- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2011

The boomerangs may not be the blight they’ve been made out to be.

Researchers say they are seeing some social and economic benefits from the phenomenon of the “boomerang kids” — the steadily rising ranks of post-college Americans moving back into the empty nest with Mom and Dad.

A University of Minnesota study has found that, contrary to popular belief, the majority of boomerang kids are contending with temporary problems, such as job loss, and are far less likely to be on the road to lifelong slackerdom.

“I think there has been a lot of talk today about the decline of the family — that people are only looking out for themselves and don’t take care of one another,” said researcher Teresa Swartz, co-author of “Safety Nets and Scaffolds: Parental Support in the Transition to Adulthood.”

“I think that this study gives us some signs that families do look out for one another, especially during hard times and when people are trying to achieve something,” she said.

**FILE** West Virginia University student Jennifer Greenwell (front) and her father, Ron, carry her belongings into her parents' Springfield, Va., home as she returns on June 28, 2002. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)
**FILE** West Virginia University student Jennifer Greenwell (front) and her father, Ron, ... more >

Brad E. Sachs, a psychologist and the author of “Emptying the Nest: Launching Your Young Adult Toward Success and Self-Reliance,” said, “The transition to adulthood is a good deal more fragmented, a good deal more complex and a good deal more daunting than it’s ever been. … Sometimes you have to move backwards in order to move forwards.”

Even before the Great Recession of recent years, social researchers were observing — and trying to understand — the boomerang phenomenon, a reversal of trends in American living arrangements.

A Pew Research Center survey in 2009 found that 13 percent of parents with grown children had their grown son or daughter move back home with them in the previous year, while 11 percent of all adults 18 or older were living with their parents and 4 percent of all adults said they moved back because of economic reasons. More recent numbers are unavailable, but the soaring unemployment rate and poor job market for recent graduates strongly suggest that the trend has only accelerated.

Using U.S. census data, the Pew study also reported that the number of Americans living in “multigenerational households,” which had declined steadily from 32 million after World War II to 26 million in 1970, soared back up to a record 49 million in 2008.

Liz Kitchens, a professional consultant with the Kitchens Group, recently conducted an online survey for women ages 46 to 65 that included questions about adult children who were either living with their parents or were financially dependent on their parents.

The poll of nearly 600 women found that 52 percent had their adult children back in the house or were financially responsible for them. The survey also showed that 60 percent of the women surveyed were the emergency contacts on their adult children’s phones.

“My own kids left the nest, all eager and excited and enthusiastic, but bounced back when life out of the nest got a little difficult,” Ms. Kitchens said. “I was curious to see if other boomer women had had this same experience.”

While the boom in boomerang offspring generated considerable pop culture angst in recent years, some scholars and authors argue that the shift has a bright side.

Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education and co-chairwoman of the Council on Contemporary Families, said the return to the nest is not so much a reflection on failure of the parents or laziness of the children, but rather the state of society.

“We live in a world where it’s increasingly difficult for someone to get out of college and place themselves in the kind of job that will provide a future for them,” Ms. Coontz said.

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