Bryan Caplan  

Living With Your Parents

Update on Suicide Bombers and ... Mad About Trade, II...
A striking passage from "Intergenerational Transfers and Inheritance":
[A] large and growing difference exists between Germany and Italy in rates of coresidence of young adults with their parents.  In Italy, 50% of young women and 70% of young men still live in the parental home, while in Germany the corresponding rates are 10% and 30%.
Normally, women are closer to their parents than men - and resent their interference less - so I'd expect the reverse pattern.  Is this just a German-Italian thing?  Nope.  It weakly holds for 15 out of 15 EU countries - men's rates of coresidence are greater than or equal to women's every time.  I couldn't find U.S. data, but at this point I'm not expecting to see any American exceptionalism.

Living with my parents had so little appeal for me that I have trouble getting inside the head of any man - or woman - who'd consider it.  Can someone help me out?  What's going on here?

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (44 to date)
Bob Murphy writes:

I think the real puzzle for economists is, why do so many kids keep having parents?

RL writes:

Women have more offers to live with boyfriends. Men have more incentive to do what's necessary to save up for the nice car.

David N. Welton writes:

Yeah, I live in Italy.

First and foremost, housing is expensive, and wages are low.

Secondly, it's generally seen as "wasted money" - since it doesn't go to purchase anything tangible, perhaps it's better to save it and purchase a house of your own at a later date (traditionally, when you get married and move out). Also, you get mamma's cooking for free, which is usually excellent. If you're male, it's also likely she'll also do your laundry and ironing.

Thirdly, yes, it's also a cultural thing. People have traditionally lived with their parents until they moved in with a husband or wife when they get married. This means that it's accepted - if you live with your parents until you're thirty, you're not seen as abnormal or weird. This lowers the incentive to strike out on your own.

People also tend to live near where they were born *far* more than in the US, but that's a different topic for another time.

MR writes:

I'm Finnish. People here seem to move out quite early compared to other european countries. I think that males moving out later can be partly explained by military service. Most young men go there around age of 19, and their official address stays with their parents during service.

Milton Recht writes:

In the US in the 25-34 age group, there are about 2.5 million men (12.7 percent of men) and about 1.7 million women (8.6 percent of women) living at a parental home. When other factors are considered, the gender disparity disappears. When a multivariate socioeconomic analysis (unemployment, education, previously married, disabled, etc.) is done, the greater likelihood of male versus female living at parental home drops out.

The paper: (Also see,

Kreider, Rose. "Young Adults Living in Their Parents' Home: Slackers?"

"This paper provides a look at the characteristics of young adults age 25 to 34, by whether they are living as a child of the householder....The second section shows results from a multivariate model that examines which characteristics of the young adult and their household are associated with living in their parents' household will also be shown."

"While in the bivariate results, children of the householder are more likely to be male, after controlling for other demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, males were no more likely than females to live in their parents' home." (Page 8).

The abstract:

wouiestek writes:

Who fight their parents more, men or women? The answer should now be completely obvious!

JPIrving writes:

How about the Larry Summers story about the variance of achievement. There are more exceptional men than women, but also more low achievement men than women. I like RL's idea too, young women have higher dating market value than young men, more likely to have an older partner support them.

George writes:

If moving out had zero cost, sure, almost everyone would move out. There's a trade-off because it cost a lot of money in some counties to move out. I bet the rent/income ratio in Italy is much higher than in Germany for a young person.

George writes:

Bryan, I bet you would consider it if you had little saving, and rent or mortgage cost almost 100% of your income. Am I wrong?

Peter Thoenen writes:

I believe a lot of it has to do with access to the internet and the liberalization of parents in the past couple decades as opposed to economic factors (or at least in the states where I see plenty of my younger male employee's (as in late 20's) still living at home).

