The parents of the millennial generation — young adults between the ages of 18 and 31 — are finding it difficult to maintain an Empty Nest.
Local families are mirroring a national trend illuminated by a recent Pew Research Center report showing that 36 percent of millennials are living with Mom and Dad. A total of 21.6 million young adults still live at home, including 40 percent of males and 32 percent of females.
The study’s author, Pew senior economist Richard Fry, said the trend not only reflects a weak economy but also contributes to it. When young adults don’t set up individual households, he said, “it has strong implications for the housing market and the rental market. How do we have a housing recovery without first-time homeowners? And then there are the furnishings, appliances, a whole stream of consumption spending that goes with it.”
Many area families, however, find the arrangement works very well for their personal finances, as well as their general family happiness. Steve Navarra of Carlisle is jokingly nostalgic for his brief period without kids: “Just as the rosy glow of Empty Nest-hood began to warm our eastern skies, we got the call: Our older son was coming back home, with his son, our grandson.”
But Navarra and his wife Dawn didn’t hesitate. “It’s like the motto of Lilo and Stich: In our family, you don’t leave anyone behind.”
Now the household consists of Dawn’s 25-year-old son Dean Lanier and his two-year-old son Aiden; her 22-year-old son Dyllan Lanier; and her mother, Delilah Breeding. “We’ve got the room, and what am I going to do with a four-bedroom house: open a skating rink?” Navarra asked. “We are bonding together and taking care of each other. We are all family.”
Dean Lanier said moving back home has ensured a better future for his son while he works full-time at Otterbein Lebanon Nursing Center and studies radiology technology at Sinclair Community College. Dean’s stepfather serves as Aiden’s primary babysitter, he said, and the two-year-old loves the household’s happy tumult.
Younger brother Dyllan said that moving back home has enabled him to buy a 2011 Chevy Cruise, take vacations, and save for college. “I don’t care what my friends think,” he said. “I’m glad my family taught me how to save. And, while some friends may question his choice, it’s becoming a lot more common. “It’s hard to pay the bills,” he said.
Hollywood has fostered the notion that the so-called “failure to launch” is a new phenomenon, Fry said, but the figures aren’t that dramatically different from the recession-plagued early ’80s. In 2007, 31 percent of 18-to-31-year-olds lived at home, a figure virtually identical to 1981.
Fry said a faltering economy might not be the only reason for the 5-percent spike since 2007. Millennials are going to college at a higher rate, and they’re marrying at later ages. In 2012, the median age for marriage was 26.6 for women and 28.6 for men — an increase of five years from four decades ago, Fry said: “Young women hit the milestones earlier than young men. They finish college faster, and they marry about two years earlier.”
Key marker: jobs
Many millennials have struggled through the post-recession years. In 2012, 63.4 percent of millennials had jobs, down from 70 percent in 2007.
“Having a job is a key marker for living independently,” Fry noted. “The stock market has recovered, and housing prices have picked up, but the labor market has not been as robust as other parts of the recovery, especially for young people.”
College debt doesn’t appear to be a significant factor, Fry said, noting that only 18 percent of millennials with bachelor’s degrees are living with their parents, compared with 43 percent of those with some college education and 40 percent of those with high school degrees.
“That is what we would expect,” Fry said. “In spite of the difficult job market, young adults with a college degree do much better economically.”
Natalie Taylor of Springfield, 28, has chosen to live at home with her parents, Brenda and John Taylor, despite earning a criminal justice degree and landing a good job as a detention worker for Clark County Juvenile Court. While her older brother, Nathan, of Kettering, couldn’t wait to get out on his own, Brenda recalled that Natalie always dreamed of buying her own home.
Natalie has contributed to household expenses, and now she has saved enough money to start house-hunting. “If I had been in an apartment the rent would take up most of my paycheck,” she said.
“Her father jokes about wanting her out of the house,” Brenda said, “but we are going to miss her. She is good company.”
Natalie said she has enjoyed living with her easygoing parents but is looking forward to being on her own and pursuing her goal of becoming a Dayton police officer. “I think it’s time,” she said.
Tammy Sanderson, 50, of Springfield also loves having her daughter Kascy Cutlip, 24, and her husband Robin living with her as they can complete their college education. “We get along so well, I can’t imagine life without them. It’s harder for kids to get a start in life than when I was young. This way, they can put money aside and even enjoy a vacation.”
Some relatives and friends have been critical of their decision, Sanderson said: “They beat up on the kids for still living at home, but the world has changed so much, they don’t have a choice. If they’re going to have a good life, they’re going to have to plan for it.”
‘I don’t want him on the street’
For older millennials, moving back home may be a matter of painful necessity. Gretchen Moore’s 32-year-old son, J.D., could no longer pay the rent on his apartment when he lost one of his two jobs. “I don’t want him on the street,” she said.
Moore, 60, is retired from the Department of Corrections but still enjoys plenty of private time when her son is working as a photographer. The only tension, she said with a smile, “is that we have different taste in music. My music puts him to sleep, and I don’t like it when he listens to rap.”
Other than that, she said, “It’s working out. I know a lot of people in similar situations.”
Rowena Davis of Harrison Twp. also did not want her 31-year-old son, Quentin, to be out in the cold when his job was downsized in April. “As long as I’ve got a place, they have a home with me,” she said. That includes a growing brood: her 9-year-old granddaughter, whose mother died in 2011, as well as Quentin’s 3-year-old on the weekends. “It’s hard,” admitted Davis, a homemaker whose husband is retired. “But they’re yours, and you do what you can to help. And who wants to be out of work? It’s a really bad feeling. My son is a good person. He doesn’t drink or do drugs, but he can’t find a job.”
Carol McCarty views her very full nest as a blessing, not a curse.
She works full-time as a secretary for the National Trail Parks and Recreation District in Springfield. Her younger son, Christopher, suffers from mental illness and is unable to live alone. Her son Timothy, who has learning disabilities, has a job but plans to move back home soon to make ends meet.
“I’m 69 and working full-time at a job I love, but it leaves me little time and energy to take care of the home and the family matters that might come up during the day time,” she said. “Due to the medical issues, neither my husband or son has been able to hold down jobs, and have not for many years. So between my husband and my son, most of the daily household duties are taken care of. If it wasn’t for them I would not be able to work outside the home. I am really blessed by my family.”
Better yet, her 93-year-old mother is able to remain at home. “She just loves spending time with them,” McCarty said.
Her advice to other families in the same situation: Everyone should pitch in with household chores, and everyone should contribute what they can afford financially. “We are all paying our own way and no one feels like a burden or a freeloader or a leech,” McCarty said. “We all work hard together.”
Sometimes, she said, Christopher “feels like he gets negative vibes about our situation. But this is our family, this is our way of life. We are a close family.”
Many find the trend reminiscent of families in the not-so-distant past, when it was considered normal for several generations to live under one roof. Karen Roberts of Oakwood said that during the Depression and early years of World War II, her two aunts lived at her grandfather’s home in Milwaukee.
“All were employed, my grandfather as a foundry worker and my aunts as teachers,” Roberts said. “One of my aunts married, adding an additional person to the household and she and her husband later had a child, adding one more. Thus, there were three generations living under one roof, and only one bathroom which was on the second floor. As time moved on, the married couples moved on and one aunt remained and took care of my grandfather until almost the end of his life. As I look back on things, they saved money by pooling living expenses rather than setting up separate households. This is what families did then.”
The family of the past could be the family of the future, even after the economy improves, Fry predicted.
“There seems to be less stigma to living at home with your parents,” he said.