For the first time in at least 130 years, young people between the ages of 18 and 34 are more likely to be living at home with their parents than in any other living arrangement.
According to the latest data from the U.S., 2014 marked the first time on record when the most common choice of home for young adults wasn't under their own roof with a spouse or common law partner.
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The Pew Research Centre found that 32.1 per cent of Americans in that age bracket were living with their parents that year, followed by:
- 31.6 per cent who lived with a spouse or common law partner,
- 14 per cent who lived alone or with roommates,
- 22 per cent who had other living arrangements, such as in college dorms, or with other family members.
In every year dating back to 1880, Pew says the most common living arrangement for young adults was to shack up together.
"This type of arrangement peaked around 1960, when 62 per cent of the nation's 18- to 34-year-olds were living with a spouse or partner in their own household, and only one in five were living with their parents," said Richard Fry, lead author of the report and a senior economist at Pew.
But that's no longer the case, as living with mom and dad has supplanted living alone or with your sweetie.
And Canadian numbers show a similar trend. While the two countries track slightly different age cohorts, according to the most recent Statistics Canada census, 42.3 per cent of people in their twenties lived at home in 2011. That's well up from previous generations, including 32.1 per cent in 1991 and 26.9 per cent in 1981.
"My hunch is that the 2016 census will show a continuation of these trends," Guelph University associate professor Sean Lyons said. "There have been numerous media reports about low rates of home ownership among today's thirtysomethings, which is a sign that this is not a blip."
On both sides of the border, young people are staying home longer, and often returning to the nest after initially flying away.
"High levels of immigration and different cultures keep their children in the home longer, especially in big cities," said associate professor Linda Schweitzer of Carleton University's Sprott School of Business in Ottawa.
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Young people today are spending more time in school to get a leg up in the moribund job market, and that's having an impact on the numbers, she notes. In 1990, less than half of young Canadians got a university or college degree. Today, more than 75 per cent pursue one.
"It's very typical to stay at home while getting education," Schweitzer said, "and there's a prevalence of people getting second and third degrees now."
Katelynn Langer is one such person. After moving out of the house at 18 to pursue two degrees, she moved back in with her mother at 24 to tackle $28,000 in student debt.
"My No. 1 motivation was financial, to get myself ahead," she said in an interview.
At first she didn't want to talk about it with friends, but now she says she's more comfortable with her decision, and has paid off more than half of her debt. As soon as it's entirely gone, she plans to strike out on her own.
Marriage is often a major influence in when people move out, and the numbers show that ritual is also being delayed. The typical U.S. woman now marries at 27.1 years old, the typical man at 29.2, according to census data. That's up from record lows of 20.1 for women and 22.5 for men in 1956.
"We've simply got a lot more singles," Fry said. "They're the group much more likely to live with their parents."
For Langer, the decision to move home was borne of necessity. "I'm single and I can't imagine doing that alone," she says.
"If I could wave the magic wand," she says, to make her debt disappear, "I would want to do all the things that people my age have always wanted to do."
Economic realities have pushed young adults today to focus more on school, careers and work and less on finding spouses or partners and having children, Fry said.
The trend has big implications on the economy, since consumer spending is a huge part of Canada's GDP and overall prosperity. Fewer young people moving out means fewer people need to buy appliances, furniture or cable subscriptions. Home construction and home ownership levels have yet to return to their pre-crisis levels.
Jennifer Post, 26, has been living with her parents in Villas, N.J., since dropping out of law school two years ago.
A law career wasn't a good fit, Post decided, and now she's seeking a job in digital media or marketing but there aren't many opportunities where she lives.
Even living at home, she said it's been hard to save for a move to a bigger city after she was laid off from a baking job in March.
Post spends her days on her laptop, sending resumes and refreshing LinkedIn and other job sites. To her parents, it looks as though she's slacking off.
"It's definitely a generation gap," she said. "I think they literally think I just sit down and watch Netflix all day."
The good news, economists say, is that the trend is likely reversible. Young people aren't abandoning the idea of moving out and settling down one day. They're just choosing to delay it for logistical reasons.
Casey Marshella moved back in with her parents in Fairfield, Conn., after graduating from Boston University last year. Just this week, she moved into an apartment with her sister. Within weeks, she and a friend — who also lives with her parents — expect to find their own place.
Marshella, 22, says living at home has helped her save money from her job as a human resources specialist. Because many people her age share the same circumstances, most sympathize with her.
Still, Marshella says their first question is usually, "So when are you planning on moving out?"