When and Where They'll Leave the Nest

Financial concerns are the top reason people may opt for multigenerational living. But money aside – relationships between parents and children can be complicated.

multigenerational family sits down for dinner

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In 2016, for the first time in decades, young adults were more likely to live with parents than with partners, friends, or roommates. COVID-19 further amplified this trend due to its deep financial repercussions.

Multigenerational living is associated with positive health outcomes, so isn’t it better for young adults to receive this support from parents? The short answer: it’s complicated.

Bo-Hyeong Jane Lee and Anna Manzoni have studied parent-child relationships over time. They used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, known as Add Health, which tracked residential and financial support that parents gave their children and vice versa.

In 1994, Add Health surveyed more than 20,000 students in grades 7-12. They followed up four times: in 1996, 2001-2002, 2008, and 2016-2018. Using the last three rounds of data has allowed Lee and Manzoni to capture respondents’ transitioning from early adulthood (18-26) to adulthood (33-43).

Most young adults (roughly two-thirds) received some form of assistance from their parents into later adulthood. But the exchange was sometimes bidirectional, with children becoming more likely to provide support as their parents grew older. The researchers identified six key patterns of interaction.

The first was “complete independence,” which was the most common (33%) situation. This group of young adults was independent at the earliest life stage; they were less likely to live with their parents and less likely to engage in financial exchange with their parents (i.e., receiving and/or giving financial support). And they maintained this independence in later years.

Financial issues are the top reason people turn to multigenerational housing. But money aside – between parents and children, it’s always complicated.

A second category was “independent with transitional support,” comprising 20% of the Add Health sample. They were also likely to live separate from parents but received high levels of financial support in the middle of the study, while in their mid-20’s-early 30’s. The authors note that this period reflects the impact of the 2008 recession on respondents’ income or job status. It also captures possible life changes that frequently occur at this age (i.e., marriage, divorce, or childbirth) and that require temporary assistance from parents.

The “gradual independence” group made up 15% of the sample. These respondents initially lived with parents and later transitioned to their own homes. They received high levels of financial support from parents, gradually decreasing over time. Notably, they provided relatively high levels of financial support to their parents at each follow-up.

“High to low support” (15%) was very similar. This group also lived with parents in early adulthood, moved into their own homes over time, and received high levels of financial support in early adulthood. But, this group saw a sharp decrease in financial support from parents and generally did not provide high levels of financial support to their parents at any point.

“Extended interdependence” included 10% of respondents. This group stayed longer with parents and was the most likely out of all groups to be in their parents’ home at 30-40 years old. Financial support from and to parents occurred at each follow-up.

Lastly, the “boomerang” group consisted of 7% of respondents. This group might have lived independently during the 2001-2002 follow-up, moved back in with their parents at the 2008 follow-up, and moved out again by the final follow-up. Financial support (both from and to parents) followed a similar “boomerang” trend over time.

Lee and Manzoni stress that future work should explicitly investigate how intergenerational support impacts the health of young adults and their parents. Understanding the context behind why young adults receive parental support and vice versa is vital to identifying the long-term benefits. Financial issues are the top reason people turn to multigenerational housing. But money aside – between parents and children, it’s always complicated.

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