This month, thousands of members of the class of 2012 will stride to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" when they pick up their college diplomas. When they leave with sheepskins in hand, though, many of them will be marching to a different tune, new research shows. Some graduates will be marching back into their childhood bedrooms.
As many as 85 percent of today's college students will return home to live with their parents at some point after they graduate, based on research that Johns Hopkins University sociologist Katherine Newman conducted for her latest book, "The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition" (Beacon Press, 2012).
"Today, it’s really close to something of a majority experience," said Newman, dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins. "It’s part of an elongating life course that is affecting both young people and their parents."
This moving-home trend began to emerge in the 1980s when the entry-level job market for young people began to develop rough patches, Newman said. The waning recession is only exacerbating that problem as young people, often weighed down by student loan debt, are finding they need a post-college internship or need to take a job that doesn't pay well to get the experience that will qualify them for something better in the future.
This return to the nest is not just benefitting budget-conscious young adults, Newman said; it's benefitting their parents as well. Refilling the empty nest has a way of making parents feel young because they are not moving on in the life cycle themselves. Instead, they are active parents once again, enjoying the pleasant parts of parenting without the difficult aspects inherent in supervising teenagers.
But what’s good for families isn’t necessarily good for the economy as a whole. At the national level, the mass homeward migration could bring about negative economic consequences, Newman said. As a generation of young adults delay starting new families, she predicts that population growth will fizzle and economic gains will stall, based on her case studies of how the trend is playing out in Italy, Spain and Japan. Social Security becomes harder to pay for when birth rates decline and productivity is rarely enhanced when a society ages, as it has in Japan.
“Things that used to happen at the age of 22 are now stretching out to 25 or 27 on into the 30s and so we don’t know how long that can stretch,” Newman said. “But we are a very flexible species and we are adapting to these economic conditions and these educational demands in the best way we know how.”
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