They Can Go Home Again

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They Can Go Home Again

Newspaper article

By: Valerie Cotsalas

Date: March 19, 2006

Source: Cotsalas, Valerie. "They Can Go Home Again." New York Times. (March 19, 2006).

About the Author: Valerie Cotsalas is a journalist employed by the New York Times. Cotsalas specializes in articles that examine issues pertaining to real estate and home ownership. The New York Times is a daily newspaper first published in 1851, and is among the nation's largest newspapers, with a daily circulation of over one million copies.


The multigenerational family that is resident under one roof is not a recent American phenomenon so much as it is a more prevalent one. In the last 100 years, various immigrant cultures to the United States have functioned within a tradition of additional generations being resident in a family home, particularly elderly parents. The most prominent examples of such arrangements are found in Italian, Hispanic, Central European, and south east Asian immigrant populations.

In the agricultural communities of the United States, it was relatively common for a family farm to be concurrently operated as a business by multiple generations. For reasons of both the exigencies of farm labor and economy, it was common for farm families to live either under one roof or in very close proximity to one another on the farm property.

Home ownership in the form of a single family detached residence became a middle class American icon after the Second World War (1938–1945). The desirability of a home in the suburbs became a visible symbol of American success. The newspaper article identifies this symbol as an enduring one, even where the rapid changes in both the demographics and the economics of American society have rendered single family home ownership more difficult for young adults in real terms than at any other time in American history.

The period since 1990 has seen the emergence of a dynamic that is both cultural and economic in origin—the young adult who is otherwise self supporting or capable of same who is resident in their parent's home on an indefinite basis. This dynamic has two distinct components. The first is the type described as the "boomerang kids." As the name implies, these are adult children who have previously left home on an intended permanent basis who suffered a reversal in their economic fortunes due to debt, loss of employment, divorce, or other unanticipated event. For the boomerang children, the parental home functions as a sanctuary and a temporary refuge while the adult son or daughter determines their next steps.

The second part of the dynamic are the young adults who have always planned to leave home and establish an independent residence, but who have been prevented from doing so as a result of economic factors, as opposed to social or culture limits. This second group of young adults often have significant college education debt that limits their financial ability to permanently move out of their parent's home.

As a measure of the demographic importance associated with multigenerational living, the United States Bureau of Census began the compilation of statistical data with respect to the various aspects of this issue in 2000. The Bureau of Census defines a young adult as those persons between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four years of age.


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The significant impact of multigenerational living arrangements in modern American society is underscored by the demographic and economic data derived from the Bureau of Census studies. The census determined that in 2005, an estimated eighteen million young adults (those between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four) were resident in the homes of their parents. Some of this segment would be composed of young adults who were finishing high school or college and preparing to leave the parental home in their early twenties. This group however is also comprised of persons such as Sean Scuibba, whose circumstances are outlined in the newspaper article, or the boomerang kids who have returned to the parental home after a period of independence that extended for a number of years.

The census data also confirms that as of 2006, 4.2 million American households were composed of three or more family generations. Within that segment of the population, 2.4 million American grandparents are the primary care givers to their grandchildren.

While the single family detached home remains a compelling symbol of financial success for many young Americans, the ability to obtain home ownership is becoming increasingly difficult for the young adult segment of the population. The historical income data gathered by the United States Census determined that the median real income for persons under age thirty-five fell by over 12% in the period between 1974 and 2004. Housing prices rose significantly in real terms (adjusted for inflation) during the same time span. It is this economic platform that provides a partial explanation for the fact that the number of young adults living at home rose by fifty percent during the same period. This statistical conclusion is determined in the face of greater than ever numbers of young adults graduating from college and presumably better equipped to earn greater income and achieve greater economic mobility than could previous generations.

The corollary to the economic and demographic data respecting young adults residing in the parental home is the perception that such persons have somehow failed; the boomerang kid and the yet-to-leave young adult are often viewed as unsuccessful persons, as opposed to being regarded as pragmatic. The young adults involved in such scenarios invariably regard the residence with their parents as a short term solution entirely dictated by their present finances and their inability to afford to purchase or rent their preferred accommodations.

The usual root causes of a boomerang kid returning to the parental home are a marital breakup or divorce in the child's family or varying kinds of economic setbacks. The single mother birth rate is an additional factor recently identified in the statistical and academic literature. In American society prior to 1980, the African-American population had a higher incidence of single mothers than any other American population segment. The marriage rate for this demographic was also significantly lower then for the Caucasian American population (as of 2005, forty-two percent of African-American women were unmarried, versus twenty percent of the white American population). Since 1990, the birth rate among white single women has increased by a factor of ten, creating greater opportunities for multigenerational living arrangements where the single mother returns to her parent's home with her child.

The day-to-day living arrangements agreed upon between a young adult and parents are also potential points of significant stress within these family relationships. The imposition of house rules for a boomerang kid who has lived independently for a period of time is often a divisive issue between the parent and the child. As young adults now study longer in post secondary school environments, marry later than at any previous time in American history, and tend to carry greater amounts of personal debt, the parent who has young adult offspring that re-establishes residence in their home must consider the personal consequences of this supportive action over a temporary period.



Furman, Elina. Boomerang Nation: How to Survive Living with Your Parents … he Second Time Around. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.

Hayden, Dolores. Building Suburbia. New York: Vintage, 2004.

Riley, Terence. Un-Private House. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2002.


Kenny, Judith. "The Rise of the Polish Flat." University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee / Graduate School. 19 (2005) 2.

Web sites

Washington Post. "Marriage is for White People." March 20, 2006 〈〉 (accessed July 28, 2006).

United States Bureau of the Census. "Historical Income Data." 2006 〈〉 (accessed July 28, 2006).

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They Can Go Home Again

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