Young people are waiting longer to fly the nest

Just when we thought our youngest was successfully launched, and just as I put the finishing touches on the banjo museum and recording studio in our basement, our 20-something crashed and burned, and moved back in.Not that we mind, really. After all, we’re in good company, since currently more than 50 percent of the nation’s young people aged 18 to 24 are now living at home, and of every six young people who do move out, one will return to live with his or her parents before age 35. Besides, sometimes he even loads the dishwasher or the washing machine.However, for those of us who reached late adolescence in the ’60s and ’70s, this is quite a change. In our generation, young people left as soon as they could and stayed gone. In fact, the only time young people in the U.S. have stayed this long with their parents was in the very early 1900s when they were needed on the farm to help the family economy.This isn’t just an American phenomenon, either. For about the past five years in Japan, there has been growing concern over, and a slew of policies aimed at, the young people they call “freeters.” The word is a combination of the American word “free” and the German word “arbeiter,” meaning “worker.” These are 20- to 30-year-olds in Japan who are not economically independent, are drifting from one job to another, and are living with friends, in flop houses or with parents. Researchers have even broken freeters down into the “no alternative” types who haven’t finished school and/or have been pushed into a series of dead-end, part-time jobs by the economy; the “moratorium” types who have delayed starting a career but plan to; and, of course, the “dream pursuers” who are working to pursue an alternative to the typical Japanese lifestyle, and who don’t want to be put in a mold or a box. Twixters and nethockersIt doesn’t stop there. In England and Wales they call them the “NEETs,” an acronym for “Not in Employment, Education or Training.” It is a governmental way of trying to classify the young people who appear to be drifting between part-time jobs, living with parents or friends, and are largely traveling under the society’s radar.One other distasteful nickname for this demographic cohort comes from the Italian government official who called 20-somethings living with their parents “bamboccioni,” which literally means “grown-up babies.” Other names along this line include “twixter” (U.S.), “nethocker” (German for a bird requiring feeding in the nest), and, in Asia, “parasite singles.”Although we don’t totally understand this worldwide trend, we know it has a direct correlation to one important change in the rapidly changing spectrum we know as “family.” That factor is that young people everywhere are waiting longer to get married, which in the past, has been the single most important reason for moving out of your parents’ basement.There is one notable exception to this trend – it isn’t occurring among lower-income and disadvantaged youth. While youth in the middle- and upper-income levels can delay the “real world” for a while, lower-income youth cannot. This is particularly poignant for kids who become parents before they get married. Almost 40 percent of first births now take place outside of marriage, and almost all of those births are to young people who haven’t completed college.What does this say about our next generation of workers? Well, they are certainly a new breed. They have less allegiance to their first jobs, are more interested in issues of lifestyle than career paths, have stayed under the care of mom and dad longer, and aren’t as dependent on a young spouse or family to motivate their careers. In lower-wage jobs, young workers are desperately in need of job flexibility to deal with single parenthood, which is the opposite of how we currently structure the work world. All of this seems to be important food for thought as we structure the 21st-century workplace. However, it still doesn’t get my twixter out of the basement. At least for now, though, I’m not alone.Dr. Malcolm Smith is family life and family policy specialist with UNH Cooperative Extension and teaches in the University of New Hampshire Family Studies Program. He can be reached at 603-862-7008, or