Skip to comments.For More People in 20's and 30's, Home Is Where the Parents Are
Posted on 12/22/2003 1:35:37 AM PST by sarcasm
n the job, James Navarro seems to be a model of mature adulthood. At 30, he is an appellate court lawyer in Brooklyn, working 50 hours a week on research to help judges decide cases.
But look at the rest of his life, and the picture becomes murkier.
Mr. Navarro lives with his parents in Queens. His mother packs lunch for him a few times a week. His bedroom still has his high school baseball trophies and a giant stuffed bunny that was a present from a former girlfriend. On weekends, he plays touch football and goes drinking and clubbing with his two best friends both about his age, fully employed and living with their parents, too.
"When I was in college, I thought I'd be married by 24 and have a house and kids by 30," Mr. Navarro said. "Now I think the idea of being an emotionally developed male by 24 is ridiculous. I want to get married and have kids someday. But I don't feel any pressure that it has to be soon."
Mr. Navarro is no loser: he is funny, good-looking, charming and typical of his generation's slowed-down approach to adulthood. To some extent, the data tells the story. Nearly all the traditional markers of adulthood, including marrying, getting a college degree and moving out of the family home, are occurring later than they did a generation ago.
The shape of life for those between 18 and 34 has changed so profoundly that many social scientists now think of those years as a new life stage, "transitional adulthood" just as, a century ago, they recognized adolescence as a life stage separating childhood from adulthood.
"There used to be a societal expectation that people in their early 20's would have finished their schooling, set up a household, gotten married and started their careers," said Frank F. Furstenberg Jr., a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "But now that's the exception rather than the norm. Ask most people in their 20's whether they're adults and you get a nervous laugh. They're not sure."
Sociologists say there are several indicators of this state of mind. Nationwide, the median age of first marriage, which hovered around 21 for women and 23 for men from the 1940's to the 1970's, has risen steadily since to 25 for women and 27 for men.
Education takes longer. Only about a third of those who go straight from high school to four-year residential colleges graduate four years later. With so many young people taking time out to make money or change direction, most education experts now use six-year graduation rates as their benchmarks.
Perhaps the most striking change, though, has been in the proportion of young adults nationwide who live with their parents. To be sure, the numbers remain small about 14 percent. Nonetheless, between 1970 and 2000, the most recent census, the percentage of 24- to 34-year-olds living with parents or grandparents increased by 50 percent. During the boom years of the 90's, the trend reversed slightly among those in their 20's but held steady among those in their 30's.
The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey shows that the numbers are on the rise again. The trend is most visible in New York 30 percent of the New York-Northeastern New Jersey area's 22- to 31-year-olds live with their parents followed by Los Angeles and other large, expensive cities.
The changes raise many policy concerns, chief among them that most American institutions are still built around the idea that people in their 20's are fully autonomous. Young adults coming out of the foster care system, or the juvenile justice system, get no continuing support. Health insurance cuts off, even for 20-somethings in affluent families.
Then, too, the longer transition to adulthood has striking implications for parenthood.
"Parenting used to be thought of as a life stage of about 18 years," said Robert Schoeni, a professor at the University of Michigan who works at its Institute for Social Research. "If it means continuing support for 30 or even 34 years, that's not always comfortable for parents who were raised under very different conditions and were expected to be on their own much earlier."
In part, Professor Furstenberg and others say, the longer transition to adulthood reflects an economy in which most jobs that pay enough to support middle-class life require years of advanced education. For most young people, that means years of semiautonomy, in which they piece together loans, part-time jobs and whatever money their families can provide. Many spend their 20's and early 30's shuttling between college and work, professional school and travel, community service and internships, never earning enough to settle down, marry and raise a child.
Nancy Dye, president of Oberlin College, said that whereas most graduates used to go straight on to graduate school, having chosen at least a preliminary career path, many now stick around, uncertain of their direction. A few years ago, she said, "students came up with a new term, F.T.L. failure to launch."
In interviews with dozens of 20-somethings, most say they share a sense that there is no right time to have completed their education, lived on their own or gotten married, that such fixed expectations have no place in their lives. And many see it as beneficial to step slowly and gradually into adult life.
"I think it's great, and really important, to take time to date and travel and hang out with your friends," said Elisabeth Levy, 28, a catering sales manager at a private club in Midtown Manhattan. "This way, when you do finally settle down, you're really ready, and you don't wake up at 33, married with two kids and a house, and trapped, like `How did this happen?' and `What did I do with my life?' "
Those living at home, even if employed in good jobs, often describe their arrangements as sensible and mature, in that instead of throwing away money on rent, they are saving money toward their future. And if, meanwhile, they are back in their childhood bedrooms, working at low-paying jobs to save enough to continue their educations or buy homes, they say, that is no tragedy.