1: Parents seem to no longer take the "it's my way or the highway approach" nor do children treat their parents as respectfully while living there. For example when many of my generation turned 18 staying home wasn't an option; either your parents would throw you out or you stayed home and became a recluse because no way you were coming home at 3 am drunk with a flop from the bar and bring your drunken friends with you to your parents home. Whereas I talk to see of the younger guys I work with and their parents don't seem to care if they bring random floozies home or come home piss drunk with their drunk friends at all hours of the night.

2: With the internet there are plenty of young restless single males who live online and get their social interaction from it. Living at home no longer isolates you from a social life hence no reason to leave to find friends / beat boredom / experience comradeship. As a WOW playing co-worker told me,how does he benefit from moving out when all he does is play WOW 80 hours a week laundry whereas moving out brings plenty of detriment such as rent, household chores, cooking, etc etc

While there are economics in play (the average wage has increased enough that parents can afford to continue to support their adult children) I firmly believe it more of a social issue.

lukas writes:

Erm, the EU has 27 countries by now...

Anyway I think it is linked to another cultural difference between the US and Europe: most people around here spend their adult lives in the region where they grew up, so staying in is a convenient (remember, low wages, high rents) and socially acceptable mode until marriage, even now that many don't get married until their late 20s/early 30s. And then there is the American custom of sending your kid to college a couple hundred miles away, which is far less widespread in Europe.

As to why men stay in more than women: many men just wouldn't be able to manage a household of their own. They have quite literally never learned to cook, wash, iron, clean or shop.

Alex J. writes:

From Wikipedia:
In social anthropology, patrilocal residence is a term referring to the social system in which a married couple resides with or near the husband's parents. This practice is found in about 69 percent of the world's cultures that have been described ethnographically; yet, it is not prevalent in the modern world any more.

Possibly, parents are more comfortable with their sons carrying on premarital relationships than with their daughters doing so.

And to Bryan, perhaps most people get along better with their parents than you do?

Sol writes:

I'm an American male who moved back in with his parents twice. The first time was right after grad school. I had a good job, but no car and debt rather than savings, so it seemed a practical choice for a year. Once I had a credit history, a car, and some savings, striking out on my own was much easier.

After four years in an apartment, five in that job, I decided to start my own software company. My business plan didn't give too much hope there'd be significant income in the first year, so I moved back in with my parents to minimize "unnecessary" expenses until the company was going. That time I stayed there two and a half years, at which point my company was going well enough to buy a nice little house to live in.

Why not move back in with your parents for a bit, if you get along well? You probably won't find a better deal on housing anywhere. I mean, I guess there's the opportunity cost where they could be renting out your room, but seriously, no one does that.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I imagine it could have a lot to do with sexual ethics too. Think about being a parent with a young adult child living with you. How would you view a son bringing home a girl for the night vs. a daughter bringing home a guy? I imagine most would be more tolerant of the son. Assuming both men and women have the same sexual incentives, that gives women more reason to move out. Just a thought.

stefan writes:

I remember looking at US data on this a while back. If my memory isn't fooling me, the sex imbalance of kids living with their parents used to be even larger back in the 1950s, with many women moving out into marriage in their late teens, while men did not. This sex imbalance persistent at least into kids in their early and mid 20s, much more strongly than today. The delay and declining rate of marriage (and associated coresidence) for women since the 1950s has changed how this plays out now.

BTW, I grew up in Germany and my sister left to live with her late 20s boyfriend when she was 16. Not something I could have done when I was 16.

David writes:

I think it would also be worth looking at the percentages of the male and female population that live with roommates, and how many roommates they have. It may be that females lower the cost of "independent" living more frequently than males by taking on one or more roommates. Males could be more interested in living either alone or with a significant other and are less likely to want a roommate. Living with parents may be seen as a way to save money up for life on their own.

OneEyedMan writes:

For young people of the same age, women are likely to be younger, which makes the composition of the two groups different.

If 50% of young women and 70% of young men are unmarried in Italy, then this would hold even if there were no difference in the preference to live at home.

