Young priced out of leaving the family home

A new report shows that 26% of young people are choosing to remain with their parents rather than striking out expensively on their own. Is this a crisis, or an opportunity?

There is a scene in a recent BBC drama in which one character tells another that, at the age of 29, he still lives with his mum. The reply: ‘What went wrong?!’

This sort of conversation is becoming increasingly familiar to young people in Britain. The latest figures show that more than a quarter of 20 to 34-year-olds now live at home with one or both parents.

For many people, it is the only real choice they have. Rents in Britain have risen so high that many people leaving school or university simply cannot afford them. In London, average rent is more than £1,100 per month. That means a university graduate on a normal starting salary of £20,000 would have to spend fully 82% of their after-tax income on rent alone. Add bills, food, transport and student loan repayments and life quickly becomes impossible.

Some young people end up sharing tiny flats in distant suburbs; scrimping and saving to make ends meet. For others – the lucky ones – there is another option: stay in the family home with mum and dad.

The downsides are obvious. Living at home means less privacy, with parents taking a sometimes unwelcome interest in their children’s personal lives. It means sharing space with people on a very different schedule – no all night parties in the family home – and with very different expectations about things like cleanliness and washing dishes.

It can be hard for parents too, who find that instead of the peace and quiet of an ‘empty nest’, they have to put up with the ongoing presence of their now rather overgrown chicks.

And while the children get to enjoy perks like free food, home cooking and low or even non-existent rent, parents see their retirement savings drained.

Even so, for many families, this is the arrangement that makes most sense. With the economic climate still fairly difficult, the UK is becoming more and more like Italy or Spain, where children staying at home is a normal part of life.

Full house

Most people see this as a necessary but unfortunate situation. When the economy gets better – if wages rise or rents fall – we can all go back to the way things used to be, moving away from home as soon as we can.

But there some who argue that the rise in people living at home is really a good thing. First, there is a sustainability argument. Living space is a limited resource just like coal or oil, and occupying more of it comes at a real cost to the environment. Learning to live together in families means fewer empty rooms – which are literally a waste of space. And there may be other benefits that are harder to measure. In a tough world, family should be something you can rely on. Living at home could help reinforce that fundamental social bond.

You Decide

  1. Could you spend your twenties living with your parents?
  2. Do parents have a duty to shelter their children, whatever age they are?

Activities

  1. In groups, make a list of the things that might cause annoyance between parents and grown up children living at home. Then try to draw up a simple five-point plan for happy family living.
  2. Try to write the best case you can arguing EITHER that the government should build more housing so that everyone can afford a place to live OR that housing should be limited and people should make better use of the space they have.

Some People Say...

“Parents never understand their children. Living with them as an adult would be grim.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Help! I don’t want to live with my parents for the next fifteen years! What can I do?
There are other options, but they all have drawbacks. You could share with friends, or a romantic partner. That makes rent a lot cheaper. Councils and housing associations supply cheaper housing to people who need it, but demand is very high. You could rent a cheaper place far out of town, but that could mean spending hundreds of pounds on your commute.
Anything else?
You could try some more unconventional ways of living. Narrowboats on canals can be rented for less than flats. Or there are firms which put tenants in disused property on short-term leases, like a sort of legal squatting. If you are in the UK, the charity Shelter has some good advice, including a housing helpline: 0808 800 4444.

Word Watch

After-tax income
Once income tax and national insurance have been subtracted, an income of £20,000 is reduced to just over £16,133.
Empty nest
Parents whose children have left home for university or work often talk about the ‘empty nest syndrome’ – the strange feeling of loss when the family home is suddenly, for the first time in 18 or so years, child free. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that, for many parents, the feeling of sadness is soon replaced by pleasure at having the house to themselves.
Italy or Spain
In Mediterranean countries, it is fairly common for children to stay in the family home well into their thirties. Family meals often bring three or even four generations together under one roof, from grandparents to new-born babies.
Cost to the environment
Although new housing stock is often built on ‘brownfield sites’, inevitably some new houses have to be built on agricultural or wild areas, reducing the amount of space left for wild animals and birds. There is also a carbon cost, not only from the energy used to construct new housing, but also from the energy used to transport people from remote new-built houses to the city centres where most people work.

Subjects

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