Almost 40% of young Americans were living with their parents, siblings or other relatives in 2015, the largest percentage since 1940, according to an analysis of census data by real estate tracker Trulia.
Despite a rebounding economy and recent job growth, the share of those between the ages of 18 and 34 doubling up with parents or other family members has been rising since 2005. Back then, before the start of the last recession, roughly one out of three were living with family.
As it happens, the same morning the Journal published its story, Intellectual Takeout published an article in the same vein written by Shane Ralston.
In the article, Ralston suggested that many millennials are living in what philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) called ‘bad faith’ by failing to make defining life choices that lead to a meaningful existence.
Ralston touched on the phrase “failure to launch,” an idea used to describe aimless young adults who live with their parents. I knew the term vaguely, but only because it was the name of a mediocre movie made a decade ago. In the movie, Matthew McConaughey plays an amiable, unambitious fellow in his 30s who still lives with Mom (Kathy Bates) and Dad (Terry Bradshaw). The latter hire an “interventionist” (Sarah Jessica Parker) to gently coax their son out of the home. (It being a romantic comedy, the interventionist falls for the handsome but slightly pathetic protagonist.)
I recite the synopsis of the movie for a reason. The film shows that our culture understands there is something not quite right (slightly sad even) about capable adults living off their parents, particularly those in their late twenties and thirties. It prevents humans from making the aforementioned defining life choices that often lead to growth even if mistakes are made along the way (especially if mistakes are made, one could argue).
The 2008 film Step Brothers, a better movie than Failure to Launch, offers a hilarious take on what happens when ‘young adults’ overstay their welcome. So why is it happening so much?
A lot has been written about millennials. Social science suggests this generation is both emotionally fragile and depressed. (For the record: I tend to be skeptical of cross-generational comparisons.) Is it possible these are symptoms (or causes) of the phenomena? Can answers be gleaned from the past?
The point at which the most Americans lived with parents was reached in 1940, the Journal reports. In that year, 41 percent of young Americans lived with parents. One needn’t look far for an explanation here, however; this was the tail-end of the Great Depression, a decade-long period in which work was historically scarce.
In contrast, there does not seem to be any single historical force driving the recent rise; it started well before the Great Recession, as the graph above shows.
A thorough answer to that question will have to wait for a future article, though I’ll hazard a guess and say the rise is related to the changes in parenting that occurred around 1980.
Is the failure of more and more young people to “launch” their lives a serious concern or a passing fad that will soon correct itself? What do you think?
Jon Miltimore is senior editor of Intellectual Takeout. Follow him on Facebook.
[Image Credit: Columbia Pictures: From movie ‘Step Brothers’]