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.

 
 
 
 

Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.