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Dr. Peter Breggin Headshot

The End of the American Household and Healthy Childrearing

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The very misleading headline on the August 1st PEW report summary says, "A Rising Share of Young Adults Live in Their Parental Home." In reality, between 1968 and 2012 the percentage of young adults ages 18-31 living at home rose a meager 2 percent. This slight increase from 32 percent to 34 percent is hardly worth mentioning but has received nearly all the press coverage.

There is far more alarming data buried in the PEW report. Between 1968 and 2012, there has been a stunning decline in the formation of households by the 18- to 31-year-olds. According to PEW, "the share who were married and living with a spouse fell from 56 percent in 1968 to 27 percent in 2007." That's an ominous drop of twenty-nine percentage points in the rate of household formation by young adults. The rate of people making households has dropped by more than half.

The failure of young adults to create their own households has led to a five-fold increase (5.5 percent to 26 percent) of living in alternative non-household settings including "living with a roommate or child... or cohabitating with a partner." On top of this, but not included in those stats, the combined numbers of young adults living alone or living with other relatives increased by 7 percent.

Young men and women are delaying getting married, not getting married, getting divorced and making living arrangements that do not constitute a solid family or household. They are living in varied fragmented combinations including living alone, living with parents and other relatives, living with a child, and living with an unmarried partner.

As some business commentators have observed, this is an economic disaster because household creation plays a huge role in generating economic activity. But there are moral, psychological and cultural implications that are equally if not more threatening. Fewer and fewer young people have traditional expectations for developing a lifelong intimate relationship with someone they love in which they buy a home and raise a family. Similarly, they lack the expectations of earlier generations for making a lasting and successful career. Overall, there is a lowered expectation for meaningful relationship, family life and career.

Increasing numbers of individuals feel unable or unwilling to make the commitment to take on the tough jobs of maintaining a marriage, raising a family and building a career.

These young adults, deprived of the American dream, will not carry on the traditions of raising children, family life, and career. Some of this is due to the declining economy but the trend began decades ago and has more to do with cultural values than lack of employment. Personal responsibility, commitment to long-term relationships and careers, motherhood and fatherhood are under assault in Western culture.

The negative effects on children are huge. Children are growing up without the emotional maturity, mental well-being, responsibility and competence that come from being raised within a stable home. Households also build local communities, and our children increasingly lack a sense of community and society. Many will become adults who lack the will or the skills to develop strong intimate relationships, stable marriages, community participation, and meaningful careers. The American dream is in free fall with nothing positive to replace it.

Peter R. Breggin MD is a psychiatrist in private practice in Ithaca, New York, and the author of Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal. His website is www.breggin.com.