Boomerang Kids

Moving back to your parents’ house is fun at first, but boomeranging is a cause for concern

Counterpoints Economy Education Modern Life

Normally when I pop in to see my parents, my Mum bursts out of the house with a big smile. Not today. “Your brother,” she says, “he’s showered twice this afternoon. Does he know how much it costs to run this house?” Are we rationing water now? I didn’t think the recession had got that bad for the Shorthouse household. My poor brother — the boomerang kid. Like 60 per cent of guys immediately after university, he’s back at home.

Graduating £15,000 in debt and faced with unpaid internships or low wages thanks to the swamping of the market with graduates, a lot of twentysomethings simply don’t have the disposable income or parental support to live independently. In 1975, the typical 23-year-old graduate would get 90 per cent of the average salary. Today, the figure is 70 per cent. 

Three years after getting their degree, most graduates are still not earning above the average median salary. They have a near 50 per cent tax burden, thanks to student loan repayments and council tax on top of income tax and national insurance. Unless you have parents who can afford to finance what is effectively a second home for them — even ones without moats are expensive, rent in London averaging £700 a month — returning to the parental nest is often the only affordable option.

The boomerang effect is becoming even more pronounced thanks to the recession. One in four of those being made redundant during the downturn is under 25. Only 13 per cent of final-year students have jobs. Home is the only place many are going: 111,000 16-29 year olds moved back home in 2008, five times the average of previous years. 

Boomeranging is bad news. It poses serious problems for parents’ finances. They’ve already propped their children up through university, topping up loans with handouts, averaging £12,300 in total, to keep twentysomethings afloat. Now their retirement savings are being eroded by continuously dependent children. 

But it’s bad for the returning kids too. True, you don’t have to pay much — or any — rent. Your clothes are ironed, your meals cooked. But jokes aside, you’re excluded from parts of the labour market which you want to thrive in. Think-tanks and big banks, advertising and consultancy, politics and publishing — these professions are located in the cities. Those who don’t live close, or can’t afford to, won’t access internships and low-paid jobs needed to enter these careers. 

Ambitious young people will be left frustrated, seeing their university peers from more affluent backgrounds excel only because parents’ money was there to support them through the initial period of poverty wages. Half of all young people now feel they will not achieve their goals. Research by the Prince’s Trust reveals that one-quarter of all 16-25 year olds are regularly down or depressed. And depression does not help self-motivation, the very trait needed to seek out job opportunities.

But UK competitiveness will suffer too. Businesses will have a smaller supply of graduates to select from. Boomeranging is a social trend that should give all of us — and not just my brother — serious cause for concern.