The XX Factor

Living at Home Not So Stigmatized

Like you, Jessica , I was impressed by what an improvement the newest version of the NY Times raising the alarm about young people living at home was over previous versions they’d done of the story. The recession makes it impossible to paint twentysomethings who live with their parents as slackers and mooches. But what really impressed me was that they admit that parents might not be horrified at having their adult children at home, either: “[The research suggests] that parents need not be so concerned about becoming empty nesters when their children become adults.”

My sister, mom, and I lived together for a time after I graduated for college. Now we’re all in long-term relationships with men, so we don’t live together any more, but I recall how the social shame put on adults who live with their parents made me feel at serious odds with myself at the time. The shame you’re expected to feel doesn’t match the realities, which are generally positive. My sister and I enjoyed paying lower rent than we would normally while we got on our feet economically, and my mom had the company of a family instead of just living alone. It was like having roommates without all the awkwardness you get living with perfect strangers and being unable to share basic things you share with family members or a live-in boyfriend.

It seems the shame of living with your parents has receded somewhat in the past few years. I was telling a story recently to some friends about how I had to get my first cell phone because my mother was like a teenager, always on the phone with her boyfriend, and I couldn’t get a call in edgewise. It’s a funny story, but I used to not tell it because I didn’t want people to think poorly of me for having lived with my mom. But now they just laugh.

Part of the reason the stigma is receding is probably the recession, but I think a lot of it is the growing American consciousness about the problem of loneliness. Books like Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone , TV shows that celebrate the importance of friendships, like “Sex and the City” and “Friends,” and the growing impact of divorce and delayed marriage have inclined Americans to start questioning a culture that condemns the partnerless to solitude. Even this NY Times article reflects this shift in thinking, allowing that young people living at home could provide benefits to their elders, such as companionship and care for elderly relatives.

Photograph of family by Photodisc/Getty Images.