More young adults staying in the parental home? Perhaps.

The ONS reported last week a 20% increase since 1997 in young adults between the ages of 20 and 34 living at home with their parents. The story was widely reported, for instance in the Guardian and The Telegraph. Sounds impressive but is it really newsworthy?

According to last week’s figures, the average annual rise in the number of young people living at their parental home since 1997 is around 34,000. It fell in a couple of years and rose sharply in two years – in 2009 (probably recession related) and 2004. There seems to be a general trend upwards, but one can’t but help feeling that the numbers just bounce around from year to year. It’s not totally clear that a half million increase over 14 years in the number of young adults (the ONS reckons there are 12.5 million of them at the moment) is worth a press release. Certainly, the increases in 2010 and 2011 are not out of the ordinary.

There was a rather more balanced article from the ONS not so long ago. The changing living arrangements of young adults in the UK report released in the winter 2009 edition of “Population Trends” looked at the issue in a more considered way and found that the net increase between the years of 1988 and 2008 was virtually zero. Alas comparable numbers, year by year, with last week’s report are not available but figure 2 of that report is well worth looking at. The number of men living at home fell in the earlier report off set by a rising number of young women. The report found that reasons for moving out, and when, was what was the significant development, not the overall figure.

The 2009 report said that the Labour Force Survey, upon which the ONS analysis is based, consistently underestimates the percentage of youth living out of home as it does not count those living in communal living arrangements such as at hostels or halls of residence. Therefore, those in their early 20’s can be included erroneously in the number of youth living at home with their parents. Perhaps given that – at a time of rapid increase of young people in tertiary education, the fluctuations from year to year are not that significant?

So what is the true increase in young adults between the ages of 20 and 34 living at home with their parents? The combination of economic slowdown, higher housing prices and student bills to repay, does point to a greater dependency of 20-somethings on their parents but we’d take all these numbers with a large pinch of salt. And lets not even think about the significance of the regional figures …

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