In the eerie silence of an empty nest, parents often pine for the good old days of mounting phone bills, the patter of keyboards and loud music reverberating through the house. Yet as rent prices skyrocket and students are squeezed ever tighter, they should be careful what they wish for.
Every year more and more graduates return home to roost, driven back to Mum and Dad by draconian landlords and a hostile job market. While some return out of choice or convenience, many begrudgingly leave the university towns and cities they have become accustomed to out of financial necessity. The number of 20 to 34-year-olds living at home in the UK is now 3.2 million, a 28 per cent increase since 1997, while the government’s English Housing Survey found that between 2008-11 a third of first-time buyers were over the age of 34.
So what, if any, are the benefits of moving back home? Callum Thompson made the decision to return to Myddle, Shropshire, after graduating from the University of Birmingham with a 2:1 in Geography and Town Planning last July.
The 21-year-old says, “It’s easier because you don’t have to do as much for yourself anymore, but I do miss the independence. My parents like it because they miss their kids; they knew I would come back, just like my sisters did.
“I do have the opportunity to do a master's when I feel like it, which makes me more fortunate than most, but I’m not ready yet. Maybe in a year or so.”
However, other students are worried about the strain going home has put on their parents. Having also completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Surrey last year, 22-year-old Nick Bound returned to Holybourne, Hampshire, disappointed that he could no longer afford to stay in Guildford.
“When I found out I couldn't rent the house I was already staying in for a second term, I came home and felt the change immediately,” he explains. “Suddenly having your routine clash with your parents' after three years is a difficult thing to adjust to.
“It’s been hard for them too, I think. It’s been great having home-cooked meals but it means they’re spending more money on food again.”
But undeterred by this setback, Nick declares he has now found a job after five months of hunting, and is ready to move on.
“I finally landed work with a company in early January. Once my contract is finished, I should have enough experience to re-apply for jobs that might have turned me down due to lack of experience.
“When I get a full-time job that pays enough, and have found a place I like, I’ll be able to move out.”
If statistics are to be believed, such stories are typical among male graduates. A study conducted by the Office of National Statistics found that in 2011, just one in six women aged 20-34 lived at home compared to one in three men. Yet female students are not immune to the boomerang phenomenon. International Business student Helen Kelly, 21, will graduate from the University of Birmingham this summer, but the odds of finding affordable accommodation are stacked against her.
“Before I went to uni I was always under the impression that I would find my own place as soon as I had finished. But as I have no job lined up for when I leave, it doesn’t look good.”
“I should be able to fend for myself and I don’t want to be a financial burden on my parents," she adds. I’ll be looking to move out as soon as possible.”
As figures continue to rise and such accounts become common place, it seems strange that so few solutions have been put forward to address the problem. Indeed, blame for this surge has fallen not on universities or employers, but the students themselves. David Cameron has argued that housing benefits should be cut in response to more adults of working age living at home, while the average bedroom rent now charged by Mums and Dad has risen from £250 to £315 per month. If such moves are not merely tolerated but condoned by government and parents alike, then maybe such living arrangements are set to become the norm.
For now at least, the boomerang generation is here to stay. University of Nottingham student Emma Ellis argues that in the short term, returning to her hometown of Gobowen could even be beneficial to her job prospects.
“At the moment I'm glad to be going home, after three years here I feel quite ready for it,” the 20-year-old admits. “There aren’t many contact hours in the final semester of my degree, so home will give me a better routine through my part-time job.”
As for the future? “As long as I keep it in mind, I won’t let it worry me,” she resolves. “It’s better not to rush into another qualification or down a career path if you're not sure.”