For many, the 20's are a floating, flexible, exploratory time.
"For the last few years, my life has been so up in the air," said Jennie Schneier, 24, who works part time in public radio. "Several of my friends have started applying to grad schools. One is applying to three different types of grad school law, business and photography to see where she'll get in.
"I find grad school appealing, too, because I like the idea of settling into something. But I don't have any idea what to study."
Ms. Schneier, who has lived with her parents for three years, recently moved from an unpaid internship to a job where she is paid one day a week. "Sometimes I think it's ridiculous that I'm about to turn 25 and can't support myself," she said. "I've regressed a little since I've been back with my parents: If I'm home by 6:30, there's dinner on the table. And my dad does the laundry."
The Research Network on Adult Transitions, a team of social scientists directed by Professor Furstenberg and financed by the MacArthur Foundation, has for years been gathering data on 18- to 34-year-olds: when they reach the traditional markers (later, throughout the Western world), what they think constitutes adulthood (self-sufficiency, a full-time job and an independent household, but not necessarily marriage or children), when they feel most adult (at work), how much support they get from their parents (on average, $38,000, or $2,200 a year from 18 to 34).
The return to the nest of children in their 20's and 30's can be a jolt for parents. Several parents with newly returned children, who would not be quoted by name for fear of hurting their children's feelings, agreed that despite the pleasures of having their offspring close at hand, their return had been stressful and, in some cases, disruptive of their plans to sell a large home, retire or move.
Suddenly, they say, everything is up for grabs: Who will be home for dinner? Who will cook dinner? If a parent is wakened at 2 a.m. by the smell of cooking, and rises in the morning to find no milk for breakfast, dirty dishes in the sink and a house full of sleeping 20-somethings, what is the right response?
Many parents face not one departure and one return, but a revolving door, as one after another of their offspring leaves for college, returns, leaves for graduate school, returns, moves for a job and returns again.
At the Navarro household, in Maspeth, Queens, all four grown children are back home: James; his two brothers, 27 and 25; and their sister, 23.
"Michael, the 27-year-old, talks about moving out, but he never does it," James Navarro said. "It doesn't make me feel too much like a kid to live there. As I've gotten older, I appreciate my parents more."
Still, it is not the life Mr. Navarro envisioned. In high school, he was a star athlete, good enough, he thought, for a professional baseball career. To that end, he chose St. Thomas University in Miami. But his baseball dreams did not pan out, so after graduating he returned home and spent two years working as a security officer in Midtown Manhattan.
"I knew I wouldn't be doing that too long, but I didn't know what I would do," he said, describing a state of mind that seems to descend on many of his generation as they leave college. "I thought about teaching, social work, working for a nonprofit, but law school seemed the most challenging."
Most of Mr. Navarro's closest friends remain unmarried, he said, and not quite ready, at least financially, to set up households.
"I've only been to one wedding in the last three years, and that was because a girl I know wanted me to go as her date," he said.
But one of his best friends is in a relationship that has become increasingly serious. And hanging over their lunchtime banter is the first tinge of awareness that they may be getting a bit old for the lives they lead.
"On New Year's Eve, sometimes, we have these motivational talks," Mr. Navarro said. "We'll say, we're getting older, we can't go to these places with teeny-boppers anymore."
They laugh and begin talking about the weekend football team. They are asked about the age range of the other players.
Mr. Navarro gets a look of mock alarm: "Who's the oldest? Oh, no, is it me?"
It used to be a common practice in the US. Several generations living under the same roof was the norm not the exception. That is why houses used to be so big. Think the Waltons except that there should have been a couple of aunts and uncles and their kids to make the picture complete.
We have a recent president who believed that about the age of 50.
Good for you!
And yes the children here do seem to be lazy brats. In many ways they resemble upper class children of nineteenth century England.
I find it fascinating how certain things repeat themselves.
My nephew lived at home while attending college, once he graduated he got a job as an airline pilot (by the way the pay stinks when you're just starting out), stayed home while working that job for two years (with his parents insisting that the only reason he was allowed to stay home was so he wouldn't be paying enormous rent and would be able to save money to buy a home).
He did purchase his first home when he was single and 25.
Under those types of circumstances, I see nothing wrong with it.
But perhaps I could suggest that it was before we became the predominant super power. We weren't really recognized as such until WWII, were we? (I mean, everyone knew we kicked butt, but we proved it beyond a doubt by then.)
I think really, I was more inclined to agree that the practice is more common in a society where it is exceedingly more difficult to establish an economic foothold. In a society where punitive taxation, outrageous housing costs and open hostility towards success is nutured, it may become the norm.
You can still go through boot. All you have to do is drop and give me 50, maggot.
Agreed if they don't pay rent, but sometimes parents need "roommates" to help with paying bills and they would rather have their own children than complete strangers.
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