This probably doesn't explain the whole thing, but could explain much of the difference in the two rates.

Normally, women are closer to their parents than men - and resent their interference less - so I'd expect the reverse pattern.
I'm not sure I'd agree with this. I actually think at young adult age women resent their parents' interference more. I have only anecdotal evidence for this, but in my opinion young men are much more willing to be at home.
RL writes:

Young men at home have their food made for them and their laundry done. Young women at home contribute to making the food and doing the laundry. Benefits are therefore greater for men; costs are greater for women.

(The more I think about it, the question to answer is, "why don't all women move out and all men stay at home?" :-> )

English Professor writes:

I lived in Italy for a while. I was surprised at all the young men who lived at home with their parents. On the whole, housing is expensive and entry-level work hard to get, so many stay at home. And with the loosening of sexual mores (mentioned by someone above), sons can often have their girlfriends stay with them in their parents' house--though this same benefit is not necessarily extended to daughters.

I can think of two other issues: college graduates in their 20s often stay at home while they're trying to find work. Some bright young people get into programs that prepare them for places in the government bureaucracy: these programs can take years, and many prefer to stay at home and save money. I was also told that Italians don't like mortgages, so they attempt to save as much as possible towards buying a home before they move out. As for the relative treatment of young men and young women in Italy, I think RL got it right: the sons are served by mama, and the daughters are expected to help take care of the family (including the sons).

phineas writes:

We're being told here that about 60% of young people in Italy live with the parents compared to about 20% in Germany and about 10% in the US. Purely economic considerations couldn't account for such a big disparity. Parent-child relationships must be different in Italy.

Maddog writes:

In many countries the following dynamic plays out:
Mothers coddle sons - cooking, cleaning, washing and generally lavish attention and praise on the boy. Fathers are ambivalent. There are few if any familial duties owed to the extended family.

With daughters mothers treat them as an adult co-participant who must pull their own weight with the cooking, cleaning, and washing. The attention is generally positive but substantially negative. Fathers treat their daughters like princesses but only in lip service. Familial duties like babysitting for relatives are significant.

Sons have few expectations and myriad benefits. This makes any demands tolerable.

Daughters find life very similar to life on their own but with additional familial demands. Life outside the family has substantial benefits.

More daughters leave the nest. Incentives matter.

Mark Sherman

Dr. T writes:

I believe that Daniel Kuehn's comment has merit. I've observed the situation where an adult woman at her parents' home cannot have a boyfriend overnight, while her adult brother can have a girlfriend overnight.

Lord writes:

What is the prevalence of male primogeniture these days? Even without it, there must be little pressure to move out in countries with diminishing populations, where it becomes a reality even without preference.

Yancey Ward writes:

I am sure some of the previous commenters have already made these points, but I would guess that boys at home get more actual benefit and lesser cost while daughters get less benefit and more cost. In other words, work at home tends to be female oriented, rather it is the mother or her adult daughters.

Also, I wonder- are we talking about single people here, or can they also be married?

c writes:

"I have trouble getting inside the head of anyone who would consider it".

Well, I guess that doesn't speak highly of your ability to understand the motives/incentives of others. Seems like that would be a pretty valuable skill for an economist. The fact that you have trouble understanding why someone would choose to live with people that love them for free, even if somehwat tongue in cheek, paints an unflattering picture of you.

Steve Roth writes:

First, slightly tangential: America since WWII is the only place and time in the history of the world where an 18-25 year old living with his/her parents is considered odd. (This has seeped into other countries, but rarely is it such a cultural "given.") It is and has been standard practice throughout the world, forever. (Can you say "Traditional family values"?)

As to the male/female question, a complete surmise:

Women are simply better at operating in the modern world than men. The evolutionary traits developed in hunter-gatherer societies--and since--make them better adapted to modern conditions.

