The Pandemic and 'Emerging Adults'

April 20, 2021

The global pandemic affects our culture in myriad ways. There’s one effect of the pandemic that surprises a lot of people when I tell them about it: It’s accelerating the expansion of a new life stage that social scientists call “emerging adulthood.”

This culture shift started well before the pandemic. In 2014, 32% of 18- to 34-year-olds lived with a parent – more than at any time since around 1940, according to a Pew Research report. At that time in the European Union, almost half (48.1%) the members of that age group lived with their parents.

The Great Recession and the slow recovery from it certainly contributed to this change. But if you look at only the economics, you would miss other important factors.

If Millennials were driven home by economic factors only, one would expect that, prior to the pandemic, when economic opportunities improved, more Millennials would live independently. Pew research indicates the opposite. As Millennials improved their financial situation, they did not move out of their parents’ homes.

Was the free laundry service keeping them there? The fully stocked fridge? Or something more? I would suggest two additional reasons we should consider:

  1. The concept of “emerging adults” existed before this pandemic and is only being accelerated by it (as are ecommerce, online grocery shopping, working from home, etc.). This is a period of time when young people are clearly no longer adolescents, but they are not yet fully independent adults.
  2. Both now and before the pandemic, many young people live with their parents because they want to. This is the result of this generation’s very different relationship with their parents. Pew research indicates that 60% of Millennials report being close or very close to their parents (that number never hit 50% for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers). Additionally, 78% said that they were satisfied with their living arrangements, and 77% said that they were upbeat about their future finances.

I have a great deal of respect for the power of financial motivators and incentives. But to understand a culture shift, you must look beyond just the financial picture. We are witness to a culture shift in action that will have ramifications for employment, housing and the definition of family and what it means in the future. What are you doing to prepare for it?

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.

Let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!

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