College grads linger at home

Since the fall, Mr. Henry, as his students call him, has spent his days sharing his worldly wisdom about broadcasting at Delsea Regional High School in Franklinville, N.J.

But when the bell rings at day’s end, Andrew Henry, 24, heads home, like his teen-age charges, to his room with the twin bed in his parents’ house. For now, Henry is choosing, without apologies, to live with his mother and father.

Same goes for Erika Williams, 23, a dental assistant living at home in Wilmington, Del. And when Gabriel Warren, 22, graduated from Dickinson College in May, he moved into his old high school room with the battered stop sign and posters.

For many graduates, home has rarely looked so sweet.

“Most of my friends live at home,” Henry says. “It comes down to `Why not?’ Why should you have that expense? Why should I suffer and struggle?”

Generation Y-ers, whose oldest members are in their 20s, are returning to the nest in large numbers, often happily and to open arms, not to mention wallets.

According to a 2000 Census report, 13.1 million young adults ages 18 to 24, about half the total in that age group, live with a parent. And a Euro RSCG Worldwidemarketing study of 675 Gen Yers, done last year, showed that more than 50 percent of them were living at home.

Signs point to even more boomerangers, as they are known, on the way.

In a spring online survey by, part of a job-search Web site, nearly 60 percent of 1,898 college students reported that they planned to live at home after graduation — 22 percent for more than a year.

This time around is different. Gen Yers see little stigma over what was once, let’s face it, a totally loser move.

The job market is flat, the cost of living high, and student debt deep. Gen Yers also cite the Sept. 11 tragedy, which has made a year of travel less appealing.

These mostly middle-class children may return home for only a few months, but sometimes they linger (and linger). They’re attracted by rent-free rooms, comfortable surroundings and Mom’s cooking. On top of all that, they actually like their parents.

Boomerangers, used to a certain lifestyle, are often saving for down payments on condos or fancy cars, smartly skipping that struggling phase of closet-size studios, bad roommates and Cup-A-Soup meals.

“For me, it’s no big deal,” says Warren, who majored in East Asian studies and is looking for a job. “I have a good relationship with my dad and stepmother… . My short-term plan is to make some money and get a foundation.”

Like a lot of things, the path to adulthood has gotten more complicated, University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank Furstenberg says. “It takes a bit longer in 2002 than in 1952 to come of age,” he says. “The bar is higher.”

In the `50s, a generation of young adults moved “almost as if in lockstep” to independence, graduating from school, getting a job, marrying, Furstenberg says.

Since the `60s, he says, educational expectations have increased, jobs have become harder to come by, and marriage has occurred later. “It’s a more complex pattern of moving into adulthood,” he says.

One complication is debt -an average of more than $19,000 in student loans at graduation, according to the General Accounting Office. And undergraduates have an average of $2,748 in credit-card debt, Nellie Mae, a leading provider of student loans, said in 2000.

The move back, though, can come with plenty of baggage-and not just Junior’s stereo system. Parents and children-turned-adults have been known to squabble over curfews or who should do the dishes.

“You have to carve your way through,” says Tytel, who advises companies on work-life matters. “It’s really about house rules. What chores do you do? Do you have guests over? I don’t think it’s reverting to childhood. It’s about respect and courtesy.”

Some boomerangers help out with monthly expenses by making nominal contributions. Others do chores. Many, though, face few expectations from parents who feel that work, or the search for work, is enough of a load.

Henry, the Franklinville teacher, also made the round-trip for financial reasons. He was laid off last year from “Late Show With David Letterman,” where he was an audience coordinator, and faced credit-card debt.

Henry hangs out in the basement, with his video games and computer. He has no curfew. “He’s very sensible,” his mother says.

A couple of months ago, Henry paid off the last of his debt. Is he planning to move out?

“I haven’t looked,” he says, spreading out on the family couch. “There are too many conveniences. It’s very comfortable.”