Economics and the “Eew Factor”

In the NYT Sunday Review (Sept 25), NPR’s Gregory Warner, citing Census data, notes: “Adults between the ages of 25 and 34 are living in multigenerational households at a rate not seen since 1950.”  For large segments of the American population, having adult children move back in with their parents signals failure. However, as Warner explains, this stigma simply is not present in many immigrant communities, including the family of his Russian wife.  There he observes parents who hold pride in children who remain at home while saving for the future, and who relish their time spent together.  Warner writes:

And then I think of so many American parents, who struggle to hide their disappointment when they tell their friends that their adult children have — oh dreaded words — “moved back in.” What child wouldn’t want to escape from that shadow into the trappings of independence, even if it meant tumbling into indebtedness?

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In my book, Not Under My Roof, I find that many American parents not only see financial independence as a yard stick for adulthood; they also believe that “breaking away” from home earns youth the right to engage in sex.  But what happens when it becomes harder and harder for young people to attain financial independence, even after completing college?  Will this change lead to a re-evaluation of our criteria  for adulthood, success, and autonomy?  And what happens when multigenerational living becomes more common.  Might that change, diminish the power of the “eeuw factor” of teenage sex, as Kep at Youthink suggests, and make it easier for parents to provide guidance?

I think that the sex issue with parents is primarily motivated by “eeeeeewwwww” factor more than anything, and I think because we’re entering into an era that’s more likely to have multigenerational living, I think those rules and norms will probably recede in favor of parents taking a more of a mentoring role for older teens as far as establishing normal, healthy adult relationships.

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Amy Schalet is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Read More...