This is evidenced by the fact that--now that the influence of male physical dominance has been greatly overcome in the U.S.--women now constitute 60% of undergraduates, and the majority of professional/graduate students and (in many fields) professionals. In my girls' private middle/high school, the idea that girls are shy about speaking up is wholly ludicrous; the poor guys don't stand a chance. (Still some decades needed for their full dominance to display at upper levels.)

I say: get used to it, guys...


Stephen Smith writes:

I would think that it has a lot to do with college. In the US, you go away for college and learn to live like that, and coming back home is a big adjustment. In Europe, on the other hand, if you live in a city, you go to University of [City], and you live at home with your parents. So when you graduate and can only find long-term internships or part-time jobs (as many 20-somethings in the European job market have to contend with), staying with mom isn't all that big of a leap. If you live in the countryside, you probably don't go to school. But since you live in Europe, you probably live in a city, not the countryside.

Also: I'd think that women generally marry younger than men, since they're more mature and more desirable at that age, leading them to move out sooner than men.

Mark writes:

I think people who are discussing parents differing attitude towards male/female children bringing home partners are missing something:

If parents don't allow daughters to bring home boyfriends, but do allow boyfriends to bring home daughters, then both genders could live at home with all girls going to their boyfriends homes at night.

The differences in expected household work as well as females having older partners (who can afford their own housing) seem to make more sense.

Rolf Andreassen writes:

Perhaps one might consider what is meant by "living with". At the age of thirty I am still "living with" my parents in the sense that their address is mine for purposes of getting mail from the bureaucracy in the old country. (For some reason Norwegian bureaucrats are not very quick on the uptake when it comes to foreign addresses; it's not worth the hassle to update them when you move fairly often, as I have been doing these past years.)

Further, before I moved to the US, I was living with my parents in a separate apartment in their house - connected enough for laundry and cooking, separate enough not to see them much otherwise unless I particularly wanted to. All the advantages, none of the disadvantages. I suspect that a lot of middle-class university students might have some such arrangement.

Vangel writes:

Why spend money on housing if you don't have to and have trouble earning a sufficient income? Many adults choose to live in a parental home by moving to a relatively private basement or other area where there does not have to be much of an interaction. This makes sense because many people are out of the home for so much that all they really need is a bed and a place to eat once in a while.

In my case, I chose to live in the basement of my parents home because I was so busy working and out of the home for such long periods that it made no sense to rent a place even though I could afford one. The savings allowed me to purchase a very nice two bedroom condominium in a prestige location that I wound up owning outright after six years, thanks to the rental income plus my own savings that I could use to pay down the mortgage. My parents benefited because they had someone to do a number of things that they were incapable of doing themselves. In addition to the monetary benefits for me, I found a great deal more time to go out because I did not spend much time cleaning, cooking, etc. Privacy was never an issue because I could get as much as I wished. Often I did not see my parents for a week or more even though we lived in the same home.

What I don't get is why so many young people waste money unnecessarily for housing that they can't really make good use of because they are so busy working and doing other things that interest them. What exactly is wrong with owning your own home outright years sooner, obtaining financial independence faster, and finding more time to do things that one wishes to do rather than spend them on weekly chores that can be reduced substantially? Why exactly is it 'cooler' to be living in some rat-hole or overpriced rental unit rather than for free in a separate and private area of a family home?

Caitlyn Nesbitt writes:

I am a college student who has always wanted to move out and have my own place as soon as possible. But thanks to Vangel's post I might just reconsider. Staying on campus does save myself quite a bit of money with rent and foodplan already paid for. It would give me a chance to save money for the future.

Most young people nowadays leave college with more debt than they can count because of loans and other misc items. I do not want any debt and I would like to leave college with some saving under my belt to get myself started with. I don't want to end up being a 30 yr old who doesn't know how to save and still living with my parents but be able to hold my head high with no debt.

I have no problem living with my parents until I am done with college and others shouldn't either. Why put extra stress on oneself over rent, food, chores and other stuff that is truly unnessecary at such a young age. Everyone is such a hurry to grow up and get out that they miss out on the little things we don't have to pay for.

