On occasion (particularly during finals weeks), there’s a controversial issue that will reappear on my Facebook feed for days on end, teasing me with the possibilities for writing. Eventually, I might make a half-snarky post or tweet about it, but I usually avoid ranty Facebook posts.
One of those issues has been following me this week and has gotten me particularly energetic: apparently, millennials are living with parents longer than previous generations. Many people have vocalized their horror at this finding, because it’s the supposed symbol of endemic millennial laziness.
I’ll just start by saying I disagree. Fortunately, I ran into a Washington Post article which pointed out a couple very important arguments to this discussion. I’d like to highlight these and add to them, in a blog post that is a bit more composed and easier to read than a long social media post. Maybe my own reflections ring true to your own experience. Maybe it’ll just sit on my blog. Either way, I needed to channel my thoughts. (Here’s the article for anyone interested, which also has the info for the viral study that I’m referencing.)
The first argument that I think is central to this entire discussion: this study is a comparison between generations. That means that the economic, social, and political environments affecting each generation will also affect the results of the study. For millennials, there is an economic reality of unemployment in the face of a post-recession economy and a boom generation that is still in the process of retirement. With lower numbers of employees across many sectors and an older workforce that is still working/ keeping senior positions within their age group, it is difficult to find a job directly out of college. Even when there are jobs available, they’re going to be typically lower pay grade than positions that were available, for instance, for college graduates in the 1980s and 1990s.
Simply put, we live in a different world than previous generations, which means our economic outcomes and ability to afford independent housing is also different. To me, this study is neither surprising nor telling of anything besides the fact that our economic environment is different than that of our parents. I think (hope) we are all aware of that anyways.
Another important point that this article raised, “It’s not clear, though, why a society in which young singles live on their own is more desirable than one in which the same demographic errs on the side of doubling up with relatives.”
I’ll give a quick personal anecdote to this: in both the countries I’ve had a homestay in, I’ve lived in a family with a daughter in her mid- to late-20s still living with her parents. It wasn’t seen in either culture to be strange, nor were they lazy. There is simply a culture in many countries of our world to utilize available resources (i.e. live with your parents or family) until you’re married or have an advanced career. Although I haven’t performed any data analysis on this, I’m sure you’d find no correlation between work productivity of a country and concentration of young workers living with family.
In other words, there isn’t hard evidence for us to be afraid of young adults living with family. Traditionally, it’s been associated with laziness and not finding a job, but there’s no reason we cannot change that stigma. The job market is tough and the housing market is even worse in some locations (in Denver, for example, there is a serious housing crisis, as well as in many other cities where millennials live in high concentrations). So, we should change our societal perspective to match the world we live in.
In fact, living with family should be encouraged. We’re finding out that the millennial generation is actually pretty big, now larger than the Baby Boomer generation. With so many young adults seeking studio apartments and independent housing, those housing crises I mentioned are becoming even worse. We are pushing out lower-income housing options by insisting on living on our own “like adults”.
I’m not writing this to advocate that every college graduate live with their parents until they get married. Realistically, I’ll find independent housing after graduation, because there are extremely limited opportunities in my career field in my hometown. I only ask that we don’t be so quick to criticize these generational changes. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to form our thoughts about societal behavior around habits created in a different economic environment. Just because a previous generation believed that living independently represents adulthood doesn’t mean that those ideas need to define the current generation’s behavior. This can be applied to nearly every other generational change, whether it’s technology use or ideas about marriage. While there should be space to evaluate generational changes and their positive or negative effects, let’s try not to label change as negative simply because it contradicts previous generations’ ideals.