Bryan Caplan  

Getting a B.A. and Living With Your Parents

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The most surprising figure in Arum and Roksa's new Aspiring Adults Adrift:

Yes, lots of newly-minted college grads live with their parents.  Yes, the fraction of college grads who live with their parents has sharply increased.  But at least for 22-24 year-olds, the lines for college grads and non-college-grads have almost exactly overlapped without interruption for over a half-century. 

Explain that!

P.S. Wednesday I'll be speaking at St. Vincent's College on open borders, so I probably won't be blogging again until the end of the week.  If you see me there, or wandering around Pittsburgh, please introduce yourself. :-)

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COMMENTS (21 to date)
Fazal Majaid writes:

Assuming young people will leave the nest as soon as practicable (I have a very jaundiced view of the dumb stereotypes of Millennials the Boomers indulge in), this suggests the employability of a high school graduate with 4 years of work experience is the same as a university graduate just entering the workforce, and thus the conditions for leaving parents are similar. If anything, I would expect a higher proportion of college grads living with their parents, as on-the-job training is more likely to be relevant for employers than whatever the ivory tower believes is.

In my industry (IT), a few years back I had access to the IEEE's salary regression models, for the purpose of making competitive job offers, and found that someone who passed on college would actually make more money than a university graduate in the first 10 years of their career at least, which was our sweet spot for hiring. In other words, the opportunity costs of higher education were steep. I didn't look at career prospects beyond that horizon, but it would take quite a while for ROI on investing in a college CS education. From personal experience, I haven't seen any correlation between academic achievement and job performance in a programmer.

The togetherness of the two lines in the chart suggests to me that the BA is not particularly helpful in gaining independence.

The rise over time of the two lines suggests to me that the cost of housing is rising faster than wages (that government regulation is raising the cost of minimal independent housing units). This might be checked if we could see, on the same horizontal axis, a plot with the ratio (Housing cost)/(Income) on the vertical axis.

MikeP writes:

The obvious explanation is that some people are homebodies and some people aren't and being a homebody doesn't correlate with getting a BA. As college is more and more emphasized for all the academically capable rather than solely for the exceptional or risk taking, this is more and more likely to be true.

The fact that it changes over time reflects the marginal cost of rent in terms of income.

Also, should we question the quality of data? How many eventual BAs have BAs at 22? How many people in college or grad school are counted as living at home?

Kevin writes:

Some quick explanations spring to mind:

1) There is no income-education effect for 20-40% of students.

2) The degrees those 20-40% of students took were not useful in improving the incomes shortly after graduating; they may still be better off in the future.

3) 20-40% of the population, through their own individual personalities/whatever, prefer to live with their parents into early adulthood. Post-secondary education may be uncorrelated with this attribute.

andy writes:

Education/income is not correlated with living alone. My guess is that you should first correct for average age of wedding/having children (as more people have children without being married) and then look at the numbers. Correcting for percentage of single people (in a sense of 'not having a partner') would be useful.

Bostonian writes:

If my children get jobs in the Boston metro area and continue to live with us in their early 20s, what is the problem? Earning a living is what's important.

Our town buys up land where "greedy developers" can build apartments, in order to keep out the children of poor and middle class people from our public schools. If you want to make it easier for young people to live independently, make it easier to build homes in the Northeast, California, and other places with expensive housing.

Finch writes:

+ 1 Bostonian.

If your child continues to live with you into young adulthood, it might indicate that something is going wrong with your society, but it probably doesn't indicate that anything is wrong with you or your child.

The second part of your comment is humorously familiar. Immigration is a popular topic around here, and people often make the point that it would be weird to have strong immigration controls within our own country. But the fact is that, at a town and county level, we have far stronger immigration controls than we do at a federal level. My town, as liberal as they come, goes through the same sort of shenanigans Bostonian describes and has other measures like minimum lot sizes and historic districts. All with the same aim: keep out the wrong sort of people (which more or less means poor people, though there's at least some anti-Asian sentiment.) There's a lot of people that love their bubble.

Floccina writes:

Easy college grads are great people to live with, so more of the non college grads, though poorer, are driven out due to their own or their parents bad behavior. The college grads on the other hand can live with their parents while starting their working life and building a nest egg.
Also it might have to do with level of comfort one is accustom to. In this model a child launches when they can afford a certain level of comfort and that level of comfort is based on what they are used to in their parent's home.

Jared writes:

Three thoughts:

1) I wonder if this might be saying something about the labor market. Could a growing percentage of people (regardless of education) need to get a first "starter job" that is intended to be temporary, so they stay with their parents for a year or two until they've got their resume to where they can move up and out of that job.

2) The BA+ may be artificially inflated by those that continue on for a year or two as a Masters student.

3) Is there any information about about length of time with the parents? How many people "move in" for a month or two between moving cities, after breaking up with a cohabitating significant other, or between schools. (If the survey is done immediately after the school year, then you may be sampling something like school enrollment.)

Hazel Meade writes:


Some of the explanations offered don't really make sense to me.
1. No education income effect - pretty sure this is false, since there is a documented education income effect. Unless you confine the question to immediately after graduating. But even then, I'm skeptical. Even if there is no education effect for some percentage we should still see the numbers move due to the percentage for which it does have an effect.

