Two-thirds of single Britons in their 20s now live with their parents. Here’s what that means

See? Ridiculous house price not so funny now, is it? Image: Getty.

Gone are the days when living at home in your 20s was seen as an embarrassing sign of arrested development. Today, 63 per cent of single adults between the ages of 20 and 29 live with their parents, as do just over half of 25- to 29-year-olds. This inevitably raises issues about how families share costs, and what sort of living standards both older and younger generations can maintain in this arrangement.

At the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, we’ve established a Minimum Income Standard, based on what income members of the public say is necessary for a person to meet their material needs and participate in society. According to our latest research, a single person living on their own in a rented flat needs to earn at least £18,400 a year, rising to £27,000 in London, to reach this minimum standard.

We found that, for young adults with modest means, high housing costs and difficulty saving money are the main motivation for living with parents. As well as saving on rent, a combined household can share the cost of council tax and water bills, save on heating and potentially save money by bulk buying food and other goods. Our research identified potential savings of about £7,000 a year, as a result of a single person living together with their parents, rather than separately.

Arguably, living this way also makes efficient use of the UK’s limited housing stock, by keeping family homes fully occupied. Yet our research – based on focus groups of young adults and parents who live in such situations – identified some thorny dilemmas within these living arrangements, particularly where they are not a temporary transition, but may last for years.

A difficult dynamic

The parents we spoke with saw sharing the family home as a way of helping their sons and daughters to get established. Some hoped it would assist them to save for a deposit on a house, or take other steps towards independence.

But many parents couldn’t help observing cases where their children leveraged this help to spend far more than they expected, for example by buying the latest technological gadgets, or eating out frequently. As a result, parents wondered whether they were wrongly subsidising such a lifestyle, when their grown-up children should be taking more financial responsibility.

Young adults living with their parents maintained that some such expenditures were justified; for example, they thought if you live in your parents’ home, you will eat out more often than if you had your own place, where you are more likely to socialise by asking a friend around for a meal.

Difficulties are bound to arise when related adults live together, and to some extent pool their economic resources, while still living largely separate lives. This creates economic relationships full of ambiguities, as parents desire to do the best for their sons and daughters, without having the same control over how their children live as they did when they were dependent. At the same time, young adults have to negotiate living as independent adults, within their parents’ “domain”.

Paying their way

These tensions emerged most clearly in discussions about how much young people living with their parents should contribute to household costs. Both the young adults and parents taking part in our study agreed that, while parents would pay most household bills, they should receive some contribution from the young adult in the form of a regular “board” payment.

But there was little agreement on how to establish a fair price for this payment. Some participants thought it would be good to have some guidelines, yet attempts to formulate them revealed a wide variety of views over how much a young adult should contribute. All of our participants felt that it would depend on the financial situations of both the young adult and their parents.


Some parents argued strongly that trying to create a formula for this contribution missed the point that a family relationship is not a commercial relationship, as with a landlord: it is guided by emotions, not just rational principles.

Nevertheless, based on the information provided by our participants, we were able to make some interesting calculations. We found that the additional cost to parents of having a son or daughter at home – such as buying more communal groceries or spending more on heating – could be fairly modest, compared with the savings made, costing a minimum of about £100 a month.

This means that with only a relatively small contribution, a young adult can ensure that their parents are not out of pocket, while still retaining large savings from living at home. Even after this contribution, they could potentially reach a minimum living standard earning around £9,000 a year – compared to the £18,400 that they would have to earn if living on their own outside of London.

The hidden costs

Yet these calculations make some important assumptions about the parents’ situation. One is that the parents themselves are well off enough to provide a decent home, which is adequately furnished and heated. The calculations also assume that, because parents had a bedroom available when their son or daughter was growing up, they would still have it when they reach adulthood.

Keeping a spare bedroom can imply serious additional costs for less well-off families. They might have to maintain high rates of private rent or be unable to downsize to ease the transition to retirement. Those living in social housing will be under pressure to downsize to avoid the bedroom tax if their son or daughter spends time living away at university, for example.

As more young people in their 20s are living in the family home well into adulthood, it’s crucial to remember that not all parents own their home and have plenty of spare space, as well as the financial resources to support their adult children.

What’s more, if it becomes more common for people to live at home with parents even into their 30s, this will begin to affect parents’ retirement plans. The transition from work to retirement is typically managed with the help of a reduction in housing costs, or the opportunity to draw on housing assets by downsizing. As future pension prospects wane, housing choices in retirement will become even more important.

If the parents are still sharing a home with their children when making these decisions, they may need to become more disciplined to negotiate a fair contribution towards the costs of keeping a room available for their sons and daughters to live in. Yet our research shows just how hard that is for parents, who will never see a son or daughter as a paying lodger, but always as part of the family.

