The Boomerang Generation: Hard Times Forcing Twentysomethings in the Americas to Live in the Parental Home for Longer

A combination of high levels of student debt, high housing costs and limited employment opportunities have lead a growing number of young adults in the Americas to either remain in the parental home for longer or to return to it once they have completed their higher education.

While 20- and 30-something children living with their parents in the family home has long been an established social trend in Southern European countries like Italy, Greece and Spain (where it has been cited as a factor in the mass demonstrations that erupted in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and elsewhere during May 2011), it is also becoming increasingly important in the Americas, both North (where they have been dubbed the “boomerang generation”) and South.

Take the case of 23-year-old Michael Doughty, from Shreveport in Mississippi: When he graduated from college in 2009, he envisioned a well-paying job, a nice apartment and perhaps a new car. Two years later, he works occasionally as a substitute teacher and is living at home with his parents:  “I went to school for four-and-a-half years to learn a trade and to better myself so I could have a better employment opportunity. I’ve been hitting the pavement, but I just can’t really get anything rolling.”

Key trends

  • Soaring student debt, lack of job opportunities and growth in internships all factors;
  • Incomes of twentysomethings struggle to recover from recession;
  • Is materialism a factor?
  • A return to the multigenerational households of old?
  • What about the parents?
  • Economic boom raises housing costs in Brazil;
  • Even married couples now remain in the parental home in Venezuela.

Commercial opportunities

  • Consumer electronics, ranging from iPods and laptops to hi-fis and flat-screen televisions, as young adults living at home seek to create a living room in their bedroom;
  • Cheap, fast fashion is also important to them as a means of maintaining their independence and individuality;
  • Consumer foodservice, particularly at the cheaper, quick service, end of the market, as they seek to maintain an active social life outside of the home;
  • This same motivation will also drive them to spend money in cafés and bars, in nightclubs and discos and on cinema tickets;
  • Low-cost travel, particularly backpacking and cheap hotels and motels, will also be of significant appeal to them;
  • Self-storage space, as some will have possessions they need to store remotely due to a lack of room at home.

Outlook

The boomerang trend is closely correlated to wider economic trends, particularly in the labour market: The longer the youth unemployment rate remains elevated, the more persistent this trend will be. However, young adults, particularly in North America, tend to be quite geographically mobile, so it is reasonable to expect that they will swiftly leave the comforts of home once their job prospects improve. In Latin America, there is more of a cultural affinity towards multigenerational living, but economic growth is likely to weaken this in the long term, leading to a reduction in average household size.