfare laws)
  • E.G. Children are more controlled (cotton wool kids)

Criticisms of The March of Progress View part 2: Inequalities between children 

For Part 1: Toxic Childhood and Paranoid Parenting click here

Conflict theorists such as Marxists and Feminists criticise the ‘March of Progress view’ because it is too rose tinted. The March of Progress View ignores the fact that not all children have benefited equally from the protections and services put in place.  We can point to at least the following significant inequalities among children.

  1. Children have not benefited equally from universal education – Rich children on average benefit a LOT MORE than poor children.

Free school meals are generally held as a reliable indicator of poverty. In 2012/13, 64.8% of pupils not eligible for a free school meal obtained at least 5 A*-C grades including maths and english. But that percentage drops dramatically to just 38.1% among pupils who are eligible for free school meals. The difference – 26.7 percentage points has been dubbed the ‘attainment gap’ by the think tank Demos.

At the other end of the class spectrum – Half of all A and A* grades at A level in the UK are secured by the 7 per cent of students who are privately educated, and 4.5 times as much is spent on teaching them as on the average state-educated student.

2. Child Protection services fail to protect many children from harm.

The most horrific example of this is from the town of Rotherham where gangs of Asian men groomed, abused and trafficked 1400 children while police were contemptuous of the victims and the council ignored what was going on, in spite of years of warnings and reports about what was happening.

A recent report commissioned by the council, covering 1997 to 2013, detailed cases where children as young as 11 had been raped by a number of different men, abducted, beaten and trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England to continue the abuse.

It said that three reports from 2002 to 2006 highlighted the extent of child exploitation and links to wider criminality but nothing was done, with the findings either suppressed or simply ignored. Police failed to act on the crimes and treated the victims with contempt and deemed that they were “undesirables” not worthy of protection.

  1. Girls suffer more problems in childhood than boys

One example of this is that girls have to negotiate the psychological pressures of ‘objectification’ much more than boys – Evidence below

  • A 2007 survey of Brownies aged 7-10 were asked to describe ‘planet sad’ – they spoke of it being inhabited by girls who were fat.
  • A 2009 survey found that a quarter of girls thought it was more important to be beautiful than clever. – Youngpoll.com
  • 16% of 15 -17 year old girls have avoided going to school because they were worried about their appearance
  • One further consequence of objectification is that girls face sexual abuse from boys. (nspcc)

A second example comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities. One report from 2008 suggests that there are up to 3000 third and fourth generation Asian women who are subjected to forced marriages. However, the actual numbers may be far greater…. Full fact reported that in 2011 the Forced Marriage Unit in the UK had taken up 400 live cases of forced marriage, but the site also reports that one expert in the field suggested that there might be up to 10 000 forced marriages or threats of forced marriage per year in the UK.

Toxic Childhood and Paranoid Parenting: Criticisms of the March of Progress View of Childhood

The common sense view is to see the above changes as ‘progressive’. Most people would argue that now children are more protected that their lives are better, but is this actually the case? The ‘March of Progress’ view argues that yes, children’s lives have improved and they are now much better off than in the Victorian Era and the Middle Ages. They point to all the evidence on the previous page as just self-evidently indicating an improvement to children’s’ lives.

Conflict theorists argue against this view – they say that in some ways children’s lives are worse than they used to be. There are basically three main criticisms made of the march of progress view

1. Recent technological changes have resulted in significant harms to children – what Sociologist Sue Palmer refers to as Toxic Childhood.

2. Some sociologists argue that children today are too controlled. Sociologists such as Frank Furedi argue that children today are overprotected, or too controlled – We live in the age of ‘Paranoid Parenting’.

3. There are significant inequalities between children, so if there has been progress for some, there certainly has not been equal progress.

Toxic Childhood – Toxic Childhood is where rapid technological and cultural changes cause psychological and physical damage to children

toxic-childhood-bookOne argument against the March of Progress View of Childhood comes from Sue Palmer, who argues that children today are experiencing a ‘toxic childhood’. She argues that a toxic mix of technological and cultural changes is having a negative impact on the development of a growing number of children. On her web site Sue Palmer outlines SIX WAYS in which childhood is toxic.

1. The decline of outdoor play – linked to increased childhood obesity

2. The commercialisation of childhood – linked to children being exploited by advertisers

3. The ‘schoolification’ of early childhood – reduces independence

4.The decline of listening, language and communication skills – because of shortened attention spans

5. Screen saturation – reduces face to face interaction

6.Tests, targets and education – increases anxiety amongst children.

