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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Moving home may not be step a back

We have more ways to communicate with each other than any generation before us.

We’re the most educated, too, according to a recent rise in college enrollment rates.

So why can’t millennials leave the nest?

A new Pew Research Center analysis of recent census data showed only around one of three adults aged 18 to 32 have left their parents’ homes.

Forming a household may not be high on a college student’s list of priorities. You’re already out and living an independent adult life, aren’t you? Packing up your belongings and being dropped off on campus freshman year, you felt like a caged bird being set free, right?

Well, it may not be the last time you’re living in your childhood home with your parents. The Pew study showed that a record total of 21.6 million millennials already do. Younger millennials, aged 18 to 24, are more likely than their older counterparts, 25- to 32-year-olds to be living with their parents — 56 percent compared to 16 percent, although both groups have seen a rising trend in taking back their places in their family homes.

There’s a stigma attached to going back. After taking a semester internship abroad and coming back to live under my father’s roof, I felt relieved that I had to go back to college instead of staying there indefinitely.

It’s easy to think that I had been gone for a long time and had my own way of living, but to parents, we are always children, and their rules will always be supreme law.

While I knew I was going back to school and hoped I could make my way to independent living when I graduate, I wondered what would happen if all my plans of taking off fell flat. After four years of college, what would I do if I go back to the nest?

Would it be such a terrible thing?

The advent of social media as a constant presence of “I want that” and “I have that” in our lives makes us the most self-aware age group yet. With so many opportunities available on the horizon, how would we feel going back to the living arrangements we had at 10 years old? Some would say it’s a definitive step back and a loss of independence.

We’re so used to having the “liberty” to be irresponsible that we feel like supervision and parental rules would take something away from us.

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But why does it have to?

Renting a studio in the big city may seem like the logical next “grown-up” step, but it doesn’t necessarily foster any change. Having to “cope” with living with family again after college teaches lessons that 20-somethings might dismiss while living on their own. Millennials can do a lot of growing up just by chipping in for rent, taking care of household chores and being a helper instead of a burden.

We are four years into recovery from the Great Recession, but unemployment still hovers at 7.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economic conditions are a big reason why more young people are putting off getting a places of their own.

But I don’t think it’s truly about the money. A lot of us have done the ramen diet in college, so to speak. Being financially independent is not as glamorous as it sounds when there are bills to pay and an empty fridge.

It’s appealing to have the chance to come home to mom’s cooking and know that if you fall behind on rent, you won’t be kicked out.

But I think it’s also about what defines our generation of ambitious, information-addicted, self-aware millennials. We have a wealth of possibilities at our disposal, and it makes us afraid to commit to any one of those in particular. Choosing something becomes a rejection of everything else, and that is scarier to us than Twitter being down for more than an hour.

As we seek to be less tied down and free to choose any opportunity that crosses our path, we let go of things our parents and grandparents thought were important. They wanted the white picket fence, the ring and the dog. We want the rented-out studio, the casual online dating fling and the backpacking trip across Europe.

Although the numbers may suggest that millennials are less independent by more of us living at home, I think it suggests that we have a different sense of what independence means. We own less, but we own it.

Daniela Guzman is a UF journalism senior. Her column runs on Mondays. A version of this column ran on page 7 on 11/18/2013 under the headline "Moving home may not be step back"

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