Adults are living with their parents at unprecedented levels as crushing debt, a runaway housing market, and the pandemic make independence impossible

A massive amount of young people moved back in with their parents due to pandemic-related struggles.

The trend might be here to stay.

A record number of Americans are back living with their parents, as the share of the U.S. population living in multigenerational households hit 18% last year, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center.

The survey, which collected interviews from over 1,500 Americans of different ages and income levels last October, found that the number of multigenerational homes in the U.S. has quadrupled since the 1970s—a rate of growth far higher than that of other types of households.

Younger millennials are by far the most likely to be living in a multigenerational household. Nearly one third of Americans aged 25 to 29 do so, with the vast majority living with their parents. 

The most common factor behind people’s decision to move in or continue living with relatives well into adulthood was money. Finances were the main reason to live with family for 40% of survey respondents, followed by caregiving commitments to older relatives. Over half of younger people with lower incomes cited finances as the biggest factor in their decision.

A growing trend

Multigenerational living has been a growing trend in the U.S. for years. A major factor has been the rapid population growth of people of color in the U.S. over the past few years, a group Pew says is more likely to live with multiple generations in the same home. But the pandemic and a red-hot housing market have supercharged the popularity of these living decisions.

In the first year of the pandemic, more than half of Americans under 29 were living with their parents, according to another Pew survey—the first time this had happened since data on the topic became first available in the 1940s. 

The earlier stages of the pandemic and the economic downturn hit millennials and older Gen Zers hard, as college campuses across the country shut down and job losses hit record highs. These trends carried on into 2021—especially for younger Americans, as 58% of adults younger than 24 were still living with their parents last year, according to census data.

The pandemic factor in the multigenerational housing boom may be beginning to wane, as restrictions are lifted and the economy rebounds. U.S. companies added 678,000 new jobs in February, while weekly unemployment claims recently fell to their lowest level since 1969.

But even if the economy is recovering, young Americans may have another important reason to stay at home for the foreseeable future. 

Moving out right now is just way too expensive

America has been in the clutches of a historic housing crunch for most of the pandemic, and millennials are faring the worst in it. A low supply of available housing and soaring demand are causing home prices to increase seemingly every month, and younger Americans with lower incomes are simply getting crowded out of the market.

To avoid spending life savings on a home they might regret, many millennials have opted to continue living with their relatives to wait out the hot housing market and save up money. 

The high cost of living in many cities is pushing more and more younger Americans to consider moving back in with their families. The trend has been compounded by the student debt crisis among younger Americans, 60% of whom say that their student loan debt is the biggest factor delaying their decision to buy a home, according to a 2021 poll by the National Association of Realtors.

Renting isn’t a much better option for Americans looking to move out either, as rents have also been warped by the real estate market. Rents hit an all-time nationwide high last January, and in some cities, the market has gotten so ridiculous that buying a home can actually be the more affordable option.

The housing market won’t cool off before next year, and for those looking to buy a home, living with relatives does seem to be the most cost-efficient option. The Pew survey found that people living in multigenerational households are the least likely to fall into poverty, a benefit that in most cases extends to unemployed young Americans as well.

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