Globally, we’re facing a very alarming trend: it is increasingly difficult for young people to leave their parents’ homes and become independent. There are several reasons for this phenomenon, which can be aggravated by the pandemic we are experiencing right now.

A few decades ago, being in your 20s meant, for the vast majority of young people, getting a job, leaving your parents’ house and starting your own family. Today the reality is quite different, and it is increasingly difficult for young people today to emancipate themselves and be independent.

In the United States, a study showed that in 2015 more than half of young people aged between 18 and 24 years old still lived with their parents and that this age group also had the biggest drop in family formation since the Great Recession.

On the European continent, separate studies concluded that, in 2019, the average age for young Europeans to leave their parents’ homes was 27.1 years for men and 25.2 years for women.

This socio-behavioural change has very damaging consequences, not only for young people, who, failing to emancipate themselves, depend entirely on their parents to subsist, but also for their parents, who continue to have high financial burdens to support their children.

What is causing this phenomenon?

There are several factors that have contributed, over the past few years, to delaying the independence of youngsters today. Starting, of course, with the worrying growth of youth unemployment, especially in Europe (with an average youth unemployment rate of 16.8%) and the increase of practices such as unpaid internships, in which companies take advantage of highly qualified workforce of young people without work experience to perform services without having to pay them a wage.

 Regarding youth unemployment, Spain is the leader in Europe, with an unemployment rate of 40.8% in June 2020. On the other hand, the price of rents has also augmented significantly: since 2007 the price of rents globally in Europe rose 21% until 2019, according to Eurostat data. As such, it is harder and harder for young people to be able to afford to rent a house and live independently.

Finally, we are also witnessing another phenomenon that contributes to the delay in youth emancipation: with a job market progressively saturated and competitive, young people tend to study more years to enrich their curriculum with the vast majority of youngsters choosing to do masters and postgraduate courses after graduation, something that was not frequent before. This will delay young people’s entrance into the labor market and consequently will also delay getting a salary which would allow them to live independently sooner.

All of these factors contribute equally to explain the trend of the increasingly delayed formation of families by young people. In the case of Sweden, for example, the average age for a man to marry for the first time is when he’s 36.7 years old.

What will the future hold?

The COVID-19 pandemic aggravates an already alarming situation, contributing to further delay the financial independence of young people in the coming years and postpone their emancipation.

Young people were who suffered the most from the pandemic at an economic level: a study concluded that young people were the first to be fired by companies and to have their wages cut due to the pandemic. However, not all are bad news.

It was also in 2020, on October, that the European Parliament passed a law that prohibits the practice of unpaid internships, considered “forms of labor exploitation and violations of workers’ rights”, in an attempt to protect young people from staying in precarious situations. This can, in fact, be a crucial step in the fight for the independence of young people, especially at a time when the conditions for their emancipation seem to be increasingly difficult to meet.


Carolina Ramon da Fonseca

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