Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Millenials In The Nest

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 2, 2013



A Pew Research Center analysis released Thursday found that 36% of millennials, those ages 18 to 31, are living with their parents, the highest share in at least 40 years. Above, UCLA graduates celebrate in June. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / June 14, 2013)


As a psychiatrist, I am thinking about this new sociological trend where millennial bounce back to their nest, perhaps with a lack of the necessary psychological separation required to spring into a healthy adulthood. On the other hand, maybe this return is an opportunity for young adults to work out their issues with their parents so that they can emerge, a second time, with a more secure attachment, and hence a stronger independence. Emily, twenty-five, went to college and graduate school and now lives in her childhood bedroom. She has a good job, working at a public relations firm, but she feels it is a waste of money to spend her earnings on an apartment. She is happy at home. Her parents are happy, as well. Emily can take comfortable vacations, eat out with her friends, because she has no rent to pay. Emily has a boyfriend who also lives with his parents. When they want to spend time together, they go away for the weekend. Emily is both happy and unhappy at the same time. She likes her job. She likes her family and she likes her boyfriend. On the other hand, she feels younger than her age, and she has very little motivation to move out, and that worries her. She is concerned that she will never want to grow up, because, truth be told, she likes being taken care of. She likes that her laundry is done by her housekeeper, which she has known since she was two. She likes having family dinners. She likes having coffee with her mom every morning. She knows she should be thinking about her future, but as she says, “I kinda like being treated like a kid.” “You are in quite the dilemma,” I say, highlighting both sides of the issue. “On the one hand being cared for is nice, but on the other hand it is stifling.” I expand on this notion that there is good news and there is bad news. “You do not have to worry about many adult responsibilities, but you are also not taking control of your life, as you are living the way your parents are living and you are not making your own choices about where and how you want to live your life.” I say, again, emphasizing that she is following her parents’ lifestyle choices and not making her own. “Yes, but I am so comfortable at home,” Emily says. “And yet, other times, you wonder if you are avoiding tough decisions,” I remind her of previous discussions. “Oh yea, I often forget that,” Emily says with refreshing candor. I am optimistic that Emily will find her own path, yet it is interesting that it will be much later in life than previous generations.

8 Responses to “Millenials In The Nest”

  1. Jon said

    I am curious as to the closing sentence, “…it is interesting that it will be much later in life than previous generations.” Is this really true? I can argue from no hard data yes, and no. Yes, in Emily’s case, she is semi-financially independent, but still is a child in the household, being coddled. Could she become more of a boarder in her parent’s house, paying rent and doing roommate type chores? That might make her more independent. However, back to the original question, much later in life than previous generations? In the past, albeit not for the baby boomers, there might not have been the general level of affluence to be on one’s own. Many lived with their parents until it was time to be married. Again, I have no hard data on which to draw, but it is an interesting question.

    • The issue of being in one’s parents home, not as a child, but as a “boarder” is an interesting issue, in how it may or may not change the dynamics. We can also add to the discussion, knowing that our life spans are longer, and there are ways to preserve reproductive functioning, such that maybe there is less of a pressure to “grow up”. I certainly agree that affluence plays a huge part in this discussion. Children of affluence grow accustomed to certain luxuries that they, often, cannot provide for themselves, so they return home for these benefits, such as better quality of food, and comfortable living conditions. My understanding is that the millenials are the first generation not to do better than their parents. This economic shift will have huge psychological consequences, that at this point, we can only speculate about. Thanks.

  2. Ashana M said

    Adult children have remained in the same household with their parents for their entire adult lives for thousands of years, if not millions. The trend toward leaving home is relatively new, and probably increased along with urbanization. It’s not really a surprise to me that we’ve departed from this new wrinkle in human behavior at least to an extent. Two of my four grandparents lived with their parents until their parents died. (Of course, that wasn’t actually very long…) It is clear that our culture has swung too far in the direction of autonomy into isolation, and the consequences have been a great sense of loneliness, alienation, and fearfulness. I think a move away from that would probably be much better for most of us. Of course, elsewhere, when children are shielded from some responsibilities for much longer, they are also expected to then repay the favor, and take care of their parents as they begin to have trouble taking care of themselves. It isn’t a free ride.

    • Yes, yes, it is by no means a free ride. Yes, the expectations of this prolonged incubation is huge, although maybe unstated. Yes, this is a throwback to previous generations where family living was the norm, until one started one’s own family. I am interested though in the change from one generation to the next. The generation, currently in their 50s and 60s left the nest as soon as possible, whereas their children seem to be hanging around. This change intrigues me. Thanks.

      • Ashana M said

        I’m not really sure what the expectations of the parents of millennials are–I have a number of friends with adult children living at home or on the verge of returning home. They don’t articulate any particular expectation about what their children should offer in return. They don’t actually seem to mind having the children return home or put off leaving home, and seem to feel they need to continue to be there to return to. And maybe that’s about what they feel they missed in leaving home when they did–that ongoing, unbroken sense of connection to family. Millennials are actually supposed to have a more group-oriented mind-set than previous generations, so perhaps as a culture we’ve swung just a hair away from being so highly individualistic–we are the most individualistic country in the world, and maybe it was just too much. Staying connected intergenerationally would be the normal outcome of a more collectivist society.

  3. Shelly said

    I can see in this specific case, since both sides enjoy having Emily live at home, then life is good. Emily has the best of both worlds and doesn’t yet have to face all the rigors of an adult life and adult responsibilities. She is indeed out for a big shock when the time comes for her to move out on her own and she isn’t pampered anymore. The problem is really if the adult child still lives at home and the parent doesn’t want the adult child to be there and has no means of getting the adult out of the house. That then is somewhat of a tragedy. The parents are left with minimum recourse other than involving Social Services or the police. In this case, the adult child doesn’t want to grow up and break the bonds of childhood, but the parents wish for the child to grow up and spread his wings. It becomes extremely difficult for the parents to cope as this becomes an extended childhood without the cooperation of the parents.

    • Oh yes, the disparity between what a child wants and what the parents want can cause extreme stress on both sides. When there is a clash, the intensity is enormous and there are no easy answers. Professional intervention, is indeed necessary, but I would hope it would be a therapist and not the police. Thanks.

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