When Christina Gomez pictured graduating from college, she always imagined that having her Bachelor’s degree would set her on a path for ultimate independence – so goes the mindset for many prospective university graduates. Four years ago, Gomez traded the comforts of home for a freshman dorm room in Santa Catalina residence hall at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).
However, living in this capacity was far from luxurious. Gomez had one roommate, though she also shared a bathroom with the three girls living next door. Despite the paper-thin walls and cramped space, Gomez had a fifth floor view of the pool below and an optimistic attitude: “it felt like I was moving on with my life. It was exciting,” she says.
Flash-forward to her senior year and Gomez is set to graduate from UCSB this June with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology. She plans to attend Law school in the near future. Needless to say, Gomez is certainly moving forward with her life, but first she needs to go back to square one – living with mom and dad.
As her time at UCSB comes to an end, Gomez prepares to move back in with her parents after spending four years in a city that became her home away from home. But her situation is far from unique. In fact, Gomez will follow the footsteps of previous graduates, according to experts. Census data provided by Pew Research Center, finds that for the first time in the modern era, living with parents out competes other housing arrangements for young adults - individuals 18 to 34 years old, more commonly known as the infamous millennial generation.
The reasons for this development aren’t as complicated as one might think. Not surprisingly, money is the biggest factor effecting millennials’ living situations. “If I could afford to buy my own home as soon as I graduate, I would do that in a heart beat,” Gomez says.
Although the economy has improved, financial analysts suggest the nation is still recovering from the Great Recession. While this fact describes our present economic state, it is nonetheless peculiar.
According to an article written in Time magazine, the number of young adults living at home decreased in previous economic cycles, yet the amount of young adults currently living with their parents continues to rise despite the recovering economy and recent job growth.
Meanwhile, millennials just can’t afford housing. A piece written by the Washington Post, suggests home ownership by individuals under 35 years old is the lowest it has ever been in 20-years. This places millennials and the economy in a compromised position. To remedy the issue, many millennials are choosing to rent instead of buy, but for some, even rent isn’t an option. “I’ve acquired almost 10,000 dollars in loan debt since being at UCSB,” Gomez says, “as much as I want my own place and am hesitant about moving back home after graduation, I just can’t afford to do anything else.”
Options are limited for a number of millennials like Gomez. “How am I going to pay these loans and pay rent and all of these other things so that’s why I’m going to move in with mom and dad,” says Molly Steen, a career counselor at UCSB’s Career Services center, as she sheds light on the mindset of today’s college graduate.
Steen works with UCSB students to navigate the professional world after they leave behind that of the academic. She says for many young adults, the decision to move back home “ebbs and flows with the economy.”
She began working as a UCSB career counselor in 1999, a time when she says the economy “was going pretty well” and students felt they were able to support themselves in the labor market. However, with the stock market crash of 2008, financing a college education became increasingly difficult. As a result, more students graduated with debt from government loans - a trend that today’s university students are all too familiar with.
Many turning points reflected in young adults lives are highlighted by their living arrangements. When they are still living at home, this situation may give the impression that they’ve become too dependent on their parents. But for many young adults, this isn’t the case.
Steen says that students, rising seniors in particular, often come in for help with job searching. “They definitely take salary into consideration when looking at a prospective employment position because they express that they do want to contribute any way they can if they decide to move back home,” says Steen. Perhaps the common misconception of the lazy, young adult bumming off his parents is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
But this isn’t the only decade-long occurrence to lose its momentum. While millennials are off figuring out ways to assist their parents with living expenses, they are delaying milestones reached by young adults of previous generations. One such occasion is marriage. Studies show millennials are putting off ‘tying the knot’ either completely, or just long enough to remove the need to move in with their spouses right away. Census data included in an article written by Time magazine, suggests young adults are getting married and having children later in life than previous generations.
With changing social norms, attaining a higher education replaced having a family, as a common goal for young Americans. Researchers are now asking themselves what does it mean to be an adult in the twenty first century because millennials seem to be on the cusp of redefining adulthood – especially now that various society roles continue to shift.
One changing role in particular, is that of the growing number of women in the workplace. Additional census data, provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, illustrates the share of young women between 25 and 34 years old, who are homemakers, fell from 43 percent to 14 percent from the years 1975 to 2016.
As more women enter the workforce, immediately starting a family is no longer of utmost importance. Women can provide for themselves without the help of a spouse acting as the primary breadwinner. In the humorous words of a common millennial saying: every woman is strong and independent who ‘don’t need no man.’
*Priscilla Espinoza, a millennial and recent college graduate, is the prime embodiment of the previous saying. “I definitely don’t plan on getting married any time soon,” she chuckles. In June 2016, Espinoza graduated from California State University, Los Angeles with a degree in communications. She, along with one of her sisters who falls under the young adult category, continues to live at home with her parents. “I never really left home. School was only a thirty minute drive away…living at home was cost efficient at the time and continues to be almost five years later now that I’ve graduated,” Espinoza says.
But she is unlike the stereotypical college graduate freeloading off of her parents. Espinoza lined up a job in customer service by the time she finished school. In fact, she secured the job months in advance of her commencement date. She mentions this allowed her to request time off for her celebratory post-graduate trip, otherwise Espinoza would’ve been navigating the professional world a lot sooner. Not to mention she financed her trip with no help from mom and dad.
“I worked two jobs leading up to graduation. I decided in the Fall of the year I would graduate that I wanted to go to Europe. I knew I had the time in the Summer, so I saved up my money and I went,” Espinoza says. Last year, she spent all of July and part of August gallivanting in Italy and perusing through Paris.
Much like the responsible college students Steen previously mentions, Espinoza contributes to her household in any way possible. This includes purchasing her own groceries and paying her own bills in addition to those of a few household utilities. “I know how fortunate I am to be able to live at home while I’m trying to get on my feet. I’m trying, my parents know I’m trying, but it’s tough to get out there completely on your own,” Espinoza says - her words all too relatable for Gomez.
With graduation looming a little less than three weeks away for the UCSB senior, she feels the pressure of the real world gradually weighing down on her shoulders. But like other young adults her age, with a little support from her parents, it’s nothing she can’t handle.