Why can’t today’s young adults leave the nest? Blame high housing costs

Real Estate

These days, housing affordability is a struggle for nearly everyone.

But for young adults just starting out, soaring home prices and sky-high rents have become one of the greatest obstacles to making it on their own.

Nearly one third, or 31%, of Generation Z adults live at home with parents because they can’t afford to buy or rent their own space, according to a recent report by Intuit Credit Karma that polled 1,249 people ages 18 and up. (Gen Z is generally defined as those born between 1996 and 2012, including a cohort of teens and tweens.)

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“The current housing market has many Americans making adjustments to their living situations, including relocating to less expensive cities and even moving back in with their families,” said Courtney Alev, Intuit Credit Karma’s consumer financial advocate.

Overall, the number of households with two or more adult generations has been on the rise for years, according to a Pew Research Center report. Now, 25% of young adults live in a multigenerational household, up from just 9% five decades ago.  

Finances are the No. 1 reason families are doubling up, Pew also found, due in part to ballooning student debt and housing costs.

It’s the least affordable housing market in years

Between home prices and mortgage rates, 2023 was the least affordable homebuying year in at least 11 years, according to a separate report from real estate company Redfin.

Now, the average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage is hovering near 6.6%, down from recent highs but still twice what it was three years ago.

“Given the expectation of rate cuts this year from the Federal Reserve, as well as receding inflationary pressures, we expect mortgage rates will continue to drift downward as the year unfolds,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

“While lower mortgage rates are welcome news, potential homebuyers are still dealing with the dual challenges of low inventory and high home prices that continue to rise.”

Of course, housing isn’t the only issue. Millennials and Gen Z face financial challenges their parents did not as young adults: On top of carrying larger student loan balances, their wages are lower than their parents’ earnings when they were in their 20s and 30s.

“At the end of all that, you are not left with a whole lot of money to spend on a down payment,” said Laurence Kotlikoff, economics professor at Boston University and president of MaxiFi, which offers financial planning software.

For parents, supporting grown children can be a drain

Even if they don’t live at home, more than half of Gen Z adults and millennials are financially dependent on their parents, according to a separate survey by Experian.

For parents, however, supporting grown children can be a substantial drain at a time when their own financial security is in jeopardy. 

Not surprisingly, parents are more likely to pay for most of the expenses when two or more generations share a home. The typical 25- to 34-year-old in a multigenerational household contributes 22% of the total household income, Pew found. 

From buying groceries to paying for cellphone plans or covering health and auto insurance, parents are spending more than $1,400 a month, on average, helping their adult children make ends meet, another report by Savings.com found.

“It has to go both ways,” Kotlikoff said.

Overall, there can be an economic benefit to these living arrangements, Pew found, and Americans living in multigenerational households are less likely to be financially vulnerable. “If you are in financial union, make the best of it,” Kotlikoff said.

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