Rob Sharp: When your parents are your flatmates

Still living with Mum and Dad when you're in your 20s is losing its stigma

Tuesday 30 December 2008 01:00 GMT

The upside is there's a fantastic meal and laundry service. The downside is there's a certain loss of dignity in being asked whether you have washed. And no romantic conquest wants to hear how good your "flatmates" are at cutting the crusts off your ham sandwiches.

I refer to the growing phenomenon of people in their twenties still living with their parents. And I should know. Until recently, I was part of it.

Confirmation of this trend comes from researchers at the University of Essex, who say that Britain is producing a "boomerang generation". In a report published next month the university's Institute for Social and Economic Research claims that young adults in Britain are twice as likely to move back in with their parents, after a stint away, than their European counterparts. We Brits suffer more because of our high housing prices.

Traditionally, boomerangs are caught once. But nowadays, the economy is dashing everybody's hopes for permanent independence. If my own experiences are to be believed, it is increasingly the norm to live with your parents several times during your fledgling career.

When I graduated in 2001, my vocation was journalism. Newspapers were hard to break into (they still are). Luckily, my parents lived within commuting distance of the capital so I holed myself up with them to save cash. Maybe it was depressing, but my morale was heightened by the hope that I would soon graduate from being a cocky layabout to lofty pursuits like stumping up my own council tax. I believed that after securing a permanent job the sponging would cease.

How naïve that now seems. Although I was soon renting, within three years I was zealously rapping on my parents' door once again.

For many, moving back in with parents is unappealing. While they may be "more mature" than their younger home-dwelling selves, in my case I returned home for the second time to be faced with an unmanageable commute.

If the statistics are to believed, such situations are on the up. While the University of Essex's research looks at data in 14 countries between 1994 and 2001, the most recent information on the subject is available through the Office for National Statistics. It says the number of men aged 20-24 living with their parents has increased from 50 per cent in 1991 to 58 per cent in 2006. Over the same period, the number of men aged from 25 to 29 returning home has also increased, from 19 to 22 per cent. The statistics for women paint a similar picture.

But when times are hard, the stigma of living with one's parents dissipates. Assuming people's elders can handle the emotional and financial strain, the likelihood is they will have seen several economic downturns come and go and can impart some good advice.

If one wants a career change, which several of my friends have had to embrace, it simply makes more financial sense to live under one's parents' aegis. Many move in with their boyfriend or girlfriend to save money only to see their relationships crumble. In such situations, it makes more sense to wait, for every reason.

We need to remember that living circumstances change, and friends come and go. But when the economy crumbles, family can be a bedrock to stabilise our lives. And as such, ultimately, I count myself lucky.

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