Boomerang kids trend returns in latest Canadian census

Canada's nests aren't quite as empty as they're supposed to be, according to data from the 2011 census, which shows 42.3 per cent of young adults aged 20-29 are living with their parents, a tad lower than the 42.5 per cent in 2006 but still well above the 1981 level.
Christina Newberry of Vancouver was formerly a boomerang kid, among the 42.3 per cent of young adults aged 20-29 who are living with their parents. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

It's the home-game grudge match of the 21st century: the baby boomers versus the boomerang kids. And the kids, it seems, are winning.

Canada's nests aren't quite as empty as they're supposed to be, data from the 2011 census shows. Some 42.3 per cent of young adults aged 20-29 are living with their parents, down slightly from 42.5 per cent in 2006 — but still well above the level of 26.9 per cent in 1981.

Christina Newberry was one of them — twice. First, when she was 21, newly graduated from university and trying to find her way in the world. Then again, eight years later, she came back to get her bearings in the middle of a divorce.

"My parents house became a place to sort of take a chance to regroup and figure out what was next," said Newberry, a Vancouver-based author and freelance writer who's built a franchise as an expert on adult children living in the parental home.

"It wasn't even a financial issue, because by then I had a good job and could take care of my own bills. It was more just needing to figure out what to do next."

While many young adults in their early 20s stay at home while in college or university — or move back in after graduation, mainly due to lack of money — those closer to 30 who opt to return tend to do so for different reasons, Newberry said.

Young adults in their late 20s tend to move home after a traumatic moment in their lives, such as the breakup of a relationship or the loss of a job. They don't linger as long as their early-20s counterparts — usually just long enough to get back on their feet.

"Many older adults have that experience. They think it's going to be the solution to their problems to move back in with their parents," she said.

"Then once they're there, they realize that there are a lot of downsides to it in terms of your view of yourself and your self-esteem and your ability to really continue to build your life as an adult."

The census found 25.2 per cent of young adults between the ages of 25 and 29 living at home in 2011, up slightly from 24.7 per cent in 2006 — and more than twice the percentage in 1981.

The number of young adults between the ages of 20 and 24 who lived with their parents remained virtually unchanged from the last census — down to 59.3 per cent in 2011 from 59.5 per cent in 2006.

Statistics Canada said young men are more likely than young women to live at home. One possible reason, the agency suggested, could be because women tend to get into relationships earlier than men, so they move out sooner to start their own households.

Social attitudes toward young adults living with their parents are changing dramatically, said Rod Beaujot, a demography professor at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.

"There's the greater acceptability of living with parents when you're older — on the part of the parents, on the part of young people," Beaujot said.

"In the past, parents — when their children were at home or when they could control them — living at home was quite constraining on children, because they had to live under their parents' supervision. I think parents are much more open to children having their own life, including of course their own love lives, even if they're living at home."

Newberry said she agrees.

"When my parents were young adults, the idea of moving back in with their parents would have been unacceptable, because you would be moving back in with these disciplinarians," she said.

"Now, young adults moving back in with their parents almost view their parents as roommates who happen to pay all the rent."

Newberry's advice for parents is to sit down with their adult children before they move back home and draw up a contract that spells out details like how long they plan to stay and whether they'll pay rent, help with chores and other conditions.

It may seem formal, but it prevents misunderstandings and confrontations down the road, she said.

"The understanding that what parents have is something that they've worked for over a lifetime is somewhat lost," Newberry said.

"The children grow up viewing themselves as really being in the same category as their parents. You know, thinking the house they live in is their house, the cars they drive are their cars.

"When they leave their parents' house, they're not expecting that they should have to take a dramatic step down in terms of their lifestyle and living arrangements, which has always really been the expectation in the past."