Parental Support in the Transition to Adulthood

Young adults today continue to be financially dependent on their parents for periods much longer than earlier generations. Many of these people delay complete independent living all the way up to their mid-30s; whereas, up till the middle of the last century, young adults used to achieve full independence in their mid-20s. A recent U.S. study tried to assess the impact that age, attainment of adult roles, family incomes, parent-child relationships, school attendance and other life events would have on children between the ages of 24 and 32 years and their need for financial support from their parents. The authors reported that extended schooling, job-related problems, and negative life events increased the likelihood of family support. It appears that the children continue to be dependent because they cannot earn enough. Young people who have a good income and are married or cohabiting, were less likely to receive family support than those living single.

The age at which young adults achieve complete independent living appears to have been delayed by almost 10 years. While in the 1950s people would become independent of their parents in their mid-20s, present generations achieve similar status in their mid-30s. This delayed transition has led to parental support during early adulthood for many more years than previous generations. Some social scientists have expressed concern over this trend because it leads to prolonged dependence on parents. Others appreciate this tendency as it helps young adults with the many challenges they face in their early adult life. The authors explored the impact of different factors, especially the financial position of these young adults, on the financial and housing support that families give to their children. Other factors that the researchers assessed included marriage, birth of children, employment, and adverse events in the lives of these people.

* The study was conducted on 710 people over a 17-year period. Participants were assessed from 9th grade until about 32 years of age.
* The researchers asked the participants to fill out paper questionnaires in earlier years, and through e-mails in the later years.
* Questions were related to age, relationship with parents, participants’ marital status, employment patterns and the socio-economic status of the families.
* The research also asked questions about financial support and housing given by parents.

* Young adults were less likely to receive family support  after marriage, or while in cohabitation.
* Similarly, parental support decreased as the young adults’ household income increased or they attained a higher education.
* Parents were more likely to support their adult children if they were still in school or if they faced adverse life events.
* Children closer to their mothers were more likely to stay with their parents and to receive financial support from them.

Shortcomings/next steps
The study was conducted on people who were students in only one school in Minnesota. They were included at a time when there was less racial and ethnic diversity than today. “This study probably underrepresents [sic] the wealthiest families, many of whom send their children to private schools.”  There is a need to replicate this study in other cities and states so that results for the whole country can be created. Knowledge of these factors can help in understanding the lives of young people and in planning for their better adjustment in life.

Family support available to young adults varies across families and depends on many factors. The present study has identified that many young men and women continue to be supported by their parents up into their 30s if they are still continuing their education or having problems in life, like unemployment. Educated parents were more likely to provide financial assistance to their children. Individuals became less dependent on parental support as their own incomes increased; and some “young adults felt it was inappropriate to seek or accept parental help once they had formed their own families.” This study underlines the role played by families across changing life situations for young adults.

For More Information:
Safety Nets and Scaffolds: Parental Support in the Transition to Adulthood
Publication Journal: Journal of Marriage and Family, April 2011
By Teresa Toguchi Swartz; Minzee Kim; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.



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