Boomerang generation: Why young adults return home

Men are more likely to live in the parental home than women, although the gender gap is narrowing. (Credit: Tori Smith/Flickr and Vernon Adams/Font Squirrel)

Some young adults in the UK are proving wrong the adage “you can’t go home again,” as unemployment and other factors cause them to give up their independence to go back to live with their parents.

“The idea of a generation of young adults ‘boomeranging’ back to the parental home has recently gained widespread currency in the British press,” says Juliet Stone, a researcher at the ESRC Centre for Population Change (CPC) at the University of Southampton. “Our research aims to clarify this and examine the factors that contribute to their decision to return home.”


For a new study published in the journal Demography, Stone and colleagues used the long-running British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) to examine how major changes in young adults’ lives contribute to their decision to return to the safety-net of the parental home.

The survey, that began in 1991 and was aimed at understanding social and economic change at the individual and household level, interviewed 5,000 young men and women in their 20s and 30s every year until 2008.

The results indicate that overall, the act of returning to the parental home is in fact relatively uncommon, with an average of only 2 percent of young adults returning during the 17 years to 2008. There has been little change in the likelihood of returning over time, apart from among women in their early 20s.

The researchers suggest this reflects the rising number of young women going to university, who then return home after completing their studies. Returning is also much more common when young adults are in their early 20s and remains a relatively rare event once they reach their 30s.

All roads lead to home?

However, returning home is prevalent for certain subgroups of young adults, even when they reach their early 30s. Specific findings indicate that:

  • After completing full-time education, around half of the surveyed men and women in their early 20s return home.
  • About one-third of men and women who experience a relationship break-up return home.
  • Men are more likely to live in the parental home than women, although the gender gap is narrowing.
  • The association between economic disadvantage and living in the parental home has strengthened, especially among men.

“The study shows that completing higher education is one of the strongest determinants of returning to the parental home,” Stone says.

“With the labor market becoming more unpredictable, there are no guarantees of employment for graduates and where in past decades the expectation was that upon completion of their course they would move straight into employment, this can no longer be relied upon in the same way.”

“Finishing full-time education continues to be the major reason for returning to the parental home—to the extent that this is now considered ‘normal’ for young adults in their early twenties,” says Professor Ann Berrington.

“This is particularly striking in the current British context of recession, increased university tuition fees and rising student debt.”

Breaking up is hard to do

Although relationship break-ups have been identified as a major factor influencing young people’s decision to return, this may depend on the young person’s gender and whether or not they have dependent children.

The researchers speculate that after a break-up, mothers and fathers may find support from different sources, with young lone mothers being more able to rely on the welfare state, and young, single, non-resident fathers requiring more support from their own parent(s).

However, more generally, the recent trend to form relationships later in life and the growing popularity of higher education has led to women now showing a greater similarity to men in their destinations on leaving home and the likelihood of returning to the parental home.

Source: University of Southampton