The Conversation

Donald Hirsch, Professor of Social Policy, Loughborough University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

A Century after radical leftists were elected to its city hall, Vienna’s social democratic base is slipping away

Karl Marx Hof. Image: Kagan Kaya.

Karl Marx-Hof, a kilometre-long municipal apartment block in Vienna’s wealthy 19th district, was first named after the father of the communist movement by Austria’s Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) in 1927. Its imposing structure borrows from an eclectic mix of modernist, Bauhaus, art deco, neoclassical and baroque architectural styles. In the mould of early soviet experiments, the building, nicknamed The Palace of the Proletariat, housed shared childcare services, gardens and washrooms.

The building is Vienna’s most prominent physical reminder of a period known as Red Vienna, when left-wing radicals found themselves at the helm of the Hapsburg’s former imperial capital during the aftermath of the First World War. 

After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy in 1918, the SDAP won the fledgeling republic’s first elections held under universal suffrage and commenced an ambitious programme of social and economic reform. Leading intellectual lights of the party sought to unite the two great strands of the 20th-century labour movement, reconciling parliamentary socialism and revolutionary communism under their new current of non-Bolshevik “Austro-Marxism”. Karl Marx-Hof epitomised their radical ambitions. “When we are no longer here”, Mayor Karl Seitz told an assembled crowd of workers at the building’s opening in 1930, “these bricks will speak for us.”

When I visited Karl Marx-Hof on a sunny day in June, Monica and George, two of its residents, were walking their two Chihuahuas around the estate’s leafy, quiet courtyards. “We moved here last year,” Monica tells me. “It’s really nice because you’ve got a lot of green space in the middle of the city.”

The young couple are the beneficiaries of a generous system of public housing provision. Vienna has a relative abundance of high-quality municipal flats compared with most large capitals. “We weren’t waiting long for the flat – moving in here was really fast”, Monica says. Currently, 60 per cent of Vienna’s residents live in either municipally owned, subsidised housing, or in social homes run by not-for-profit cooperatives. The remaining portion of private homes is subject to strict rent controls and regulations.

The social democrats and their less radical successors have remained the dominant party in Vienna since the city’s first election, save for an 11-year hiatus of fascist dictatorship from 1934, followed by Anschluss and Nazi occupation from 1938. The city remains a red statelet in an otherwise conservative country. Indeed, Austria is now more associated with the far right than the radical left. But even Vienna is no longer immune to the trend of waning support for centre-left parties that has gripped European countries since 2008, and cracks are beginning to appear in its social democratic project.

Two exhibitions in the city – one in the former communal wash house of Karl Marx-Hof, the other in the grand Wien Museum MUSA – note the achievements of Red Vienna’s experiment in local socialism: the introduction of pensions and unemployment support; the establishment of a nascent public healthcare system; the opening of kindergartens, schools run on Montessori principles, public baths, open-air swimming pools, libraries, parks, leisure facilities, arts centres; and, of course, a programme of mass council house building, all paid for by a system of progressive income taxation coupled with duties on luxury goods, including servants, champagne, private cars and riding horses.

Unlike the Bolsheviks, (and partly because, as a provincial government, it lacked the powers to do so), the SDAP did not expropriate or nationalise factories or private industry without compensation, but instead paid former owners whenever buildings or land passed from private to public hands. The party built what it perceived to be the chrysalis of a new egalitarian society, while leaving the market and private ownership of the means of production largely intact. In many ways, its policies palliated the worst effects of early 20th century industrial capitalism like slum housing, mass unemployment and extreme poverty. Red Vienna laid the ground for the modern European welfare state, inspiring other social democratic governments across the continent to implement similar policies after the Second World War. 


“Back then the social democrats were good,” Monica tells me, attempting to calm her excitable dogs by pulling on their leads. Does she intend to vote for the social democrats in the upcoming national elections in September? “We vote for the blue ones,” she answers. Monica and George will cast their vote for the Freheitliche Partei Osterreichs (FPO), the Freedom Party, an organisation founded after the Second World War by a former Nazi minister of agriculture and high-ranking SS officer. “It’s because of all the refugees and all the violence that’s going on here,” she claims. “Shootings are more frequent in Vienna.”

Austria has one of the lowest murder rates in the world, almost half that of England and Wales, and Vienna itself is known for its relative safety compared to other European capitals. But hundreds of thousands of refugees have travelled through Austria over the last four years. Many have made the city their home, but most have transited towards Germany, at Angela Merkel’s invitation. The mass movement of people from across the Mediterranean to central and northern Europe has ruptured the country’s social-democratic pact. In 2016, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party narrowly missed out on victory in the presidential election, receiving 46 per cent of the vote.

