Moving in with your parents could be good for America, by Samuel J. Abrams | Columnists
Over the past few years, many students have shared with me their frustrations about eventually having to return to their hometown and parents for financial reasons.
I pointed out that living with family is fairly typical in many places around the world and that until a few generations ago it was the norm in the United States, including in my own family, where my mother was the one of three generations living under the same roof.
With rising student debt, levels of inflation not seen in decades, and housing costs hitting young Americans, it’s no surprise that my students are facing this situation. A new Pew research report found that a quarter of American adults between the ages of 25 and 34 (millennials) resided in a multigenerational family household in 2021, a significant increase from just 9% in 1971.
Pew found gains in multigenerational living – that is, living in a household that includes two or more adult generations – among all age groups over the past 50 years, with the increase being pronounced among millennials today. According to an analysis of census data from 1971 to 2021, the share of people living in multigenerational family households has more than doubled to 18% of the US population. Additionally, in 2021, young adults were significantly more likely than older Americans to have this type of lifestyle. While many of my students are less than happy to move, there is a possible upside to these newly reconstituted multi-generational households: they may simply help improve our democracy.
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The fact is that the generations have markedly different socio-political identities. Having reached adulthood at different times, different generations often hold divergent attitudes toward social policy, identity issues, and political perspectives.
Numerous surveys have shown, for example, that young millennials generally feel less effective politically than older generations today. When asked if ordinary citizens can do much to influence the government in Washington if they are willing to make an effort, less than 4 in 10 of these young Americans think they can. In contrast, 55% of people aged 65 and over believe they can exert influence.
A Pew survey found that 7 in 10 Gen Zers (born after 1996) said the government should do more to solve problems, compared to just 49% of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and 39% of the silent generation (born 1925 to 1945).
There are also significant differences on social policy issues such as LGBTQ rights and the environment as well as partisan identification. When it comes to gender identity issues, half of adults aged 18-29 think a person can be male or female even if it differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, while around a third of people aged 50 and over feel the same. way. And Pew found that younger generational cohorts approved of Donald Trump (22% of Gen Z registered voters and 32% of Millennials) in significantly lower numbers than older age groups (48% of baby boomers and 57% of those in the silent generation).
If families live together in shared spaces, conflicts will arise. Rather than being able to move through echo chambers online, family members may have to do the hard work of navigating the dissimilarities. Although certain situations can aggravate divisions, it is entirely possible for family members to learn to listen, to debate and disagree, and to develop empathy for difference; minds may not change, but cultivating the skills to seek common ground could affect how these individuals perform in the public and political sphere.
Additionally, sharing spaces with family members can also spur greater political participation and improve our epidemic of loneliness among young Americans. Older Americans tend to be more likely to vote (my love of politics started when my grandmother worked in polls decades ago and brought me along). What if older family members help educate younger family members about the power of their voice at the ballot box?
Young Americans are also much more isolated and lonely than their older counterparts. Having fewer cases of solo living and even simple expectations of shared family meals or other forms of family time could improve mental health conditions.
Adult children living with their parents in multi-generational households are certainly no panacea and run counter to a nearly century-old post-Depression norm of leaving the family home in early adulthood. . But given new socio-economic pressures, it is possible that multi-generational housing arrangements will lead to greater tolerance for differing viewpoints. In a society full of echo chambers, political polarization and deep mistrust, this could be a very good thing.