A recent Bloomberg report found that about a third of Americans aged 18 to 34 are living at home. One of every three millennials is living with their parents.
No, this is not normal.
Our elders have lamented the lack of ambition that seemingly plagues this generation, yet there has always been a comforting notion to fall back on: every generation has its fair share of slackers. Even a millennial would admit that their generation has more than their fair share of rudderless ships, but that ultimately the share of millennials following a traditional life course-graduate, move out, marry, replenish the population, repeat- would keep the economy growing and the American dream alive.
The Bloomberg report should dash the notion that the millennial generation, as well as the Gen Y, Gen Z, iGen, and Centennials that will follow, should be treated and studied similarly to previous generations.
They shouldn't. Millennials have shown a fundamentally different, and inferior, approach toward life that is now undeniable.
We are dealing with a widespread, generational malaise that has already created regressive societal shifts that are destined only to proliferate. Regardless of where you place the blame- the internet, effects of teen and/or fractured parenting units, fundamental shifts in the job market, or other factors- we have to address what effects a mass migration back into the parents’ basement might look like for America.
Before the ripple effects are examined, let’s look at the face of the problem.
It is important to note that included in this study were those living in a college dormitory, which skews the statistics a bit. Still, college has long lost its luster of being a self-improvement portal that the intellectually inclined earn entry to through a series of merit-based litmus tests. Attending a university does not equate to moving back to one’s parents’ house, but it often does not equate to a job upon graduation, either.
So, while these current students should not all be counted toward the flocks of post-grads moving home, statistics show that many of them eventually will. The study tells us this:
“Among 25- to 34-year-olds living at home, one in four is neither enrolled in school nor working. That's 2.2 million people, a small percentage of the nation's more than 70 million millennials, but a striking figure nonetheless.”
If one only considered the number of grown adults living at home, it would be very concerning. When one then factors in that that a quarter of that number have no jobs, no apparent prospects, and no plans to continue their education, the cliché of a Generation Lost begins to feel like reality.
The striking and obvious question that arises is why so many people are not more determined to set themselves on a path out of their childhood bedroom. Out of a house where one must presumably abide by the rules of parents who they likely spent their teenage years rebelling against. Who would be comfortable, from a practical and principle standpoint, living with their parents at the age of 34?
There are and always have been exceptions. The mentally and physically handicapped often live with their parents throughout their life, though even someone with Down Syndrome, for example, may express the desire and exhibit the capability to live on their own.
We aren’t talking about exceptions. We are talking about one-third of an able-bodied, right-minded generation with more educational resources than any previous generation by a wide margin.
“In 2005, the majority of young people lived independently in their own household (either alone, with a spouse, or an unmarried partner), which was the predominant living arrangement in 35 states.”
Conversely, consider the scenario a mere 10 years later:
“By 2015—just a decade later—only six states had a majority of young people living independently."
To make matters worse, more Americans aged 18 to 34 now live with a parent than with a spouse. In the 1970s, an individual within the same demographic was twice as likely to live with a spouse or partner than with a parent.
That’s a major shift, and the 70s weren’t exactly a paradigm of young American achievement, at least not in the traditional sense.
Despite rates of enrollment in undergraduate and graduate programs that rival the 70s, the rates of success in terms of financial independence lag far behind previous generations.
Faced with these alarming statistics, the next question is a crucial one: Why?
The infantilizing of the American adult cannot be easily explained, and is not attributable to a single cause.
Over-education and crushing levels of debt, coupled with the devaluation of the college degree, in general, have left many financially handcuffed upon graduation. But college graduates are not the most problematic demographic studied.
As the article notes, “most of those who live at home but neither work nor study have a high school diploma or less, and about a fifth have a child.”
In an age when over-education, Fine Arts degrees, and college debt get much of the attention for a generation lagging behind, it is those without even a high school degree that are most susceptible to remaining in the parents’ homes into adulthood.
College seems to be almost a right of passage for most students who stick out high school, but apparently, a disproportionate amount of millennials have found graduating high school to be an unachievable or unworthy goal. Popping out a kid before achieving financial and familial stability more often than not resigns one to a life of struggle, if not financial dependence.
The proliferation of the single-parent home related to the New Deal’s social benefit stipulations has played a large role in this phenomenon. The overall decline in the strictness of parenting- on both individual and societal levels- has contributed to the acceptance of grown adults remaining in the home, neither pursuing education nor achieving gainful employment.
The widespread resignation to a life in which one is content to mooch off their parents rather than struggle to achieve personal independence is hard to fathom for those with even the most modest of aspirations. People with more resources than I must snuff out the root causes, and we must address them. We ignore these fundamental societal changes at our own peril.
Make no mistake, the consequences of this phenomenon are real, and they could prove seismic.
The economic consequences of a generation in which one-third does not work should be straightforward, and very, very concerning. Habits form when we are young, and habitual unemployment- not to mention the mental processes which rationalize such adult dependence- must be nearly impossible to reverse.
The absence of the stabilizing and maturing factors which are marriage and professional responsibilities in one-third of a generation will have detrimental effects on society as a whole. Statistics have shown that unemployment and social isolation lead to increased rates of substance abuse, overall health costs, and suicide. The larger the proportion of unemployed, unmarried, and disillusioned individuals which a given generation harbors, the more a society can be expected to be adversely affected as this generation grows up.
Actually, “grows up” is not the right term, because the process of growing up necessarily includes financial independence, shared partnerships, and professional experience.
Let’s just say “getting older” instead.
When forecasting approximately how society will be impacted by this phenomenon, one must not think too hard.
Paying bills, maintaining the responsibilities that come with a job, and providing financially and emotionally for children is a maturing force. With maturation comes a more level-headed, well-rounded, and wise approach to forming opinions, whether political, moral, or otherwise.
A generation in which one-third either prolongs or completely avoids this maturation process is fundamentally flawed. Imagine one-third of society lacking the life experience necessary to intelligently consider issues of taxation, free speech, political balance, and the preciousness of human life.
What might it look like?
If I had to guess, it would not look unlike UC-Berkeley’s campus in the minutes prior to an Ann Coulter speech.
It might look a whole lot like the Berkeley-ization of an entire nation.
In other words angry, unmarried, cash-strapped, 30-year-old teenagers attempting to enact the violent overthrow of all things they don’t agree with. When somebody remains in their parents’ home, avoiding the humblings that life doles out to working-class people, they prolong their emotional development, responding to disagreement about as well as a toddler just told that he could not have a Hot Wheel.
Perhaps this is an overly simple or alarmist view of what a world ruled by millennials will look like. This issue warrants attention, however, and a spotlight must be cast on the problem through any means. America’s future depends on acknowledging and addressing this problem.
Even if it means employing a bit of alarmism.