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Living Arrangements: Young adults living in the parental home
For young adults in Australian society, leaving the parental home is generally seen as an important step in the transition from a largely dependent childhood to adult independence and full social maturity. For many, this step is deferred until education is completed and/or financial independence is achieved, and may often coincide with entry into a committed couple relationship.
It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that trends in the proportions of young adults living in the parental home will be linked to trends in related factors such as participation in education, age at first marriage, labour force status and government funded income support programs for young adults. However, analysis of data from the ABS Labour Force Survey shows that these links are not as clear as might be expected. It also highlights differences between different age groups within the young adult population.
Increase in young adults living in the parental home
Between 1986 and 1999, there was an increase of 162,000 in the number of young adults living at home. This represents a small proportional increase, from 47% to 49% of the total population aged 15-29 years.
However, the increase was confined to the older age groups, with 20-24 year olds and 25-29 year olds accounting for about half each of the overall increase in the number of young adults living at home. The proportion of 20-24 year olds living at home increased from 42% in 1986 to 47% in 1999. During the same period, the proportion of 25-29 year olds living at home increased from 12% to 17%. For both age groups, the rate of increase was greater for women than for men.
Between 1986 and 1999, there was a slight decline in the proportion of 15-19 year olds living at home, primarily due to changes in the composition of the total population aged 15-19 (i.e. a decrease in the proportion, and number, aged 15-17 and an increase in the proportion, and number, aged 18-19).1 These compositional changes were reflected in the population living at home. While most 18-19 year olds live at home, they are much less likely to do so than 15-17 year olds and this has contributed to the decline in the proportion of 15-19 year olds living at home (from 89% in 1986 to 87% in 1999). In addition, 18-19 year olds were less likely to be living at home in 1999 than in 1986 (74% compared to 78%).
CUMULATIVE CHANGE(a) IN THE PROPORTION OF YOUNG ADULTS LIVING IN THE PARENTAL HOME, 1986-1999
(a) For each year, the percentage of young adults living at home in that year, minus the percentage living at home in 1986.
Source: Unpublished data, Labour Force Survey, June 1986-1999
PROPORTION OF YOUNG ADULTS LIVING IN THE PARENTAL HOME
The likelihood of young adults living in the parental home decreases rapidly with age. Consequently, the majority (57%) of young adults living at home in 1999 were under twenty years of age; 31% were aged 20-24; and 12% were aged 25-29. Nevertheless, this represents an older age profile than in 1986.
Young men outnumber young women living in the parental home, and the sex ratio (number of males for every 100 females) increases with age. In 1999, the sex ratio of young adults living at home ranged from 104 among 15-17 year olds up to 136 for 20-24 year olds and 188 for 25-29 year olds. However, the predominance of men among the older age groups was less marked than in 1986 when the sex ratio was 166 for 20-24 year olds and 254 for 25-29 year olds living at home.
The age/sex profile of young adults living at home is linked, at least in part, to age at first marriage (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Age at first marriage). Because young adults living in the parental home generally leave when they marry, and the likelihood of being married increases with age, the proportion of young adults living at home decreases with age. Also, because men generally marry at later ages than women, men in their twenties are more likely to be living at home than women of the same age.
Similarly, the increase between 1986 and 1999 in the proportions of men and women in their twenties living at home reflects the trend towards marriage at older ages, which in turn may be linked to increased levels of participation in tertiary education. The impact of these trends was greater for women because: more women than men in their twenties would otherwise have left home to marry at earlier ages; and the increase in education participation during this period was greater for women than for men.
Students are more likely to be living at home than non-students and full-time students are more likely to be living at home than part-time students (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Living with parents). In 1999, 84% of full-time students aged 15-24 were living at home compared to 54% of others (i.e. part-time students plus those not studying at all) in the same age group. Younger students, particularly those still at school, were more likely to be living at home than older students. In 1999, 97% of school students were living at home compared to 78% of full-time tertiary students aged 15-19 and 52% of full-time tertiary students aged 20-24. (The Labour Force Survey does not provide information on student status for 25-29 year olds).
The numbers of full-time students living at home increased by more than a third between 1986 and 1999, reflecting the rise in school retention rates and increased participation in tertiary education among 15-24 year olds in general (see Australian Social Trends 2000, Education: national summary table). In 1999, full-time students accounted for more than half (56%) of 15-24 year olds living at home, compared to 43% in 1986.
Since full-time students are more likely to live at home than others in the same age group, it follows that higher rates of participation in education should result in increasing proportions of young people living at home. As previously noted, however, the proportion of 15-19 year olds living at home declined slightly between 1986 and 1999. In this age group, the impact of increased participation in education was offset by a combination of factors:
Labour force status
The income associated with having a full-time job gives young adults the means to leave the parental home and live independently. Consequently, it might be expected that young adults in full-time employment would be the least likely to be living at home and that those who were unemployed would be among the most likely to be living at home. However, this is not generally the case.
In 1999, it was only among 25-29 year olds that the unemployed were the most likely to be living at home (and more likely to be living at home than in 1986). There was a slight decline in the proportions of unemployed 15-19 year olds and 20-24 year olds living at home and, in 1999, the unemployed were among the least likely, in either age group, to be living at home.
This may be linked to changes in government income support policy which has moved towards transferring some of the costs of supporting dependent young adults, particularly those under 25 years of age, back to their families.2 For example, it may be that the additional financial pressures on families have led to a greater incidence of family breakdown, thus reducing, rather than increasing, the proportions of the younger unemployed living at home.
Similarly, it was only for 15-19 year olds that the full-time employed were among the least likely to be living at home (and less likely to be living at home than in 1986). For 20-24 year olds and 25-29 year olds, there was an increase in the proportion of full-time employed living at home and, in 1999, they were the second most likely to be living at home in both of these age groups.
Clearly then, financial dependence on parents is not the only factor that motivates young adults to continue living in the parental home, or to return after a period of living elsewhere. For example, financially independent young adults may choose to remain at home until they marry, or to return home after the break up of a relationship. Increases, between 1986 and 1999, in the proportions of 20-29 year olds living at home (not only those in full-time employment) may be partly related to the delaying of marriage on the one hand and the increasing divorce rate on the other (see Australian Social Trends 2000, Family: national summary table).
Between 1986 and 1999 there was a shift in the labour force composition of young adults living at home: a decline in the proportions in full-time employment balanced by a rise in the proportions in part-time employment. This was particularly marked for 15-19 year olds and 20-24 year olds, and can be explained, at least partly, by the increased representation of full-time students in these age groups. Students take up a high proportion of the part-time work available for young people and, in 1986, full-time students accounted for 77% of all 15-19 year olds, and 27% of all 20-24 year olds, in part-time employment. By 1999 this had increased to 81% and 45% respectively. Between 1986 and 1999, the proportion of all full-time students employed part-time increased from 25% to 36% among 15-19 year olds and from 31% to 48% of 20-24 year olds. In 1999, the part-time employed among these younger groups were the most likely to be living at home.
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Estimated Resident Population of Australia, States and Territories (cat. no. 3201.0), AusStats spreadsheets on ABS Web site <URL:https://abs.gov.au>, (Accessed 10 May 2000).
2 McDonald, P. 1995, Families in Australia: a Socio-demographic Perspective, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne.