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More than one in 10 US parents with grown children say at least one of their adult sons or daughters has moved back home in the past year after living away, according to research by the Pew Research Center, which found that the recent recession has created a bumper crop of “boomerangers,” particularly between ages 18 and 34.

To measure changes in household arrangements, the survey asked US adults if they lived in their own home or with one or both parents in the parents’ home. The survey further asked all adults if they had moved back in with their parents as a result of the recession. Overall, about 11% of all adults ages 18+ live with their parents in their home and 4% of all adults say they were forced to move back with their parents because of the recession, a proportion that rises to 10% among those ages 18 – 34.

Young Adults Hit Hardest

While the recession has touched Americans of all ages, Pew said it has been particularly hard on young adults. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a smaller share of 16- to 24-year-olds are currently employed – 46.1% – than at any time since the government began collecting such data in 1948.

At the same time, college enrollment has soared to an all-time high. “Taken together, record unemployment and growing college enrollments help explain why proportionately fewer young people today are living by themselves,” Pew said.

Census Bureau data also confirm that proportionately fewer young adults are living solo now than before the recession, Pew reported. Overall, the proportion of adults ages 18-29 who live alone declined from 7.9% in 2007 to 7.3% in 2009. Similar drops in the proportion of young people who live by themselves occurred during or immediately after the recessions of 1982 and 2001.

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The current decline has been particularly steep among young women; the proportion who live by themselves fell by a full percentage point to 6.1%, Pew said. Among young men, the share living on their own fell 0.2 percentage points to 8.4%, a statistically insignificant change.

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Recession Causes Hard Times on Many Fronts

While the survey found that one-in-ten adults ages 18- 34 (10%) say the poor economy has forced them to move back in with Mom and Dad, an additional 12% say they acquired a roommate, 15% say they have postponed getting married because of the recession, and 14% say they delayed having a baby, said Pew.

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Grown Childen at Home

In further proof that the recession has hit young adults the hardest, the study found that about seven-in-ten grown children who live with their parents are younger than age 30. About half work full- or part-time, while a quarter are unemployed and two-in-ten are full-time students. Of all adults who report they currently live in their parents’ home, about a third (35%) say they had lived independently at some point in their lives before returning home. While the sample is small, roughly equal proportions of adult men and women live with their parents, while a somewhat larger proportion of Hispanics and Blacks than Whites live with their parents.

When the focus shifts to parents, a similar story emerges. According to the survey, nearly half of all adults (46%) have children ages 18+. Among these parents of adult children, some 13% say at least one of their grown sons or daughters had returned home in the past year for any reason, Pew found.

The proportion of “boomeranged parents” increases to 19% among those ages 45- 54 and declines sharply in later age groups.

Middle-Agers Affected Too
The survey also found that young adults – though they have been hit hard – are not the only ones negatively affected by difficult times. About one-in-eight (12%) of all single adults between the ages of 35-54 have delayed marriage because of the recession.

At the same time, however, few Americans of any age have been forced by hard times to take in a boarder (2%) or postpone a divorce (1% among married respondents).

Corroborating Census Data

Pew analysis of data from the US Census Bureau supports the findings from the survey. In a departure from an upward trend over many decades, the share of adults in the United States who live by themselves was largely unchanged between March 2007 and March 2009, Pew said. However, the story is quite different for adults ages 18-29:

  • About 7.3% of young adults lived by themselves in March 2009, a 0.6 percentage point decline from 2007. Similar declines occurred during or after the recessions of 1982 and 2001; in both periods the proportion of adults 18-29 who lived alone fell by 0.5 points.
  • In particular, young women are less likely to be living alone in 2009 than in 2007. The share of young women living alone has declined from 7.1% in 2007 to 6.1% this year. The drop in the share of young men who live by themselves was a statistically insignificant 0.2 percentage points.
  • Among adults of all ages, the percentage living alone fell during this period by 0.1 points to 13.9%. If the calculation is based on households rather than individuals, individuals living alone currently make up slightly more than a quarter of all American households (27%).

Trends in Living Alone

The proportion of Americans who live alone has risen more or less steadily since 1950, with the most rapid growth occurring roughly between 1950 and 1980.

According to the US Census Bureau, less than 5% of the population lived by themselves in 1950. By 2000 this share had climbed to more than 13%, and it reached its historic high of 14.3% in 2008. Most recently, there has been a slight drop in the overall share of adults living alone. While the proportion is largely unchanged from two years ago, it did drop 0.4 percentage points in the past year, which is a “rare” occurrence, according to Pew.

Additional findings about living alone, from Pew’s analysis:

  • Women are more likely than men to live by themselves. Currently 15.3% of women and 12.5% of men live alone. The gap between the genders has expanded and narrowed over the years, with the smallest gap of 1.4 percentage points occurring in 1950 and the peak of 4.1 points recorded in 1990. Since 2000, the difference has stayed around 3 percentage points.
  • Living alone is closely related to age. In general, the older you get, the more likely you will live by yourself. Trends in the share of adults who live alone suggest a steady growth for all age groups since 1950, although the patterns are somewhat different for each group.
  • Only 1% of young adults ages 18-29 lived by themselves in 1950. That proportion increased rapidly to 7.5% by 1980 but then declined and has remained around 7.0% since 1990. In fact, the proportion of young adults living by themselves in 1980 was larger than it was for the 30-49 age group (7.5% vs. 6.5%). Today, the opposite is true, with those ages 30-49 more likely to be living alone than younger adults (9.5% vs. 7.3%).
  • Adults ages 65+ are the most likely of any age group to be living alone. For this older group, the percentage of people who live alone sharply increased from 1950 to 1980 (13.7% to 29.4%) before leveling off. It now stands at 30.1%.
  • In particular, women ages 65+ are much more likely than men of similar age to live alone, in large part because wives tend to outlive husbands, leaving more widows than widowers. Currently, nearly four in 10 older women live by themselves; more than double the proportion of older men (38.8% vs. 18.7%).
  • Among those younger than age 50, the percentage of men who live alone outpaces the share of women. For example, 11.4% of men ages 30-49 live by themselves, compared with 7.6% of women.

About the research: Data from two different but complementary sources were used in Pew’s analysis to estimate the impact of the recession on living arrangements and family formation. The Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey, conducted each March by the US Census Bureau, was used to estimate the proportion of adults who lived alone in 2007 and in 2009. These data were supplemented by a nationally representative survey of 1,028 adults by the Pew Research Center conducted Oct. 21-25, 2009. Results from this survey were used to produce estimates of changes in living arrangements and other actions taken by individuals in response to the recession.

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