Please Knock! Living with Parents in Adulthood
How do young adults who share a roof with their parents cope with everyday life? How do they split the bills? Who cooks and does the housework? Is the relationship beneficial in both directions?
This type of household is on the rise in Canada — long before stories of “boomerang kids” moving back in with their parents surfaced during the pandemic. Between 2001 and 2021, the proportion of young adults aged 20 to 34 living with at least one parent rose from 30.6 percent to 35 percent, according to the latest census data.
In some metropolitan areas, the proportion is even higher. Oshawa has the largest share, where about half of all young adults live with at least one parent. Toronto follows close behind.
It’s also higher in the older segment of this bracket. 46 percent of 25 to 34 year olds live with one parent.
At the same time, the proportion of households with a partner and/or children is declining, falling from around 49 percent in 2001 to 39 percent in 2021.
Look beyond the numbers
Umay Kader, a graduate student in sociology at the University of British Columbia, looks beyond the numbers to examine the actual experience of living together under one roof in Metro Vancouver.
“For the most part, we know the reasons for this,” Kader said, citing a tough job market, rising housing costs, high debt and parents who need more immediate, day-to-day help as they get older.
There are also many young adults who live with their parents to save money while studying. Statistics Canada notes that the locations with the highest concentrations of young adult parent households are in close proximity to post-secondary institutions. The data also show that migrant families are more likely to live in such an arrangement.
But what we know less about is what the arrangement actually looks like, says Kader.
The sociologist’s questions cover everything from conflict resolution, household decision-making to the pros and cons of sharing spaces in a home.
House guests are one. “If you can invite people over — friends, romantic or sexual partners — how do you communicate that to parents? How would her parents react to this message? Or if her parents invite people over and what that looks like?”
Eating is another. “Who eats what? who doesn’t eat Who has preferences? What if one of them is vegetarian or vegan? Or do you have any health or dietary restrictions?”
A key piece of advice for navigating the home is open communication and setting boundaries, says Zariya Khan, who lived with her parents into adulthood, got married and then moved in with her husband and in-laws in Surrey, BC
“They were so respectful of our boundaries,” Khan told The Tyee last fall. “There’s always a knock at the door. We didn’t even have to discuss it, they just started it, which we really appreciate.”
Khan and her husband are in a separate basement suite with their dog while his parents are upstairs.
“We were a bit skeptical but we tried our best to decorate it and make it our home. We share a lot of the groceries we buy at Costco; It is also a sustainable practice [avoid] Waste. We also have a dog so it was nice to be able to go upstairs to cuddle.”
The arrangement and previous family living together allowed the couple to save money and purchase a townhouse ahead of the sale.
The social construct of leaving the nest
But in cases where the household doesn’t have a home with a separate suite, Kader is curious how living in a townhouse or condo would affect household interactions, especially since they may share kitchens, living rooms, and washrooms.
“How do they navigate between private and shared living space?” she asks.
Before beginning her research, Kader had encountered news articles, mainly from Western countries, that described the arrangement as abnormal.
“We’re seeing young people who are staying at home being portrayed as if there’s something wrong with them,” Kader said. “I’ve seen a lot of headlines [that asked] “When are these millennials moving out?” With some images of parents looking upset or children glaring at children. But you don’t know exactly what’s going on in those households.”
Many expectations can be placed on when to leave the house, but Kader adds that it’s socially and culturally constructed.
“We want people to ‘reach’ certain milestones in their lives as they reach certain stages,” she said. “So it puts a lot of pressure and expectations on individuals to be in a certain place in a certain time frame. I am more interested in the experiences during this life transition than the timing of the event.”
In Kader’s Metro Vancouver study area, the proportion of young adults living with their parents fell slightly in the 2021 pandemic year. However, it is still above the Canadian average and had increased in previous years. Multigenerational households are also more common in the urban center – accounting for 4.7 percent of all households – than in Canada as a whole.
“It’s a great place to gain experience that’s not just based on finance and housing, but also on cultural and political backgrounds,” she said.
Metro Vancouver is notorious for incomes lagging behind ever-increasing housing costs. In some ways, Metro Vancouver is one of the most priceless urban regions in the world.
Kader hopes her study will stimulate a more open dialogue about budgetary regulations, both among the public among service agencies and among policymakers.
“Family and family relationships are not easy,” she said. “There is no single guide to family relationships.”