Amber Anderson writes:

Women tend to live at home for a few reasons: first of all, they simply tend to have closer (or at least on the surface) relationships with their parents. In addition, they have yet to find that "special someone" to start a new life/home with, so they retreat to their comfort zone and live with their parents until such a time comes around. It is also socially acceptable because it has become the norm to relate women to lots of emotions and close family ties. For men, it would seem socially odd if they stayed with their parents for a long period of time after college/school or as adults, but for women, it is acceptable and in some circumstances, expected. I believe that a lot of women believe the old saying of "home sweet home" and over time, it has become their comfort zone and place of retreat. For example, at college break, it is very uncommon (at least in the U.S.) to see men super excited about returning home for the holidays but in reference to women, you often hear squeals and expressions of excitement to return to the place of safety and memories. Not to say that men do not have these joyful emotions, they just do not express them as openly as women do, so it is socially assumed that women have more emotions (and openly express them).

Men also have a few reasons for living with their parents: they may have just finished school and do not have anywhere to turn/don't know what avenue to pursue next. This is common with most students (of both genders), but for men, it is especially true because in the U.S., it is thought that women are (usually) more organized and the "planners". This is not to say that men are not/can not be "planners", but trends just tend to show that women have plans for their lives at earlier points in life; therefore leading to an immediate start on their career after school (and not living with their parents as far as this aspect goes). Men also tend to be more "tight" with their money and save up for big items such as fancy cars, boats, etc. so they may also forgo their own living space and stay with their parents to save expenses.

Lastly, the differences in Italy verses the U.S. verses other UK countries may be customs and what it socially acceptable. Personally, I have never traveled outside of the U.S., so I am not aware of the standards or norms overseas but from reading and stories that I hear, customs and social experiences are much different than they are here in the U.S., so this probably accounts for this large difference.

Catfish writes:

The least we can do is NOT socially stigmatize people (especially, who, in there 20s) live with there parents.

The 20s age group are usually when it is best to take financial risks of a lifetime. Imagine, a 20 something entrepreneur, lost all his money (and time) in a start-up, is culturally/socially pressured, to rent his home rather than stay with his parents for a year to clear his debit.

Instead, he goes for renting his home, and his debit pile up.

Staying with your parents is a good backup plan (especially in this economy) when, young people's finances are bleak. Imagine the amount of money you can save, by not renting/mortgaging, for a year or two, to revive you finances.

The least you can do is not to stigmatize it.

Conner writes:

The answer to this is really simple. Men are lazier then women. Sure most people would want to get away from their parents and gain some extra freedom, but many don’t want to leave the extra benefits. Why would you want to leave a place where you don’t have to pay rent or utilities? Why would someone want to have to buy his or her own groceries? Do you really want to do your laundry when there is a perfectly good mom to do it for you? Women probably see these annoying task as exciting. When my girlfriend moved away to college this year she was so excited to live on her own, buy her own groceries, and do her own laundry. I know I was not excited to have to do all these chores. Men would rather have someone do these things for them; it is as simple as that. I think there are more lazy men in this world than lazy women. That’s why there are higher percentages of men living at home as adults than women.
Not only will Americans show no exceptionalism to this ongoing pattern, but they will bump up the statistics to even higher percentages. There is no place on earth with more laziness then the U.S. Sad to say it but it is true. In America people are so used to having things given to them. When things are always given laziness develops. This is a sad statistic but I accept it because I am a guy and I know I hate doing all these chores myself. I miss my momma doing all this for me. I bet most these guys living with there parents feel the same way.

Francesco writes:

As someone who visits his Italian relatives frequently (though I have never lived in Italy) I think I can second many of the comments others have made. First there are social reasons unique to Italy: generally Italian mothers are known to dote on their sons, even after their sons are married and have their own families. Second there are economic issues. It is very difficult to find a decent job in Italy, and housing is very expensive. This means that Italians (especially Italian men) have less incentive to leave and fewer means to do so.

