Statistics are rarely reassuring, but it’s comforting – to me at least – that a third of young men still live at home with their parents. My own might disagree, however, given I’m 31 and remain shacked up in the family home.
My Mum and Dad might have been raising children and paying off a mortgage by the time they were my age, but times have, as new ONS figures show, changed: 3.4m of those aged 20-34 still count their parents as roommates, up from 2.4m in 1998. Young women are less prolific offenders, with 20 per cent of those in the same age group finding themselves in this position.
Sacrificing some nights out and a few awkward morning farewells for the sake of cheap rates and ageing but low-maintenance housemates has been well worth it
So why, as I so frequently get asked, haven’t I flown the nest yet?
I certainly hadn’t planned to still be rooming with the people who brought me into this world having entered my fourth decade. Like most of my peers, I marched off to university believing it to be the start of adulthood and independence - unlike The Terminator, I wouldn’t be back. I had already enjoyed a gap year in Canada, playing rugby, working in construction and reveling in the lack of restrictions and regulations; I did stupid things, got crazy haircuts, and generally celebrated the feeling of pure, unfiltered freedom.
In typical teenage style, though I worked full time and had minimal overheads, I spent most of the money I made on a trip to Hawaii, eating out and socialising. I never thought beyond the weekend and had yet to develop financial maturity or a long-term outlook, which continued during my university days.
Graduating after the financial crash and saddled with enormous student debt, the best I could look forward to was a starting salary of £17,500 with an ailing wine merchant. Though maths wasn’t my strongest suit, I deduced that the amount I owed for a BA Hons in French & Spanish wasn’t going to be shifted any time soon. So, paltry annual salary increases and the prospect of a career hawking claret considered, I moved home.
I was lucky that the welcome party was there with arms outstretched (mum) and a slap on the back (dad), but I – and I’m sure, they – did have reservations. I could have rented a room in a shared house with friends, forking out a ridiculous proportion of an inadequate income for the sake of social acceptability, but I’d had my fill of filthy flats, inconsiderate housemates and wondering if the cash machine would cough up £20 or force me to call the bank and sheepishly extend a worn-out overdraft. If my parents could handle the arrangement, so could I.
What I didn’t expect was for another six years to slide past. Compromises, of course, have to be made, like being back in time for dinner as Mum – diminutive in stature but with all the will of an Italian matriarch (including culinary mastery) – insists. There are benefits of sharing with sixtysomethings, too, like going out (and therefore spending) less, though revealing my living situation to a new acquaintance never goes down well. Girlfriends have come and gone, but sacrificing some massive nights out and a few awkward morning farewells for the sake of cheap rates and ageing but low-maintenance housemates has been well worth it.
Comparing myself to how my parents were living at my age feels like equating apples with oranges – relative property prices may be similar, but other values have changed. I’m reassured when they tell me their door will always be open, though am thoroughly shown up by my younger sister who, in keeping with most women her age, lives elsewhere. I do, however, occasionally detect the faintest hint of jealousy when I tell her what was on the menu for Sunday dinner.
Of my own friends, a fair number have lived at home for periods of time and a handful still do. Those who have gone it alone crack the occasional joke at my expense, but when I have friends over to watch sport of a weekend, they enjoy the addition of some older heads at the table. My dad has always has been a far better drinker and teller of rugby stories than me, anyway.
I’ve recently switched careers, into the arguably less lucrative media world, am back in the black and can at least now realistically hope to buy a flat before I’m fifty. In fact, come the New Year, I plan to give up my tenancy at the family home for good. I’ve occasionally felt wistful as friends have gone on to get married and have children in homes they actually own, but it’s all there to do – statistically we’re living longer and doing things later in life. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.