The linear path through life – grow up, get married, buy a house, have kids – is no longer so clear-cut. Data from the Office of National Statistics
show that millennials are waiting longer to settle down and have children – both through choice and because of their economic situation – and that, as house prices have been rising by around 7% per year since 1980, the average age of first-time buyers has also increased, currently sitting at 30.
According to a
new study by McCann Truth Central, 30 is also about the age that it’s considered normal to be still living at home with the 'rents. Their Truth About Youth survey interviewed 33,000 people worldwide – 11,000 of whom were aged between 16 and 30 – and found that answers to the question "At what age is it socially acceptable to still be living with parents?" ranged from 26 to 37. UK respondents decided on 29.
Living with your parents well into your 20s is becoming an increasingly common story; ONS data indicate that the number of 20 to 34-year-olds living with parents has increased 25%
since 1996, with the latest figures saying 3.3 million people in that age group live at home.
But for both single people and those who are coupled up, being stuck at mum and dad’s can make finding, or maintaining, a relationship difficult. Getting plastered and crashing out in your own bed is harder when your parents are asleep in the next room – as is trying to clean up the resulting puke in secret, apparently.
How did a generation of people end up in this situation? And what's the financial way out? Ahead, we talk to a number of young people about their living situations, how they got there, and the pitfalls of trying to have a decent love life in unusually close quarters.
Amy and Joe, Leicester
Amy, 25, a study skills tutor, and her software-designer boyfriend Joe, 26, both live with their parents in Leicester. “[It is for] financial reasons,” confirms Amy. “We do want to live together, but we don’t want to rent as I did it for four years and it’s just a black hole, so we’d prefer to save for a deposit. But that’s difficult, as I’m doing my master's and funding it myself.”
In some ways, Amy and Joe are lucky to be in an area where house prices haven’t reached the heady levels of the London property market; the average price for a two-bedroom home in Leicester currently sits at
around £150,000. But comparative affordability isn’t much help when there are other big expenses – like Amy’s master's – to cover.
Being at home, she says, has an effect on their relationship. “We don’t get much time alone,” she explains. “If we argue, other people get involved and put their opinion in, which is aggravating. We’re close to each other’s parents which means they want to hang out with us quite a lot.”
She’s also been berated by friends for her living situation. “I think there is a stigma to living at home, definitely,” she says. “A lot of my friends say, ‘I can't believe you still live at home, I couldn't do it!’ It feels as though you’re behind everyone else somehow, and not at the stage you should be in life.”
As for the study’s findings that many people in the millennial bracket feel it’s acceptable to be living at home at the age of 30, Amy is sceptical. “I definitely want to have moved out by 30. I’d feel uncomfortable still living at home by then,” she says. “But there needs to be more regulation on house prices. A lot of new builds don’t provide many ‘first time homes’, and they’re so expensive anyway. I do think Help to Buy is a great scheme, but there just aren’t enough properties at a low enough price.”
Susie* and Dave*, Leeds
“I’m currently living with my boyfriend and his parents, and it’s driving us both crazy,” admits Susie, 27, a start-up founder who moved out of London to launch her business. She and Dave, 30, a marketing manager, rented in London together after university but became disillusioned with the capital’s property market and decided to move back to their home city, Leeds.
“We had our own flat in one of the less desirable parts of Zone 3 [in London]. We couldn't save anything significant towards a house deposit,” Susie explains. “I also wanted to start a business and wouldn't have been able to if we were still paying those massive rents. In London we were basically paying off someone else's mortgage and giving them a profit, too. It's terrible how bad the rental market’s become.”
Susie and Dave have only been at Dave’s parents’ house for just over six months but already she’s feeling the strain it’s placing on their relationship. “We’d only planned to be here for a couple of months, but it’s likely we’ll be here for another three,” she says. “We're spending most of our time in one room, which is a bit stifling, and although [his parents] are well meaning, they're full of advice about everything, which we're forced to go along with out of politeness."
Arguments have ensued: “We've been together eight years and never normally argue but the other day we had a shouting argument, and that’s one of the only times we've ever done that. It was about how to decorate the new flat after we move, as I didn't agree with his parents' ideas of how we should paint it. What a ridiculous thing to argue about!”
