This Life with Gracie: Grown kids back home? It could be you

My daughters, ages 27 and 29, flew the coop years ago. It happened long enough ago, in fact, that I’ve finally started to feel giddy when they return for visits.

As happy as I am they’re gone, it’s a good guess that they are much happier than me and their dad. Well, maybe not their dad, but I doubt even he would want to see them move back in for good.

Which gets me to Michael Rotondo, the 30-year-old who grabbed national and international attention a few weeks ago when he took his parents to court over an eviction notice.

Rotondo, you may or may not recall, had received cash offers and multiple orders to leave his family home, including five notices since Feb. 2.

His response?

The notices didn’t give him a reasonable amount of time to move out, he said, and he “wasn’t going to leave without a legal battle.”

That was the wrong answer, New York Supreme Court Justice Donald Greenwood told Rotondo and ordered him to move out of his parents’ home.

That should have been the end of it, but the big kid plans to appeal. Before finally moving out last week, he called police over a toy dispute with his dad.

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Guess any of us would find it hard to give up rent-free housing, but this happens to be quite common among millennials and males like Michael Rotondo, in particular.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 men ages 25-34 lived in their parents' home last year. That compares to 12.5 percent of women that age living at home.

In all, there are 4.3 million men and 2.8 million women ages 25-34 living with their parents, for a total of 7.1 million still living at home, roughly double the number living at home in 1960.

We owe this turn of events, according to the Pew Research Center, to the dramatic drop in the share of young adults who are choosing to settle down, and plummeting wages.

That jibes with the experts I talked to about this, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a question of parents loving their sons and raising their daughters as Jawanza Kunjufu, an educational consultant and author of “Raising Black Boys,” suggested years ago.

Jeffrey Arnett, research professor of psychology at Clark University who has directed several polls of emerging adults (ages 18-29) and their parents on this and other topics, said Kunjufu is partly right.

So did Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families.

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“I think it’s true that parents tend to be more indulgent with young men than young women,” she said. “Guys are still not expected to help out as much around the house or with caregiving.”

But neither Coontz nor Arnett believes trends in young adults living with parents should be related to that.

They say it’s more economics than how they are raised.

In the 25 years he has been studying emerging adults, Arnett said he’s found that “nearly all of them would rather live on their own if they can afford to, and the closer they get to age 30, the stronger this desire becomes.”

In economic terms, he said that because millennials barely have enough money to live on, they aren’t saving.

“More of them stay in education for longer than any previous generation, which limits the money they can earn,” he said. “Even when they begin working, it takes most of them at least three to four years to find a long-term job with steadily rising pay.”

If you look at the historical trends, Coontz said that  since at least 1940, more young men than women have lived at home. In good part that's because women tend to marry at a younger age than men, so in the same age group, there will be more women who move in with a spouse than men — even if a woman isn't self-supporting, she is more likely to marry an older man who is. This is much more rare for men.

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“In recent years, this trend may have been exacerbated by the fact that traditional entry-level jobs for young men without college degrees have either decreased or ceased to pay a living wage, while traditional jobs for women without a college degree have been expanding,” Coontz said. “And although women still earn less than men, their wages have been rising in relation to what they USED to earn, giving them more opportunity to be self-supporting than in the past.”

And so while we owe this more to economics than anything, Coontz said that it helps that parenting has become more democratic and parent-child relations are far closer than in the past. “Sometimes this can shade into indulgence or enabling, but for the most part, it’s healthy,” she said. “And young people whose parents offer them support while they are getting established in school or jobs actually do better in the long run, on average, than those whose parents cannot or will not help out.”

I asked Coontz for a few tips that might help parents struggling with this.

She suggests parents distinguish between kids who are really using the respite at home to get ahead and the ones who are taking advantage.

“Their responsibilities, both around the house and in terms of pursuing education or employment (as opposed to playing video games), ought to be clearly spelled out,” Coontz said. “If the kids aren’t willing to do their bit, then it’s time to sell their beds!”

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