Clipped wings generation

One in four working adults between the ages of 20 and 34 is now living with their parents (read the research here).

While some commentators might jump to lazy conclusions about young people just wanting home comforts, new research published by Shelter today shows that the dominant reason so many young adults with independent incomes are not flying the nest is the cost of housing.

In a survey we found that by far the biggest reason given for living at home was the lack of affordable housing. Two thirds said that housing affordability was a factor in their living arrangements while nearly half (48%) said the cost of housing was the main factor. Three quarters of those surveyed did not think they had a choice in their living arrangements and half are worried that living in their childhood bedroom is holding them back from an independent life.

Even when you work hard, an independent home of your own is slipping out of reach for more and more young adults.

However, there’s a discrepancy to explain. There is not a strong correlation between house prices or rents and the concentration of young adults living at home. In London, 21% are living with parents compared to 28% in the West Midlands. The map of the country shows that the “hotspots” are all over England and that cities have lower proportions living with their parents.


Our research explores several options which could explain this, such as concentrations of high or low paid work, deprivation and median wages. With the caveat that more research is needed, our early analysis suggests that there are two main reasons:

  • The biggest correlate we found is simply the proportion of 45-64 year olds in the local population. In other words, a larger proportion of young adults live with their parents where there is the opportunity to do so (and escape high housing costs).
  • However, when asking young adults themselves we found that high housing costs were the biggest reason that they gave.

It’s a combination. Young adults are priced out and so are living where their parents live and commuting to their work. That’s why the proportion of young adults living at home in central London is low – the proportion of parents who live there is low!

So what are the implications of so many young working adults being effectively trapped at their parents’ home?

At a basic level, I would argue three:

  • Growing frustration among otherwise successful working young adults who have little choice but to live at home or face unaffordable rents. They will want to know why their wings are being clipped and will increasingly demand answers to let them live independently and affordably within commuting distance of their work.
  • Growing anger from more and more parents who are not seeing their children gain the independence they once did. Some will target their blame at their children or culture or other factors, but I think that as a growing share of the population finds themselves in this position, the anger of parents will focus more on politicians and their failure to make homes affordable.
  • A growing disconnect in public discourse between housing and other social issues. We are likely to see the number of young working adults living with their parents increase, even in times of economic prosperity and growth. This is what happened through the growth years of the late 90s’ and early 2000s, but this time an even bigger proportion of young adults will be affected. Housing is different and people will want to know why.

I would argue that there’s a big mood shift in housing, which is largely driven by people’s day to day experience of their children, their friends’ children or their grandchildren having their wings clipped. Housing is now a top five issue of concern for voters, higher than it has been for years. We’re also seeing a strong majority across England oppose to rising house prices and a striking reversal in people’s attitudes to the prospect of new homes being built near them. The public wants major action on housing: the prize will be for whichever political party can credibly promise it. 


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One Comment
  1. You are right-many of us parents not only know at first hand via our children what is happening but many of us have worked in Benefits and Housing and could see it coming long ago and are campaigning.
    We are hardened cynics so we will be looking at party policy statements and also looking for some objective analysis from Shelter and JRF to try and wade through it all.
    Those of us who have had family members move to London can only see that proper co-operative ownership principles will work as land is so dear. Alternatively, the market will wreck havoc on the public sector in London as more young people, as it were, do London, get the stuff on the CV and leave -lots of good affordable places for professionals such as teachers to find work.

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