When I first arrived in Barcelona circa 2007, it seemed normal that my host mother lived alone in her downtown apartment. But I soon learned that she was an anomaly among her friends. They all lived with their families ― the extended version. It wasn't just the mom, dad and 2.5 kids I was used to seeing in my suburban American hometown. Most of them lived with grandparents and older children too (some of them young adults in grad school, or already working their second or third jobs post university). The "kids" of the family were often in their mid-20s, sometimes married with small babies of their own, still residing in their parents' relatively small city apartments.
That semester, I spent a lot of time in England with the guy I was dating at the time, who, despite working a steady job in a bank for nearly two years, still lived at home too. As did his younger brother who worked nearby. So did most of his friends (the single ones, at least).
In fact, a 2011 DataBlog survey showed that 48 percent of young adults in Europe lived with their parents (up even higher from 44 percent in 2007, when I lived there). Compared to the U.S., where a 2013 Gallup poll showed 14 percent of adults aged 24-34 live at home (which is presumably higher than pre-recession rates back in the mid-2000s), that's a big difference.
It makes sense. The U.S. is (or was, some might say) the seat of the modern nuclear family. On the other hand, in my elementary Spanish classes, our teachers waxed poetic about extended families in Spain, Mexico, and elsewhere abroad. Those classes mostly focused on the implications of extended family life for grandparents and the elderly ― no need to fear a nursing home! ― but I had never considered how that culture effected young adults.
When I was a college senior, one of my biggest concerns about the recession I was graduating into was that I would not be able to afford to live on my own. It was not discontent with my family driving this emotion, but rather fear of failure. All throughout college, it had been suggested, implied, or outright stated that only the inept kids moved home after graduation. Anyone who spent as much money as we had on their education should be able to at least land a job and pay for their own housing.
Countries in recession as of 2009
But the locals I hung out with at the University of Barcelona were far less anxious about leaving home than my college classmates in the States. The recession had just begun to rear its head when I was studying there, yet the local seniors didn't seem nearly as panicked about the poor job market as my fellow juniors back home. There was no social disgrace in staying at mom and dad's as long as you needed (not to mention they faced less student loans upon graduation).
This approach made more practical sense than the American idea of moving out ASAP. Apartments in big cities like Barcelona are Expensive (yes, with a capital E). Why scramble to pool enough money every month to split rent with four roommates if you have a perfectly good bedroom down the road?
Even dating culture was different thanks to this. My European friends didn't mind bringing new boyfriends, girlfriends or even hookups up to their cramped bedrooms, one thin wall away from their parents. Although I was dating someone who lived at home, that was one part of the model that didn't appeal to me. I couldn't imagine asking a brand new boyfriend to stay over at my parents' house ― typically I didn't introduce a love interest to my family until we'd at least been dating for several months.
But in the half-decade following the Great Recession, as more and more of my friends move back home, or opt to remain there in between job searches, the stigma against living with your parents post-college has begun to die out in the U.S. Yes, it's a choice many young adults make from necessity rather than desire. But at the very least, this recession has forced us to rethink our national stance on house-shaming.
There's nothing wrong with staying at home, especially when it's the practical choice for a young career worker who's looking to remain in their hometown. American society at present places a huge value on growing wings ― flying far away to college, farther away to work, and traveling whenever and wherever possible. But we're missing out on another valuable resource, one that Europe has already recognized: roots.
Fly away if you want to; there's nothing wrong with that. But if you'd rather stay rooted to your home, don't let anyone embarrass you for it. Both paths in life have their merits and their faults. I, for one, am relieved to see the US start to embrace both options as legitimate ways to live.
Viva la revolución.
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