ONS figures reveal the “Boomerang Generation” is now 3 million strong

David Kingman examines why so many people in their 20s and 30s are stuck living at home with their parents

New figures from the ONS have revealed that 3 million people aged 20–34 are still living at home with their parents. This figure accounts for nearly 25% of people in this age group across the UK, showing the scale of the problems faced by members of the so-called “Boomerang Generation” as they attempt to get a foothold on the property ladder.

There is significant regional variation within the total – over a third (35%) of people in this age group still live with their parents in Northern Ireland, compared with less than a fifth (19%) in London – but overall the figures paint a worrying picture of how young people are struggling to progress with their lives in British society, and how this having knock-on effects on the older generation.

The number of 20–34 year olds who still live with their parents has risen by nearly 500,000 during the last 15 years, showing how the problem is getting worse. With house prices and rents at an all-time high, particularly in the South East, the problem is only going to increase before it gets better.

Why do so many young people still live with their parents?

The biggest problem facing many of these young people is that they leave home to attend university, and when they graduate they find jobs are thin on the ground and affordable property is scarce.

The price of property was particularly emphasized by the ONS report which accompanied these figures. One of the major reasons for the rise in the number of young adults living at home, it said, was the increase in prices paid by first-time buyers, which rose by an average of 40% between 2002 and 2011.

This has led to sellers demanding much higher deposits upfront from first-time buyers, meaning they take longer to save up the necessary amounts to move out of the family home. This problem has been exacerbated by a severe squeeze on the availability of mortgages as banks have been far less willing to lend to first-time buyers since the global credit crunch.

The average age of someone who buys their first home without receiving financial assistance from their parents is now 35, according to research published by Post Office Mortgages last year. It was just 23 back in the early-1960s, showing the dramatic rise in unaffordability which has taken place, caused primarily by the lack of new house building.

David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, gave the following quote to The Sun:

“The options are severely limited and out of reach for many young people. Much more needs to be done to tackle this country’s dire housing crisis. Unless we build significantly more homes, it will only get worse.”

Why does it matter that so many young people are living with their parents?

Young people clearly benefit in some ways from living with their parents. They may have their cooking and cleaning taken care of, alongside the obvious financial benefits of having low (or no) rent.

However, there are often also costs for the family. Friction between different family members may increase when they all live under the same roof as adults, while it may also make it harder for the parents to downsize or move to a retirement property. Until recently, there was significant social stigma attached to still living with your parents in your 20s and 30s, but that seems to be fading away as it increasingly becomes the norm.

There are other consequences to this situation which should concern policymakers. First and foremost, if young people live at home until a later age, they are likely to delay the big milestones of adult life – forming relationships and having children – until they feel financially secure and can guarantee having a room over their heads.

It’s no coincidence that people got married younger and started having their children earlier back in the 1960s too. The longer people have to wait before they can begin forming relationships and having children, the more there are who will miss out altogether.

Secondly, there are the problems of the housing crisis more generally. If young people have to live at home because they can’t afford to move out, it places huge constraints on their mobility. The national shortage of affordable accommodation makes it much harder for young adults to move around the country in search of work – to get “on their bike” as Norman Tebbit once put it – leading to higher unemployment and more wasted potential.

More people who will never have the chance to get married or have children because they can’t afford to put a roof over their head, and the wasted potential of thousands of young adults who can’t move to the areas where there are jobs – these are the real tragedies of everyday life for the 3 million “Boomerangs”.

Posted on: 30 May, 2012