“Lots of people say they’re just racists,” Monica continues, visibly uncomfortable with the idea that people would attribute malice or prejudice to voters like herself. But she hastens to add that her views, and those of her partner George, aren’t necessarily typical of Vienna’s affluent 19th district. “There are very rich people here, so they vote for the party who protects their interests… You’ll see a lot of big houses, so I think the OVP, the People’s Party, would do well.”

The OVP is the more traditional centre-right party of Austrian politics, and wins the most seats in the 19th district. Yet the city’s voting patterns are diverse. This is partly a result of the policies of successive social democratic administrations placing the integration of social classes and income levels at the heart of their municipal agenda. Subsidised housing can be found alongside wealthy private apartments in the city centre designed by Renzo Piano, and at the foot of the city’s vineyards near up-market wine taverns. Kurt Puchinger, chair of wohnfonds_wien, the city’s land and housing fund, tells me that the council “do not want to have a situation where you can identify the social status of a person by their home address.”

Despite the SDAP’s century-long efforts to promote social cohesion, recent years have seen the rise the FPO’s vote share at the expense of the left. Favoriten is a more solidly working class area of Vienna in the 10th district. There, according to Monica, “most vote for the Freedom Party because they are for stopping migration.” She pauses to consider her words. “Not stopping. Trying to find a way to filter them and control them. Every country has a problem like this.”

Monica’s feeling for the electoral preferences of each of the various Viennese districts proves accurate. After the war, Favoriten elected communists as their local representatives. The district's loyalties quickly switched to the social democrats, and until 2005 the party could comfortably expect to receive over half the votes there, consistently getting more than double the votes of both the far-right Freedom Party and the centre-right People’s Party. But in the most recent 2015 election, the Freedom Party won 24 seats and 38 per cent of the vote, only two points and one seat behind the social democrats. In Austria nationally, the People’s Party, headed by a 32-year-old leader, Sebastian Kurz, with Patrick Bateman overtones, has formed a government with the Freedom Party – but their coalition collapsed ignominiously in May.

Neither Austria as a whole, nor Favoriten in particular, are outliers. In France, Le Pen’s National Rally polls well in the Communist Party’s former “ceinture rouge” outside Paris. In Britain, Labour’s post-industrial heartlands are turning towards the Brexit Party, while blue collar workers in America’s rust belt have backed Donald Trump. And in Vienna, neither the impressive legacy of the SDAP nor the continually high standard of living (the city was rated as the world’s most liveable for the 10th time in 2018 by Mercer, the consultancy giant) is enough to stem the tide of right-wing populism.

Until he was unseated as leader following a corruption scandal in May, Heinz-Christian Strache positioned the FPO as the party of the working class, a guarantor of Austrian identity, and the protector of a generous welfare system now threatened by an influx of migrants. “We believe in our youth,” ran one of his slogans, “the [social democrats] in immigration.”

Sofia is a masseuse who has lived in Karl Marx-Hof for 19 years with her partner and his son. “People are angry with the social democrats now because of refugees,” she told me. “They should change this... They should say ‘we are on the left but we can’t accept everybody here.’” The view that the party have abandoned their traditional voters is widespread, but Sofia isn’t fond of the alternatives. “The FPO – the Nazis – you can’t vote for the Nazis… anyone who votes FPO isn’t my friend… But I won’t vote for the People’s Party because they do everything for rich people, not normal people.”

Sofia reserves her strongest criticism for the youthful Sebastian Kurz, who is likely to become head of another People’s Party-led coalition after elections in September. “I’m scared of him,” she says. “I think he’s a psychopath. I think he’s not a normal person.”

Like many Viennese, Sofia admires the legacy of Red Vienna: “The socialists did a lot of really good things. We are the only city in the world that has so much state housing. And they brought in pensions, health insurance, a lot of things.” But she’s not sure they will get her vote in 2019. In an era of polarisation and anti-establishment rhetoric, the most fertile yet unoccupied political ground seems to be for a radical, redistributive economic programme, coupled with a more conservative vision of shared responsibilities and values, national sovereignty, and sociocultural issues.

“Even in the working class areas of the city,” sighs Kurt Puchinger, the city’s housing fund chair, “less people are voting social democrat. And this is a pity.” 100 years since the old radical Social Democratic Workers’ Party was first elected by a restive, war-weary working class, the working class remains restive, but while the SDAP’s flagship Karl Marx-Hof still stands, the bricks no longer seem to be speaking for them.