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Boomerang kids not being tossed back

By MICHELLE GROENKE, United Press International   |   June 3, 2012 at 4:28 AM   |   Comments

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U.S. Census figures suggest 3.4 million newly minted college graduates are heading out into the world this month, although more than half won't be venturing far from home.

Studies report 53 percent to 85 percent of the young graduates will be moving from their college dorms and apartments back into their childhood bedrooms, at least temporarily, Johns Hopkins University sociologist Katherine Newman said.

Newman, who has written a book "The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition," said moving back home isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"Today, it's really close to something of a majority experience," Newman, dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins, said in a release. "It's part of an elongating life course that is affecting both young people and their parents."

The moving-home trend began to emerge in the 1980s and the recent recession has exacerbated the need for shelter as the young graduates start out.

"Many young people are finding that they need an internship after college or they need to take a job that doesn't pay so well to get the experience so they will qualify for something better later," Newman said. "And it can be very difficult to manage all of that on top of the debt they may have as undergraduates without some help from their families, which often takes the form of a roof over their heads."

Newman said the situation can also benefit parents. She said interviews with families suggest baby boomer parents who would have avoided moving back home when they first got out of college, are welcoming their children home with open arms.

She said baby boomers often worked through their children's childhood years and aren't tired of their kids yet. It also makes the parents feel young because it lets them delay the next phase in life. They get to enjoy the pleasant parts of parenting without the problems of raising teenagers, she said.

"I find that the temperature is quite good inside those households, maybe even better than it was before," Newman said. "For most young people, the 'accordion family' represents a haven in a heartless world. They know their families are there to support them, that this is partly what families are for. Parents, in turn, come to understand that they play a vital role in supporting the ambitions and dreams of the next generation."

The delay in adulthood, however, is not necessarily good for the economy. Newman said delayed adulthood means fewer young adults are starting their own families, which could result in a decline in population growth that could stall economic gains.

Social Security will become harder to pay for as birth rates decline, she said.

"Things that used to happen at the age of 22 are now stretching out to 25 or 27 on into the 30s and so we don't know how long that can stretch," Newman said. "But we are a very flexible species and we are adapting to these economic conditions and these educational demands in the best way we know how."

A Pew study earlier this year found more than three-quarters of young adults ages 25 to 34 who have moved back home with their families for economic reasons say they're satisfied with their living arrangements.

Almost half of parents of boomerang children say their children have paid rent and almost 90 percent said the children helped with household expenses.

Among adults ages 25 to 34, 61 percent say they have friends or family members who have moved back in with their parents in recent years because of economic conditions.

Newman said her research was sparked by conversations with counterparts while traveling in places such as Italy, Spain and Japan, where delayed adulthood, lower birth rates and fewer households have created economic and societal difficulties.

Parents in the three countries have very different reactions to the return of their adult children to the nest. In Japan, mothers tend to see it as a parenting failure linked to the absence of their "salaryman" husbands; while parents in Italy are happy to have their children at home and question why anyone would want their kids to fly the coop. The issue in Spain is closely tied to politics, with parents attributing their stay-at-home offspring to government policies that resulted in vast numbers of young adults working short term jobs and making part-time wages.

An interesting counterpoint is the cradle-to-grave social programs in Nordic countries that encourage children to leave home when they are as young as 16. This has led to a separate set of problems with parents complaining a lack of family connection. "They don't need each other enough," Newman told UPI. "It is also lessening links between generations

Newman said she's optimistic the United States can weather the economic and societal downsides to the trend but said she worries what will happen if it goes on too long.

"I do worry about deep and persistent unemployment," she said. "When that goes on too long you get a scarring effect."

Even when the economy recovers, employment gaps can expose people to long-term damage, such as lower wages and less opportunity, she said.

One key to a positive "accordion family" experience is that it must have a purpose, Newman said.

"If the purpose of being home is to subsidize a move that is going to make a difference in the long run, then everyone's happy," she said. "If you are home playing video games, it is an entirely different story."

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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