PhotoGraduation ceremonies have just about concluded for 2012, meaning hundreds of thousands of newly-minted graduates are about to head out into the cold, cruel world.

In this tough job market, that means many will soon be headed back to their childhood bedrooms, according to a researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

Katherine Newman, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins, estimates that about 85 percent of today’s college students will return home to live at some point after they graduate, based on her research for her latest book, The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition.

“Today, it’s really close to something of a majority experience,” said Newman, dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins. “It’s part of an elongating life course that is affecting both young people and their parents.”

Not just a product of the recession

Despite what you might think, however, Newman says the current economic climate didn’t cause this moving-home trend, which she says began to emerge in the 1980s when the entry level job market for young people began to develop rough patches. The recession is exacerbating the need for college grads to shelter the cost of living at the Inn of Mom and Dad.

“Many young people are finding that they need an internship after college or they need to take a job that doesn’t pay so well to get the experience so they will qualify for something better later,” Newman said. “And it can be very difficult to manage all of that on top of the debt they may have as undergraduates without some help from their families which often takes the form of a roof over their heads.”

While neither parent nor offspring particularly likes the arrangement, Newman says consolidating households can be a very smart move, benefitting not just budget-conscious young adults but their parents, too.

Some parents like it

After interviewing many families, she found that the while baby boomer parents would have avoided the same move in their youth, they are welcoming their so-called “boomerang kids” with open arms. Having worked through their children’s childhood years, they were not tired of them at age 18 and refilling the empty nest has a way of making people feel young.

“I find that the temperature is quite good inside those households, maybe even better than it was before,” Newman said. “For most young people, the ‘accordion family’ represents a haven in a heartless world. They know their families are there to support them, that this is partly what families are for. Parents, in turn, come to understand that they play a vital role in supporting the ambitions and dreams of the next generation.”

But what’s good for families isn’t necessarily good for the economy as a whole. At the national level, the mass homeward migration could bring about negative economic consequences, Newman says.

As a generation of young adults delays starting new families, she predicts that population growth will fizzle and economic gains will stall, based on her case studies of how the trend is playing out in Italy, Spain and Japan.  

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