They’ve also struggled to be on their best behaviour all the time. “We went on a giant pub crawl over Christmas and both came back in the early hours of the morning blind drunk. When we woke up we discovered I’d been sick down the side of the bed,” laughs Susie. “Cleaning up sick when you're really hungover is bad anyway, but it's 10 times worse if you have to do it as some kind of covert operation. His parents are really sensible and have probably never been sick from drinking in their lives. I think we got away with it, though, or at least, nothing’s been said!”
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though – the couple have just had an offer accepted on a flat. As for whether or not it’s acceptable to be at home in your late 20s or early 30s, Susie thinks it depends on the situation. “I don't think there's a stigma as long as you've got a reason to be there, like you're saving for a house or you're a carer, or if you've previously lived away and decided to move back temporarily.”
Mat, 29, a data analyst from southeast London, is currently trying to save to move out of his parents’ home and, as a single guy, feels his financial and domestic situation is having a detrimental effect on his love life.
“I’d rather pay rent to family than a landlord,” he says. “I’ve thought about renting with friends but I’d have limited space and might find them even harder to live with than my parents.
"I’m saving up to try and move out but it’s a struggle. Feeling essentially homeless has affected my love life, because it makes me feel like a failure which affects my confidence and I don’t think my living situation would be very attractive to someone I liked. But I wouldn’t realistically be able to [afford to move in with someone], which puts me in a Catch-22 situation.”
Mat’s last relationship ended just under a year ago, and he says his ex-partner was in a similar situation to him. “My parents were happy for my last partner to stay over but it made the relationship difficult,” he says. “While loads of millennials are unable to get on the property ladder, to me it doesn't feel acceptable, even if it is common. I’m extremely worried as I’m going to be 30 next year and I’m not even close to a deposit.”
One positive aspect of Mat’s situation is that there’s no pressure from his parents to move out. “They know the economic climate is bad and remind me that I’m welcome at home,” he explains. Their reassurances don’t completely alleviate the negativity he feels towards his situation, though. “I appreciate it, but feel like I'm under their feet all the time,” he says.
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Sadie* and David*, London
“We moved into a two-bedroom flat with another couple last January,” says Sadie, 25, a writer. “Before that, my boyfriend [28-year-old accountant David] was living in a shared house with five other guys and I lived at home with my parents to save money because I was on a low salary. We wanted to move in together but it wasn't financially viable until I was earning more, and my boyfriend had only just moved to London so he wanted to settle in and make his own friends there.”
Before deciding to house-share with the other couple, Sadie and David looked into the possibility of renting their own place, but couldn’t find anything in their price range. “The rent for a one-bed flat for the two of us was too much for me on my salary, and too high for my boyfriend to save anything towards our own place, even though he earns more than me,” Sadie explains.
“One of my friends and her boyfriend were also moving to London and were in a similar situation, so [we found] a two-bedroom house and split the rent for one room between each couple. We thought about moving in with my parents but as we'd never lived together before it seemed a bit of a risk. My brother and his ex-girlfriend did it a few years ago and it put a strain on their relationship and didn't really work out for my parents, either.”
House-sharing has come with its own tribulations. “It can be stressful with our housemates,” Sadie admits. “If they're having an argument or we're having a row, it's awkward as you can't just yell and get it over with. Everything gets suppressed and worked out later. We've got our own bathrooms so cleaning isn't too much of an issue but it can be awkward if you want to sit down and have dinner together and your housemate comes in and puts the football on. One of my housemates also went through a stage of eating and replacing the same chocolate bar for me for about three months. In the end I told them not to bother!”
She says they’ve also felt awkward about having people to stay over. “It's hard if friends or family want to stay, and we probably don't see as much of David's friends and family as we would if we lived on our own, which I think he finds hard,” Sadie says. While they’ve signed on for another year in their current flat, she predicts that she’ll “probably be back and forth from [my parents’] for years.”
And is there a stigma? “I don't really think so, as it's pretty common with people I know. I've still got most of my stuff there as there's not enough room in my flat for me to move out of my parents' house completely. I've got friends who’ve broken up with boyfriends and have had to move home, others who haven't wanted to leave their single parents, and others who hate it but don't have a choice because they don't earn enough yet. It's hard.”
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