Allie Lyons got her college diploma and her dream job in the same month. The 2011 College of St. Benedict graduate landed a salaried position with full benefits, working as a Target business analyst.
And then she moved home.
“We used to feel like coming back to your parents’ house is the worst thing ever,” she said. “But I thought it through, and I was convinced it was smarter to move back and save and be financially responsible.”
Once the butt of jokes, the boomerang family is back. This time on purpose.
According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, almost 40 percent of young adults live at home with their parents. In 2012, a record 21.6 million millennials (ages 18 to 31) did so.
The trend has been building since the start of the recession. What’s new, said Chelsea Petree, assistant director of the Parent Program at the University of Minnesota, is that more of the adult children who move back in with Mom and Dad say they’re doing so by choice, not necessity.
“The numbers haven’t changed much, but the way of looking at it has,” said Petree.
Petree’s office surveyed 3,000 recent Gophers graduates about their attitudes on living arrangements. The research, published in the Association of Higher Education Parent/Family Program Professionals, found that while 40 percent of graduates expected to live with their parents after college, the choice is increasingly viewed as a rational one.
“Graduates and their parents report this is their plan — it’s not a default or a worst-case-scenario,” said Petree. “The stigma is fading. Fewer people are embarrassed about it.”
There also seems to be a shift in the attitude of their baby boomer parents, who are often delighted with the return.
“The idea that kids who move home are slackers is outdated,” said Allie’s mother, Molly Lyons, 53, of Eden Prairie. “If we felt she was taking advantage of us, we would have said, ‘You’ve got a month to find your own place.’ She had clear goals. That let us enjoy our time with her.”
By living at home, Allie said she benefited from “doing the download” after a day at the office, taking in workplace tips from her mother, who works in human resources. They also had fun. Mother and daughter went shopping to outfit Allie for her new career-wear and sometimes enjoyed decompressing over a glass of wine.
“My husband and I didn’t spend social time with our parents,” Molly said. “But we have with our kids from Day 1. She’s willing to go to a movie with me or join us for dinner out.”
Much of the coverage about boomerang families has been negative. But Petree and others say that’s not what young adults and their families are experiencing.
“When I started my research, I Googled ‘boomerang families’ and articles with titles like ‘How to kick your kid out of your basement’ came up,” Petree said. “Stories like that do a disservice. It leads family members to think this will be a negative experience. Our research says that it is not.”
Trendwatchers who track demographics don’t expect the return home to reverse, despite a rebounding economy.
“It’s not that they don’t have jobs. It’s that they can’t pay rent and their student loans,” said Katie Elfering, a consumer analyst with Minneapolis-based Iconoculture who studies the millennial generation.
“Coming out of the recession, they have to make practical choices,” Elfering said. “Statistically, they earn lower salaries for entry-level jobs than previous generations. They have to work lower-paying jobs to get the experience for a higher-paying one. They don’t feel demeaned or demoralized when they move back in, as long as they see it as a choice that builds for the future.”
And so, it seems, do their parents.
Jean Bellecourt is savoring her daughter’s return. Jenna Bellecourt, 24, graduated from North Dakota State University, where she studied to be an air traffic controller. A hiring freeze in that industry has her back home, working a retail job while she waits.
“She’s my fitness coach,” said Jean Bellecourt, of Stillwater. “I quit smoking and gained a little weight and she’s helping me. We were out on our bikes last night. She enjoys exercising and I really don’t, but she gets me moving.”
The Bellecourt parents work opposite hours, and Jean, 50, said she and her husband both have enjoyed one-on-one time with their daughter.
“We would be bored without her,” Jean said. “She’ll relocate when she gets hired, so we’re happy to have her now. It’s dumb to pay rent when we have space.”
Allie Lyons and her parents agreed that she could live at home without paying rent, as long as she was diligent about attacking her student loan and put away a significant portion of her paycheck. After nine months, she had saved enough for a deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment, and moved out — after purchasing a couch and bedroom furniture for her new place.
But her family’s nest might not be permanently emptied. Allie’s brother is in his senior year of college, and has already indicated that he plans a move home after graduation as he begins his career.
“It will be great,” Molly Lyons said. “They’re adults and we can enjoy them at a different level.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based broadcaster, podcaster and freelance writer.