Benjamin Andrews graduated from Bryan College in May 2011. After spending six months abroad working at an internship related to his major, he returned to the US and moved back in with his parents.
During the last five months, he's held several part-time jobs and, for a couple months, one full-time job. He pays for personal expenses like gas, but he doesn't pay his parents rent. Andrews feels distinctly more like a child than an adult in his parents' home, but not because of the way his parents' treat him.
"American society sees adults as self-sufficient, independent, self-supporting and all those other things," he said. "I feel in my estimation like a child."
According to a study released earlier this month by Ohio State University (OSU), an ever-increasing number of young adults in their 20s and 30s are returning to their parents' homes. Although their reasons for going home vary, strained finances are the common denominator.
The OSU study found that only 17 percent of young adults between 20 and 34 lived with their parents in 1980. But as the economy started to contract in 2007 and unemployment among young adults rose, so did the number of those forced to move back home. Between 2007 and 2009, 24 percent of young adults lived with their parents, according to the study. Rates for living at home were highest among those between 20 and 24--43 percent. And 9 percent of those between 30 and 34 still live at home.
After graduating from Montreat College in December 2011, Claire Dubois lived with her parents for seven months before getting her own place. Going back home had its ups and downs, Dubois said. Her mom always wanted to know what she was doing, just like when she was in high school. But her parents provided a room and meals rent-free and paid for large expenses like car insurance.
Dubois found herself pitching in more on household chores than she had done in high school, even though she didn't have any chore requirements. In fact, her parents didn't put any stipulations on her return home. They understood that college graduates moving back home is a wide-spread trend, Dubois said.
Dubois has held a part-time job since shortly after graduating, and four months ago it became full-time. Although she's on her way to independence now, going back home slowed her down.
"Moving home sapped some of my momentum," she said. "Having mom and dad take care of me again took some of my confidence."
Unlike many of his peers who live at home, Chris Irwin has a full-time job, pays for all his own expenses, and contributes some of his paycheck to family bills. He feels like an adult at home, not a child. But living at home for so long has been hard. He described the effect of the experience on his family relationships as "negative, overall" due to rising tensions.
Irwin would like to move out. At the same time, he recognizes that the American idolization of independence promotes selfishness.
"[In cultures] where everyone lives together, [this] encourages family bonds by considering yourself part of a group," he said. "You are not an independent entity."
Cultural pressures to move out and grow up can be stifling. Dubois said she found it very hard to escape the stigma of failure when she told people she lived at home. Other pressures come from within the family. Andrews' relationship with his brother isn't growing as much as it did when they weren't living under the same roof.
But the reasons young adults more back home can dramatically change their perspective of the experience.
After the sudden death of a close friend, Andrew Wilber changed his plans during his last semester of college and chose to go home for a few months to reconnect with his family and friends. Being home for three and a half months has improved his relationships with his brothers and sisters.
"When you're younger, you don't always understand why there should be a relationship, and going away for a few years, you think differently about them, and them about you," he said.
Wilber describes his place in the house as still in between an adult and a child, although he's slowly starting to feel more like an adult. Wilber does not pay rent, but he helps his dad with his small business. His parents exert no pressure to leave, although he feels some pressure from his extended family.
On a societal level, Wilber views the pressure to be independent as a healthy part of growing up: "If there wasn't a pressure to get out and do something, nothing would ever happen. But I think sometimes we go overboard in our society."
Living at home has offered Andrews a new viewpoint, and he has more respect and appreciation for his parents now. His biggest struggle is with the feeling of dependence: "I would not mind living at home and paying rent and feeling like I was supporting myself."