In the list of what's hot and what's not, blowing all your money on an overpriced apartment is out and sleeping on the twin bed at your parents' house is in. Bobby Jackson is a senior at Williams College who will graduate this June. He will move back to Washington, D.C. after graduation and look for a public relations job from the comfort of his parents' home. Jackson typifies the remarkable shift of inter-generational attitudes when he declares, “I love hanging out with my parents.”
According to market research company Twentysomething Inc., 65% of college seniors expect to live with their parents after graduation. The job web site MonsterTRAK reports that 50% of the class of 2003 continues to live at home. “Boomerangers” is what analysts call the twentysomethings moving back home, and the consensus among researchers (who grew up in an era when moving back was a sign of failure) is that being a boomeranger is a strategically sound way to head toward an independent life.
Neil Howe, author of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation says that moving back with parents is a way to avoid wasting a lot of time. According to Howe, when it comes to careers, “Boomerangers want to get it right the first time.” If you don't have to worry about paying rent, you have more flexibility to wait for the right job and to take a job that feels very right but pays very poorly. The rise of the prestigious but unpaid internship intersects perfectly with the rise of the boomeranger.
Today it's almost impossible to become self-sufficient on an entry-level salary, especially in coastal cities like Boston, where rents are skyrocketing. Barbara Mitchell, professor of sociology at Simon Fraser University and author of the upcoming book, The Boomerang Age: Transition to Adulthood, says, “Most entry-level jobs won't be permanent or stable,” so saving money is difficult. Twentysomethings have to manage the costs of rent, college loans and insurance premiums all of which are rising faster than wages.
With these economic factors, it's hard for a boomeranger to leave again, and according to Mitchell, many underestimate the amount of time they'll be staying. Jackson, for example, estimates that, “Most entry level jobs pay thirty thousand dollars, so I'll stay at home for six months and save ten to fifteen thousand.” This plan would work only if he didn't buy work clothes, go out with friends, or pay taxes — at least not with his own money.
And this is where the problems start. Boomerangers who think their time with mom and dad will last fewer than seven months are statistically delusional, and setting themselves up for emotional crisis. The typical stay is so long that researchers don't even count someone as a boomeranger until they've been home four months.
Elina Furman knows this problem first hand: She ended up living with her family until she was twenty-nine, and she does not describe the time as a constant joy ride. In fact, she says, after the initial thrill of college graduation and the return of home-cooked meals, boomerangers find themselves in the midst of crisis — usually financial or relationship-oriented — and suffering from feelings of isolation and loss of self-esteem.
As a veteran of boomerang life, Furman supplies methods for success in her book, Boomerang Nation: How to Survive Living with Your Parents…the Second Time Around. She recommends making changes to your bedroom so it reflects who you are now. Otherwise, it becomes a “permanent purgatory” of high school trophies and reminders that you are not where you want to be. Also, “Do your own laundry and cook for yourself” because it's more empowering than reverting to living like a seventeen-year-old. Chapters on financial planning and exit strategies belie other dangerous pitfalls of boomerang life.
And Furman warns, “The stigma is more than people realize.” (Which explains why the only people willing to be interviewed for this column are people who are just starting or have made it out of the house again.) Older generations are often stuck in outdated attitudes about the transition to adulthood, and they ask grating questions like, “You live where? At your age? What's wrong with you?”
But in fact, moving back home is probably the first step in the post-boomer revolution of the workplace. Expectations for work are higher than ever — it should be fulfilling, fun, and accommodating to a substantial personal life. The logical way to meet such revolutionary expectations is to start out on a revolutionary path. So hold your head high as a boomeranger, but don't leave your dirty dishes in the sink.