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Fact Checking Data On The Boomerang Generation


The fact-checking organization PolitiFact looked into a shocking claim in a political ad. The ad said 85 percent of recent college graduates are moving back in with their parents. There was a reason for the ad to make that claim. PolitiFact found that 85 percent figure has been repeated by CNN, the New York Post, U.S. News, and more news organizations. The number fits the notion of a boomerang generation, thrown back home by the economy.

Yet this constantly repeated number appears to be bogus. PolitiFact found the number came from an organization that no longer exists, whose former leader can't explain where his number came from.

So we contacted Kim Parker to find what the number really is, and what we can learn from it. She's lead researcher for a Pew survey on the boomerang generation. Ms. Parker, welcome to the program.

KIM PARKER: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: OK. So there seems to be no evidence for that 85 percent figure. What are the real figures in the surveys and studies that you've done?

PARKER: OK. Well, we've done some analysis of census data, and we've also done our own survey research. And we found that among college graduates ages 25 to 34, about 20 percent - or specifically, 21 percent, say that they're either living with their parents now, or that they moved in temporarily in the last few years because of tough economic times. If you look at all 25- to 34-year-olds, regardless of educational attainment, we found 29 percent. You know, that's basically three in 10, which is a pretty substantial number.

INSKEEP: Now, of course, our colleague David Greene, on this program, has been taking us through a really moving series on multigenerational households, and you get a sense from those stories how complicated these decisions are. They're emotional decisions. They are financial decisions. Is it clear to you that in most cases when young people move back home, it is pretty much a straight financial decision - or are there lots of reasons? Could this just be people, in some cases, choosing to live a different kind of family life?

PARKER: Yeah. I think there've got to be lots of reasons, and it probably varies from one individual to another. We did find something really interesting when we asked about the impact that living back at home with your parents has had on the relationship with the parents. And we found that, you know, the plurality of young people said that it really hadn't made a difference in their relationship, but a quarter said it had actually made their relationship better.

And we also were able to ask young people who were living at home with their parents, and those who were living on their own, how satisfied they were with their living conditions. There was no difference between the two groups. So they were equally satisfied with their living conditions, equally optimistic about their financial future. So I think they see this as - you know, hopefully - a temporary situation, and not something that's going to impact their long-term financial well-being.

INSKEEP: What happens to a family's finances when the young person - college graduate or not - comes home?

PARKER: Yeah. What we found is that it actually can be mutually beneficial for both the parents and the child. Many of the adult children we interviewed - in fact, 48 percent - said that they actually pay rent to their parents; and 89 percent said that they contribute to household expenses. So in these tough economic times, it can actually be helpful to the parents as well, in terms of keeping their own household afloat. And we found that for some young adults, living at home with their parents is keeping them out of poverty. And there's data to show that among 25- to 34-year-olds, those living with their parents are half as likely to be living in poverty as those who are living on their own.

INSKEEP: Oh, and we started this - maybe with the image of a young person coming home to the, you know, well-off for middle-class parents; but there may be a situation where the young person is working, and the parents are in their 40s or 50s and have been laid off.

PARKER: Absolutely. I think that's probably a very plausible scenario. I think there are all different things but, you know, the nice thing was that we found that they are trying to make the most of it - and as I mentioned earlier, extremely optimistic regardless of what their current living situation is.

INSKEEP: Kim Parker of the Pew Research Center, thanks for clearing this up for us.

PARKER: Thank you so much, Steve.


INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.