Today, it's common to see adult children who are very close to their parents: communicating regularly, asking for advice, and receiving financial and emotional support. But it wasn't always like this. (Pew Research Center)
How often would you guess that young adults talk to their parents? We don’t mean a quick text message, but a phone call. The answer: a lot.
According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, nearly half of 18- to 34-year-olds talk to a parent on the phone or through video chat several times a week (32%) or every day (14%). And yes, as you would probably expect, the share who regularly text a parent is even higher (61%). These figures are highest of all if you’re just considering young women, 55% of whom are in touch with a parent via phone or video chat at least several times a week and 70% of whom are regularly texting.
Pew separately asked the parents of young adults how often they communicate with each other, and the parents’ responses are even a bit higher. According to the parents, 54% of them talk to their kids on the phone or through video chat and 73% text at least several times a week.
One might shrug and attribute this frequency to technological availability. It’s easier than ever to stay in touch. But is it really that much easier than it used to be to have a phone conversation? One might also suspect that maybe Millennials are the unwilling recipients of a parent’s frequent “just checking in!” messages. However, when asked about their frequency of communication with their parents, young adults are far more likely to say that they’re communicating as often as they want (66%) than to say they would rather communicate less (27%). It’s not because they have to. It’s because they want to.
Just how present are parents today?
What are adult children talking to their parents about? Basically everything. Majorities of young adults seek advice from their parents at least sometimes about their financial situation (68%), their career or job situation (67%), parenting their own kids (66%), and their physical health (62%). When it comes to job advice and parenting, young people are more likely to be asking for advice “very often” as opposed to “sometimes.”
Meanwhile, fewer but still sizable shares ask for advice about their mental health (46%), their friendships (46%), their relationship with their spouse or partner (44%), and — among those who are dating — their romantic relationships (33%).
Regardless of gender, education, income, marital status, or region, Millennials are significantly more comfortable talking about sensitive subjects with their parents — namely, their emotional lives (friends, relationships, dreams) and their financial lives (careers, spending, savings) — than Boomers were. The growing comfort in talking about emotional issues is especially striking. Fully 41% of Millennials are “very comfortable” discussing emotional life events with their parents, compared to 27% of Boomers. Overall, only 21% of Millennials are “not very” or “not at all” comfortable doing so — a far cry from the 39% of Boomers who said the same.
The bank of Mom and Dad
The Pew report also offers new data on the extent to which young adults are financially independent. Overall, 45% of 18- to 34-year-olds say they are completely financially independent from their parents. As expected, this share rises sharply with age, but remains far below 100 among those in their early 30s. Among those 18-24, it’s 16%; 25-29, 44%; and 30-34, 67%.
Those who are receiving financial help most commonly say that it’s for everyday expenses like groceries, utilities, phone plans, household supplies, etc. The youngest adults are more likely to be getting help with bigger expenses like rent and tuition.
When parents were asked at what age they believe that children should be financially independent, the average age was 24. At the same time, just 31% of parents agree with the statement that there is a time limit for how long they’re willing to help their children financially
I’s worth noting that parents’ attitudes toward financial support of their children tend to vary according to socioeconomic status and location. (See “Is the Stigma Against Living at Home Finally Fading?”) Lower-income families, as well as those living in the Midwest, tend to believe that financial independence should start at younger ages than more affluent respondents.
Why? For one thing, it’s more difficult for them to support an adult child. In the Pew survey, lower-income parents were more than two times as likely as upper-income parents to say that helping their children financially has hurt their own finances. Yet it is the very families who are the least comfortable supporting their children the longest who are doing it the most. As of 2017, according to the Urban Institute, 25- to 34-year-olds with high school diplomas are roughly twice as likely as those with college degrees to be living with their parents.
Coming of age in a different world
In part, parents’ increased involvement with their adult children can be explained by economic and societal shifts. Compared to the Gen Xers who preceded them, Millennials are getting married, having kids, and forming their own households much later in life. They are much more likely to attend college and also more likely to still have student debt in their early 30s. The extended transition to full-fledged adulthood means that young adults are relying on their parents for a longer period of time. And technological advances, to be sure, have allowed for more frequent contact.
But again, none of these things really explain the positive shift in relationship quality. This is a fundamental Millennial peer personality trait and a reflection of how they were raised by parents who were more involved, more sheltering, and more inclined to treat them as “special” and in need of protection.
The growth in closeness, in turn, has lessened the strong stigma that used to surround arrangements like living at home. Even during their own worst economic times — the early ‘80s recessions, for example — few Boomers and Gen Xers boomeranged back home. Not only was this considered an embarrassing sign of failure, it felt like submission to parents whose authority they wanted to escape.
The personal vs. the political
In considering Millennials’ relationships with their parents, we can see an interesting inversion of the personal and the political. In the personal realm, Millennials are emotionally attached to their parents and view them as a source of wisdom and guidance. But in the political realm, Millennials feel deeply disaffected and view the system that their parents built as totally ineffectual (“OK, Boomer”). At home, they respect their parents — but in politics, those same parents can’t seem to organize or build anything.
Their parents had the opposite experience growing up. Unlike Millennials, Boomers believed that their own parents (the G.I. Generation) were very effective at running the system but were not very accessible as parents. As young people, Boomers sought meaning and purpose, and the things the G.I.s excelled at — building bridges and buildings, setting rules, enforcing homogeneity — lacked the empathy and moral depth that Boomers sought. At home, Boomers couldn’t wait to get away from their parents — but in politics, it was undeniable that the G.I.s kept the nation running on all eight cylinders.
As generations age, they tend to try and compensate for the perceived weaknesses of the generation that raised them, both as parents and as public leaders. This suggests that as more Millennials enter politics, they will bring to America exactly what the G.I.s brought to America: the drive to organize, build, fix and clean up the world.
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ABOUT NEIL HOWE
Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations — who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.
A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.
Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations, is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets." The follow-up book, The Fourth Turning Is Here, is available now.
Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.
Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.
Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.