As adult children in their twenties need more help, some observers worry that they’ve become slackers or are being babied by their parents. A new study from the Journal of Marriage and Family found that about half of twenty-somethings needed help with living expenses or lived with their parents, but only 15% do by age 32. Help from parents “promoted progress toward self-sufficiency,” said lead study author Teresa Toguchi Swartz, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota.
The parents’ income didn’t seem to make a difference in their generosity, the study found, but more educated parents were more likely to help their twentysomethings.
“The fact that young people depend so heavily upon their parents well beyond the age when most people from earlier generations had already started families and had dependable jobs has triggered a great deal of public anxiety,” Swartz said. But “the road to adulthood is much longer and more arduous than it was thirty years ago.”
Because the study was based on data before the recent recession, it probably underestimates the portion of adult children who have needed help recently, but perhaps not the consequences.
The authors relied on a sample of 1,000 St. Paul public school students, who were in 9th grade in 1987 and completed surveys nearly every year from ages 24 to 32, from 1997 to 2005. Every increase in educational attainment and household income decreased the odds of support by around 10%.
Parents helped their children during college or if they lost a job, suffered a serious illness, or divorced. “Parental aid serves as ‘scaffolding’ to help young people who are working towards financial self-sufficiency and as ‘safety nets’ for those who have experienced serious difficulties,” Swartz said. “In an economy that requires advanced education for good jobs, parents are more likely to aid their children when they are students. As the labor market offers fewer opportunities for stable, full-time, well-paid work for the young, parents often fill in when needed.”