Granite26 writes:

Women marry earlier than Men. I'd bet controlling for that would resolve a significant portion of the disparity.

Peter writes:

Perhaps women are more concerned about what their parents will think if they have a friend over for, umm, then night. It's equally likely that many men like to have their mum do the washing and cooking until they have a partner to take it over.

Justin writes:

I believe that the reason that most males and females still live with their parents is due to the fact that the cost of living is so high. Therefore it is harder for these men and woman to move out and buy their own homes. Since the cost of living has changed in the past few years there are less people moving out and starting their own lives. Since it is so hard to start their own lives we are seeing more people waiting to get married which shows why woman are still living at home. Jobs are becoming more and more scarce since the economy has gotten worse. With less job opportunities available results in the fact that more people are living with their parents. In the US in the 25-34 age group, there are about 2.5 million men (12.7 percent of men) and about 1.7 million women (8.6 percent of women) living at a parental home.

I believe that the reason that there is a lower percentage of females still living with their parents is based on that they are pursuing higher grossing jobs for example nursing. With jobs like nursing there is a high increase in job opportunities which give them the type of income they need to get out of their parents homes and start their own lives.

Jason Malloy writes:

According to the General Social Survey, 8.4% of men and 6.7% of women aged 25-40 are living with their parents during this decade.

About 75% of these people are never married, another 15% are divorced or separated, and about 10% are married and living in an extended household.

Never married men are more likely to be living at home than never married women. Women are more likely to live with their parents after a divorce or separation. And married men are more likely to be living in the extended household of their wives than vice versa.

Jason Malloy writes:

Also, this only refers to people who are living in the household of their parents, so it does not include people whose parents are living with them.


Stuhlmann writes:

When I was stationed in Germany in the mid-80s (US Army), an American woman I knew told me how surprised she was that so many of the unmarried German women she knew lived with their parents, even though these women were in their mid to late 20s. Clearly remaining with parents is not a recent phenomena.

I married a German woman, who was living with her parents at the time, and that was for financial reasons. German tax laws hit single people very hard. Even as a low-paid apprentice, my wife had about 1/2 her pay check eaten up by taxes, social security, health insurance, etc. Young Germans are not well paid, and they don't get to keep much of what they are paid. Living at home under these conditions does make economic sense.

MAtt writes:

Simple solution from a psychologist is odepious complex is stronger in men then the corresponding complex in women. The results to cause some questions, such as who takes home whom when trying to get laid, certainly it's difficult to have relations while your parents are in the house. A male sex hound would want to live by himself, and yet this flies in stark contrast between the sexual porous stereotypical Italian

S. Godfrey writes:

I have found very strong gender bias on the issue of general proximity to parents. Which is a bit more vague than living in the same house or not.

At eighteen , I choose to move to a new city, alone, thousands of kilometres from either parent. I was already accustomed to working full-time, and had a total responsibility type attitude. Neither parent had any interest in helping me, no matter how poor I was.

Some years later, I moved to another country. This puts the "away from parents" thing right upfront, due to speaking with an obvious accent (i.e. I immigrated as an adult.)

In both cases, I have encountered some very overt social disapproval - and ONLY from other women. The attitude is that, it's OK to live in my own apartment, but only if it is within close proximity to mommy's house.

Add on being single, childfree, and middle-aged. And never offering any explanation.

The disapproval isn't necessarily telling me that I am "bad." But, rather, an expectation that I should confirm that I am allegedly lonely and miserable. The need to establish that I am somehow forced to live where I do, or that I regret the decision. There is disappointment and nervousness when I indicate feel just fine about the situation.

A lot of women's location is based entirely on dependence. Either emotional (parents) or financial (husband.) And they don't appreciate meeting a woman who isn't trapped.

Men have never pushed that kind of negative attitude.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top