How to help adult children living at home

Written by Douglas Ross in Buying

A man holds his empty pockets out

In what seems to be an ironic twist of fate, the makeup of the family home in modern Australia is gradually reverting to a way of life that has been lost for hundreds of years. Adult children living at home, or ‘boomerang kids’ as they’re pejoratively labelled, are increasing in numbers and there are a whole host of reasons why.

The Industrial Revolution saw a shift in the way homes functioned. Author Yuval Noah Harari notes in his book Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind that the family was the original social security system. When someone got sick, needed money, needed education or to rely on a pension come retirement, they looked no further than the family.

Importantly, most children come a certain age worked in the family business (unfortunately, often when they were still children).

Harari argues that the State and by the Market took place of this traditional family nucleus of support. Ironically enough, what we call ‘boomerang kids’ is a microcosmic reversion to an old way of life.

The UNSW’s City Future Research Centre stated that 55 per cent of those surveyed in relation to the makeup of a family home reported that multigenerational living (with not just adult children living at home but grandparents and children’s partners) was done for “companionship” over any financial reasons.

Beyond ‘companionship’, what is causing so many young people to stay at home well into their twenties and even thirties?

The job market is not what it used to be. The Foundation of Young Australians has noted that it now takes an average of 4.7 years to transition from study to full time work, compared to one year in 1986. There simply aren’t enough jobs to go around. For instance, the number of law graduates in Australia increased by 9 per cent in 2014 compared to the previous year, while the number of legal jobs only increased by 4 per cent.

Then there are the psychological shifts in how young people approach their careers.

There is a challenge many young people face that is discussed regularly when it comes to the idea of love, but rarely for an individual’s career.

This challenge is the ‘Hollywoodization’ of the job market. Young people are increasingly told, through advertising and marketing in its many forms, to ‘pursue their dreams’. The idea of ‘the one’ when it comes to love has been transported to the job market, so that there is ‘the one’ job to satisfy a person’s destiny. The ‘dream job’.

A person in a spacesuit walks in space

Anxiety in the young can arise from a saturation of advertising and inspiration-driven marketing

The effect of this is a debilitation of many entering working age, unable to pinpoint exactly what their ‘dream job’ is. Add to this the constant replacement of older job types to automation and the creation of entirely new careers, especially within tech, and there is little wonder the young feel unable to take that first step in choosing a job and going with it.

While there is an argument for the benefits of a multi-generational household, there are costs if those adult children living at home do not contribute financially to the home.

A study by Canadian sociologist Michelle Maroto found that parents’ financial assets and savings reduced by 25 per cent during the time that their adult children are living at home. For an ageing population that are fated to be paying their mortgages longer, this reduces a parent’s ability to downsize their home and make a greater effort in setting up their super before they retire.

How to help adult children living at home

Prepare your kids

The best thing you can do for your children is educate them on how things are changing in society. Changes to the job market are creating new opportunities for those entering the workforce, but there are also a growing proportion of people applying for the same job.

Educate your children on the realities of a career. The average person will hold 10 jobs before the age of forty. The idea of a ‘dream job’ starts to lose its weight and ability to create anxiety in your children when they know how fluid a career can be. Let them know from a young age that it is not the end of the world if they do not know what they want to be when they grow older.

Universities are valuable institutions for many reasons, but they are also businesses and the realities of the job market (a longer transition period to full-time work and the growing proportion of part-time jobs in Australia) need to be made clear to those entering universities. Encourage your kids to get involved with part-time work while studying and to practice the subtle art of networking.

Create opportunities for responsibility.

Inter-generational homes only work (and only worked in previous centuries) if children take on responsibilities. Start this process early on and if you have adult children living at home that aren’t taking on enough responsibilities, introduce these ideas rather than enforce them.

Create a deadline

Simply creating a deadline by when your child must move out may be a clear way to motivate them. Have a conversation with them about this, so they feel a part of the process.

Work with your kids towards their goals.

There are many ways you can help your children shape their future, such as by getting outside help. The financial cost of engaging a careers counselor may pale in significance compared to the costs of having children living at home into their 30s.

If your children don’t budget, work with them to set up very simple savings measures that will accelerate their ability to move out on their own.