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The boomerang generation: why so many young people are moving back home

Faced with soaring rents and living costs, droves of young people are moving back in with mum and dad

24-year-old Molly* recently moved from York to South Wales. She hadn’t got a new job there, nor did she have a sudden urge to swap city living for a slower pace of life in the countryside – instead, the cost of living crisis had left Molly unable to pay her rent.

Earlier this year, Molly was forced to drop out of her postgraduate degree and leave her job as a result of chronic fatigue caused by ‘long COVID’. “I was too fatigued to pick up work in hospitality or retail, and this combined with the loss of my student loan meant I could no longer afford rent,” she tells Dazed. “I spent hours every day applying to desk jobs with no luck, all while struggling with my health. Eventually, I reached rock bottom and couldn't see a way forward, so my parents called and offered to take me in for the winter.”

Molly isn’t alone: droves of young people are moving back in with their parents or delaying moving out in the first place. This was hardly unusual during the pandemic – a report published last week found that nearly 32 per cent of Millennials and Gen Z moved back home when pandemic hit. But this recent report also found that over two-thirds of those who moved home over lockdown are still yet to move out, despite COVID-19 restrictions lifting last July.

At present, approximately 42 per cent of young people are living with their parents. This shouldn’t be too surprising: with young people disproportionately concentrated in low-paid jobs, many Gen Z and Millennials are finding themselves struggling to make ends meet. “The cost of being young is really high,” says Toby Murray, senior policy researcher at the Royal Society for Arts (RSA). “Research shows that young people spend almost twice as much as the national average on essential spending.”

Additionally, landlords across the country are hiking up rents, forcing countless people to fork over half of their income just to live in a poxy room where you may or may not wake up to a mouse crawling over your face. There’s also been a surge in the number of no-fault evictions – largely driven by landlords deciding to sell up while house prices are so high – resulting in demand far outstripping supply. Disturbingly, recent SpareRoom data found that while 106,000 people are looking for rooms in London, only 15,000 are available.

“There are numerous, complex factors currently affecting young people’s economic security which will be feeding into any decision to move home. However, increasingly it feels like housing has simply become unaffordable for young people, meaning living independently has become a luxury,” Murray says. “Many young people feel the typical milestones of growing up are out of reach. You only have to look at house prices rising seven times faster than wages over the last 20 years or the cost of childcare rising 44 percent since 2010 to understand why young people feel like this.”

Thomasin, 29, currently lives in her family home in Surrey with her mother, after moving out of London earlier this year. “In June this year, my landlord said my rent was going up to £1,000 a month – bearing in mind he owns the whole block of 13 flats, and is a millionaire,” she says. “I’d had enough. I was so tired of paying my hard-earned money to a corrupt landlord who couldn’t even fix my window, when my rent was half my wage.”

And this loss of independence comes with a mental cost. “I’ve had to upend my whole life and leave all my friends to live in rural Wales. I don’t think I’ve spoken to a person other than my parents in weeks,” Molly says. “I feel unsure that I’ll be able to find my feet again as there are so few job opportunities for young people in South Wales. All dreams I once had of a career have been replaced with a simple need for survival through the upcoming months.”

At the same time, both Molly and Thomasin say they feel far less stressed about living costs now that they’re back home. “I was worried about the cost of living: rent, food prices, and how I was going to afford it all,” Thomasin says. “I think I have massively been craving the comfort of home. It did feel like a step back at first, especially at 29, but I feel better now that I’m saving money and a landlord isn’t cashing in on my hard work.”

Molly feels similarly: “everything feels so utterly relentless right now, so having a place to stay without worrying has been fantastic. I've finally managed some proper rest and recovery after COVID,” she says. “It doesn‘t feel like there’s a bright future out there for my generation, so we’re all craving escape instead. I’ve called this house home for over 20 years and it’s still a warm, unchanging refuge from the uncertainty of these times.”

“It did feel like a step back at first, especially at 29, but I feel better now that I’m saving money and a landlord isn’t cashing in on my hard work” – Thomasin

Given there is a proven link between housing insecurity and poor mental and physical health, it’s no surprise that others like Molly and Thomasin have been craving the comfort, stability, and security of home. Sure, it may mean sacrificing the ability to host a messy afters, have loud sex, and eat a whole bag of Quorn nuggets for dinner sans judgement – but those freedoms seem like small fry compared to the immense mental burden of privately renting.

Of course, it’s also worth acknowledging that it’s a privilege to be able to move home at all. “I’m lucky that I have a good relationship with my mum and I could move home. Some aren’t that lucky,” Thomasin says. “I don’t take the luxury of being able to move back home for granted as I know so many others cannot do that.” Molly feels similarly: “I’m really privileged to have a home like this,” she says.

Still – it’s a shame that so many young people have no real choice when it comes to deciding whether to move back home, and there are countless people in even more desperate situations who have no safe family home to go back to. We urgently need to get to a point where young people have greater economic freedom – but how do we get there?

“There is no silver bullet to addressing these challenges,” Murray says. But he adds that there are a “range of measures” which could alleviate things: more social housing, increasing welfare spending, upping wages, or even a Universal Basic Income. Most importantly, he says, “we need a whole shift in how we think about young people. We need policymakers to think about young people in an inclusive, dynamic and long-term way.”

*Name has been changed