For young adults sharing a roof with their parents, how do they navigate daily life? How do they split the bills? Who does the cooking and the chores? Is the relationship beneficial both ways?
This type of household is on the rise in Canada — long before stories of “boomerang kids” moving back in with their parents started to surface during the pandemic. Between 2001 and 2021, the percentage of young adults 20 to 34 living with at least one parent has increased to 35 per cent from 30.6, according to the latest census data.
In some urban centres, the percentage is even higher. Oshawa, Ontario, has the largest share, where about half of all young adults live with least one parent. Toronto follows close behind.
It’s also higher in the older segment of that bracket. Forty-six per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds live with a parent.
At the same time, the percentage of households with a partner and/or children has been on the decline, dropping from about 49 to 39 per cent between 2001 and 2021.Looking beyond the numbers
Umay Kader, a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of British Columbia, is looking beyond the numbers to investigate the actual experience of living together under one roof in Metro Vancouver.
“We mostly know the reasons behind it,” said Kader, pointing to a tough labour market, soaring housing costs, high levels of debt and parents requiring more immediate, daily assistance as they age.
There are also many young adults living with parents to save money while pursuing more education. Statistics Canada notes that the places with the highest numbers of young adult-parent households are in close proximity to post-secondary institutions. Also, the data show that immigrant families are more likely to live in such an arrangement.
But what we know less about is what the arrangement actually looks like, Kader says.
The sociologist’s questions cover everything from conflict resolution, household decision-making to the ins and outs of sharing common spaces in a home.
Houseguests are one. “If they’re able to invite people over — friends, romantic or sexual partners — how do they communicate this to the parents? What would be their parents’ response to that communication? Or whether their parents are inviting people over and what that looks like?”
Food is another. “Who eats what? Who doesn’t eat? Who has preferences? What happens when one of them is vegetarian or vegan? Or have health or dietary restrictions?”
One key piece of advice to navigating the household is open communication and setting boundaries, says Zariya Khan, who had lived with her parents into adulthood, got married and then moved in with her husband and in-laws in Surrey, B.C.
“They have been so respectful of our boundaries,” Khan told The Tyee last fall. “There’s always a knock on the door. We didn’t even need to discuss that, they just started doing it, which we really appreciate.”
Khan and her husband are in a separate basement suite with their dog, while his parents are upstairs.
“We were a little skeptical, but we put our best efforts into decorating it and making it our home. We share a lot of the groceries we buy at Costco; it’s been sustainable practice as well to [avoid] waste. We also have a dog, so it’s been nice to be able to go upstairs for cuddles.”
The arrangement, and living with family before that, allowed the couple to save up money and buy a pre-sale townhouse.
The social construct of leaving the nest
But in cases where the household does not have a house with a separate suite, Kader is curious how living in a townhouse or a condo would shape household interactions, especially as they may share kitchens, living rooms and washrooms.
“How do they navigate private versus communal living space?” she asks.
Before starting her research, Kader had come across news articles, mostly from western countries, that framed the arrangement as abnormal.
“We see young people staying home portrayed as something being wrong with them,” said Kader. “I’d been seeing a lot of news headlines [that asked] ‘When are these millennials moving out?’ With some pictures where the parents look upset or have a judgmental look towards the children. But you don’t know for sure what’s going on inside those households.”
There can be a lot of expectations about the timing of leaving home, but Kader adds that it is socially and culturally constructed.
“We want people to ‘accomplish’ certain milestones in their lives when they hit certain stages,” she said. “So it puts a lot of pressure and expectations on individuals to be at a certain place in a certain timeframe. I’m more interested in the experiences during that life transition rather than the timing of the event.”
In Kader’s study area of Metro Vancouver, the percentage of young adults living with their parents has dipped slightly in the pandemic year of 2021. However, it’s still a higher percentage than Canada’s average and has been on the rise in preceding years. Multigenerational households are also more common in the urban centre — comprising 4.7 per cent of all households — than in Canada as a whole.
“It’s a great place to explore experiences based not on only finances and housing, but also cultural and political backgrounds,” she said.
Metro Vancouver is infamously known for incomes lagging behind ever-increasing housing costs. By some metrics, Metro Vancouver is one of the world’s most unaffordable urban regions.
Kader hopes her study will spur a more open dialogue about household arrangements, both in public among service agencies and policymakers.
“Family and family relationships are not something that’s straightforward,” she said. “There’s no single guide to family relationships.”
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