Criticisms of the view that childhood has become increasingly toxic

  • This could be an example of an adult ‘panicking’ about technological changes.
    Children are better off today as consumers rather than producers (child labourers)
  • Children are still very protected today – this view assumes children are delicate and in need of protection rather than resilient.
  • This article by Catherine Bennett is worth a read – it reminds us that ‘in the good old days we just had to endure beatings’, although in fairness to Sue Palmer I don’t think she actually romanticizes the past, she’s really just pointing out the new and different problems children now face in a post-modern age.

Related Posts 

Paranoid Parenting

Toxic Childhood in The News

More Evidence of Toxic Childhood

Inequalities between children

The Social Construction of Chilhoood

This post examines childhood as a social construction looking at the work of Jane Pilcher and Philippe Aries among others.

Is Childhood Socially constructed

There seems to be near universal agreement that there are some fundamental differences between adults and children. For example people in most societies seem to agree that

1. Children are physically and psychologically immature compared to adults
2. Children are dependent on adults for a range of biological and emotional needs – Children need a lengthy process of socialisation which takes several years.
3. In contrast to adults, children are not competent to run their own lives and cannot be held responsible for their actions

In contrast to the period of childhood, one of the defining characteristics of adulthood is that adults are biologically mature, are competent to run their own lives and are fully responsible for their actions.

However, despite broad agreement on the above, what people mean by childhood and the position children occupy is not fixed but differs across times, places and cultures. There is considerable variation in what people in different societies think about the place of children in society, about what children should and shouldn’t be doing at certain ages, about how children should be socialised, and about the age at which they should be regarded as adults.

For this reason, Sociologists say that childhood is socially constructed. This means that childhood is something created and defined by society:

The social construction of childhood in modern British society

Part of the social construction of childhood in modern Britain is that we choose to have a high degree of separation between the spheres of childhood and adulthood. Add in details to the headings below

1. There are child specific places where only children and ‘trusted adults’ are supposed to go, and thus children are relatively sheltered from adult life.
2. There are several laws preventing children from doing certain things which adults are allowed to do.
3. There are products specifically for children –which adults are not supposed to play with (although some of them do).

All of the above separations between adults and children have nothing to do with the biological differences between adults and children – children do not need to have ‘special places’ just for them, they do not need special laws protecting them, and neither do they need specific toys designed for them. We as a society have decided that these things are desirable for children, and thus we ‘construct childhood’ as a being very different to adulthood.

The Social Construction of Childhood – A Comparative Approach

A good way to illustrate the social construction of childhood is to take a comparative approach – that is, to look at how children are seen and treated in other times and places than their own. The anthropologists Ruth Benedict (1934) argues that children in traditional, non-industrial societies are generally treated differently from children in modern western societies.

In other cultures children are seen as an ‘economic asset’ and expected to engage in paid work – In Less developed countries children are seen as a source of cheap (free) labour on the farm, in the home or in sweat shops where the wage can help boost the family income.
Sexual behaviour – In some cultures girls are sometimes married off at 14 or younger, taking on the duties of a wife or mother at a young age

 

Philippe Aries – A Radical View on The Social Construction of Childhood

The historian Philippe Aries has an extreme view on childhood as a social construction. He argues that in the Middle Ages (the 10th to the 13th century) ‘the idea of childhood did not exist’ – children were not seen as essentially different to adults like they are today.

  • Aries uses the following evidence to support his view…
  • Children were expected to work at a much earlier age
  • The law often made no distinction between children and adults

Works of art from the period often just depict children as small adults – they wear the same clothes and appear to work and play together.

In addition to the above Edward Shorter (1975) argues about parental attitudes to children in the Middle ages were very different from today…

  • High infant mortality rates encouraged indifference and neglect, especially towards infants
  • Parents often neglected to give new born babies names – referring to them as ‘it’ and it was not uncommon to eventually give a new baby a name of a dead sibling.

Aries argues that it is only from the 13th century onwards that modern notions of childhood – the idea that childhood is a distinct phase of life from adulthood – begin to emerge. Essentially Aries is arguing that childhood as we understand it today is a relatively recent ‘invention’

If you like this sort of thing then you might like this – over 50 pages of accessible, user friendly, exam-focused notes for only £0.99* – from iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

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Related Posts

The March of Progress View of Childhood

The Social Construction of Childhood (from the Open University)

The Social Construction of Childhood (from the Junior University)