2. Wrong degree fields - same problem. Some percentage of students are in the right degree fields, there should be a positive effect on income, that should be visible in the numbers.

3. Some percentage people prefer to live with their parents. Yes, but some don't and education/income should show up in more of those people living independently, and thus in an education/income effect on living alone.

Honestly, I don't see how to square the education income effect with zero effect on living independently, unless young adults really have NO preference for having their own place, which strikes me as implausible.

Perhaps it would be useful to compare this to some charts for slightly older age groups, how quickly do college grads move out vs. high school grads?

AMW writes:

Note that the slopes are steeper for BA students than for the high school educated. Perhaps the BA students are quicker to see when it pays to move back in with mom and dad, and when it's worth it to leave the nest?

Mark S writes:

Sorry this is not about college grads living with their parents, but recently Steven Pinker wrote an article about how Ivy League should judge students by standardized tests.

And as Adrian Wooldridge pointed out in these pages two decades ago, test-based selection used to be the enlightened policy among liberals and progressives, since it can level a hereditary caste system by favoring the Jenny Cavilleris (poor and smart) over the Oliver Barretts (rich and stupid).
Blogger Scott Aaronson commented:
Here’s what I would do [I had dictatorial control over a university]: I would admit the majority of students mostly based on test scores. A minority, I would admit because of something special about them that wasn’t captured by test scores, whether that something was musical or artistic talent, volunteer work in Africa, a bestselling smartphone app they’d written, a childhood as an orphaned war refugee, or membership in an underrepresented minority
I'd like to hear your comments on their proposal.

BC writes:

Perhaps, the graph is easier to understand if we eschew the negativity bias of assuming that increasing percentages of adult children living with parents is due to those children not being able to afford their own place. Perhaps, living with parents has become more comfortable due to both bigger, more spacious houses and more permissive parents and social mores.

Very few people nowadays need to get married to have sex. Getting married generally required one to move out of one's parents' home. Among sexually active non-marrieds, however, at most only one member of the couple needs to live independently and not even that if at least one set of parents allow their adult children to have overnight visitors. The young, married couples of yesteryear in their starter homes and fixer-uppers may not have been materially better off than the sexually active young singles of today living in their parents' McMansions.

Finally, college graduates may be able to afford nicer places than non-grads, but parents of college grads might also have nicer homes than parents of non-grads so that the *relative* attractiveness of living with parents vs. living independently may not be different for college grads vs. non-grads.

Miguel Madeira writes:

Perhaps immigration can be changing culture?

Afaik, single young adults not living with their parents is largely an US/Northern Europe eccentricity; in Southern Europe (and imagine in the rest of the world) the rule is that you only leave parent's home when you marry (and, specialy at the ages we are talking - 22 to 24 yo -, if you leave your parent's home without being married, these is considered as being "a bad son that does not like to be with your parents", and, in the case of girls, probably they will also be considered "sluts").

Could be interesting to see these statistics split by ethnicity (I suspect that white protestants will have a lower share of young adults living with the parents)

Hazel Meade writes:

I just noticed that this line is for a BA.

What does the line for a BS look like?

MikeP writes:

What does the line for a BS look like?

I noticed that too, but I assumed that it meant any bachelor's degree. Otherwise, there would be much less of an "Explain that!" puzzle for Professor Caplan -- unless of course he was being sarcastic.

Miguel Madeira writes:

Another point - from what I am understanding, the reason because the authors of the other comments are thinking that the graphic is strange is because they are expecting the rate of young adults living with the parents should be lower in "BA or higher" people than in the "less than BA"; but it is not also (or even more) plausible the opposite? After all, at 22 years old, someone with "less than BA" probably has (in relative terms) much more years of work (and perhaps accumulated savings, and eventually also marriages and/or sons) than someone with "BA or higher" (at 22, perhaps many still are in college), what could even make people with "less than BA" more probable to not live with the parents.


The ambitious people have always moved to the cities by early adulthood. But in the past an ambitious boy was more likely to be born to non-ambitious parents who live in small towns. So, they had to leave the parents. By now, *most* ambitious parents are already living in the cities, and the children do not really have to leave.

Read Robin Dunbar's "How many friends does one person need?" There is plenty of evidence that living with parents is good for psychological stability and physical health. Even when the colonists settled in the US nearly 400 years ago, the people who came with their families were more likely to survive. Even among the early colonists, when these people were under extreme poverty, the primary issue was not that inside a family people could help each other, physically and financially. It was that the feeling of kinship made people more resilient. You have to see that the family relationships were not very strong then, but even then, being close to the family made people more resilient than being with people who were merely friends. This was true even when people argued with their family members. Psychological well-being and kinship is more related than people think.

AS writes:

Clearly the chosen move out date is unaffected by expected lifetime wealth.

Hazel Meade writes:

Yes, I'm totally willing to believe there is no education-income effect for a Bachelor of Arts. At least not immediately after graduation.

We all know these people, and the fact that they are still working as Barristas 2-3 years after graduating.

Ari writes:

And this is a bad thing?

If you go to countries like Spain or Italy, younger folk live with their parents for a long time. There can be whole family there, and much better social connections. It's not looked down upon. It's weird Western thing to assume people to have to live on their own.

Inefficient and expensive too.

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