A recent study conducted by researchers at LSE suggests that half of all graduates return to their parental home at some stage after finishing university. This figure might surprise you, but what is more shocking is the fact that two-thirds of these so-called ‘boomerang’ children who partook in the study were making no financial contribution whatsoever to the household.
With 39 per cent of 18-to-34-year-olds in the UK still living with their parents, this issue has to be tackled. The problem lies in people’s attitudes. The study has revealed that parents in fact expect their children to return home after graduating, seeing it as ‘self-evident’ and ‘assumed’. This seems to have fuelled a dependency culture among young people on their parents.
Expectations of financial contribution are inconsistent with reality. Just 15 per cent of mothers expect their child to live at home for free, despite the reality being that the majority of ‘boomerang children’ do not make contributions — only 4 out of 27 graduates involved in the study were required to make regular financial contributions to the household.
Moreover, more than a quarter (27 per cent) of them expect to live with their parents for free, again suggesting inconsistent expectations.
It should not be taken for granted that you can live off your parents. Admittedly, the household economy and who is paying for what can be a thorny subject. But that is no excuse. Parents should not feel an obligation to fork out for their grown-up kids, especially if they themselves are struggling to make ends meet.
Of course, this paternal instinct to protect your offspring is natural, but it should only go so far. Most of the families involved in the study admitted to not discussing the issue fully, there being merely an unspoken agreement.
Ultimately, the root of the problem is this lack of discourse between parents and their children. If the parents are struggling financially themselves, they should discuss this and work out an agreement, rather than letting the problem bubble under the surface without being properly addressed. Some respondents said they felt their return had ‘no detrimental effect on the family economy’, but without discussing it, how can they be certain?
Furthermore, this assumption that the children do not have to make any contribution encourages complacency, disincentivising them from trying to find work and ultimately discouraging them from seeking financial independence.
The parental home essentially constitutes a fallback for graduates who have finished studying, cannot find work and are looking for an easy way out. But even if full-time work is not an option, young people in these circumstances should at least seek part-time work so that they can make some contribution.
It should be pointed out that some of those involved in the study confessed to feeling guilty about being a burden on their parents — one of the graduates admitted: ‘I don’t want any of this … I don’t want my parents to have to support me, I just wish I had my own money’.
There is evidently a problem. Parents are anticipating that their kids will return to the family home, and given that 49 per cent of graduates have done so at some stage, we can see that this expectation has become the reality.
There is little or no dialogue between parents and children to negotiate financial agreements, but rather unclear and tacit assumptions. As a result, children either slip into complacency, or feel as though they are a burden on their parents.
The researchers mentioned that most of the graduates in the study ‘took it for granted that they would return to the family home as they were not in work and had nowhere else to live’. And here lies a dilemma. Of course, any parent would feel they have a responsibility to support their children if they are struggling financially, but should these young people really be taking it for granted?
The answer is no. Young people need to acknowledge that by being let back into the family home, their parents are bailing them out and paying them a pretty big favour. It is wrong for them to expect not to have to make any financial contribution and to assume they can stay there for as long as they wish. At the very least, the issue should be discussed and a fair agreement reached.
Yes, this phenomenon of graduates moving back into the parental home can be attributed to spiralling house prices, job shortages and a lack of opportunities; it is not necessarily their fault. But they need to recognise that they are lucky to have a fallback. Ultimately, we cannot blame boomerang children for their boomeranging tendencies, but we can certainly blame them for harbouring the wrong attitude.