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The Contrasting Mental Health Impacts When Adults Move Back Home

According to a new study, adults who moved back in with their parents experience a mental health boost.

The ‘boomerang generation’

Researchers at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) were surprised by their findings after examining the mental wellbeing of adult children returning to the family home. The study of 9,714 British adults aged between 21 and 35 found that around 15 % moved back in with their parents at least once during their lifetime.

These adults had higher mental health scores despite losing independence. Researchers suggest that the so-called “boomerang generation” may find parental support beneficial as it shields them from the stress of the private rental sector.

Professor Emily Grundy of the University Of Essex, who co-authored the study, told The Observer newspaper,

“We expected that probably their mental health would get worse if they had to give up their independence and that they might feel that they were falling behind their peer group and going back might seem retrograde. So we were quite surprised to find that, on the contrary their mental health seemed to improve. The whole process of things that we think are important of transition to adulthood have rather shifted.”


An increasing trend

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 4.9 million non-dependant children were living with their parents when the Census was taken in 2021, an increase of 14.7 % from 10 years ago.

The proportion of young adults living at home has slowly risen over the past few decades. In 1997, 20 % of those aged between 20 and 34 lived with their parents. According to the ONS, this increased to 23 % in 2010, 26 % in 2016, and 28 % in 2021.

The ONS says that local authorities with the most significant increases in young adults living at home have house prices above the England and Wales average. In contrast, the opposite is true for those areas where the proportion has declined.

A contrasting viewpoint

These latest results provide an opposing viewpoint from a study published by the same source back in 2018, which found that adult children who return to live with their parents cause a significant decline in their parents’ quality of life and wellbeing.

At that time, the cost of housing and job insecurity meant that about a quarter of young adults in the UK was living with their parents – the highest number since records began in 1996. The trend is echoed all over Europe.

The researchers analyzed longitudinal data from people aged over 50 and their partners in 17 European countries from 2007-2015. They found that parents’ quality of life decreased when an adult child moved back to an ’empty nest,’ regardless of the reason for their return. However, there was no effect when other children still lived at home.

Although other studies have analyzed the effects of adults who live with their parents, this study was the first to examine the impact on parents’ wellbeing of those who have left home, such as living elsewhere to attend university and then returning.

Dr. Marco Tosi, who co-authored the 2018 paper, stated,

“Over the past half century, intergenerational co-residence has declined dramatically in Western countries. However, this pattern has recently altered, and in some countries multigenerational co-residence has increased; a shift interpreted as a family response to high unemployment rates, poor job prospects and financial hardship among young adults.”


Researchers looked only at adults aged up to 75 to reduce the chance that home return was driven by parents’ support needs. Quality of Life measures feelings of control, autonomy, pleasure, and self-realization in everyday life.

The scale is based on 12 indicators and ranges from 12 to 48, with higher scores indicating a better quality of life. When a child returns home to a previously empty nest, researchers found that the score went down by an average of 0.8 points – a substantial effect on the quality of life similar to developing an age-related disability, such as difficulties with walking or getting dressed.

Reasons for the return can be influential

The paper explored the effects of different reasons for returning home, such as unemployment and partnership breakdown, which are distressing to parents. But controlling for this, the return of a child still causes a significant decline in parents’ wellbeing.

The paper concluded that returning home correlated with a decline in parents’ quality of life when no other children were in the parental home. Parents enjoy their independence when their children leave home, and refilling an empty nest may be regarded as a violation of this life course stage.

D.r Tosi added,

“When children leave the parental home, marital relationships improve and parents find a new equilibrium. They enjoy this stage in life, finding new hobbies and activities. When adult children move back, it is a violation of that equilibrium.”


In summary

It is interesting to note how the two studies’ findings contrast. While those moving back home find a degree of calm, solace, and wellbeing from returning, the receiving parents or homeowners experience almost polar opposite feelings or emotions.

In an age where the boomerang generation gathers pace as economic and other social issues bite, it seems that a more open dialogue may be the way for all parties to benefit positively from the experience. The situation may be forced on the parties in certain circumstances, but the whole experience can be positive for all without creating stress, tension, or anxiety.


My Mind News would love to hear your views on this subject. Tell us more in the comments if you have any personal experience of the situations mentioned in this article.

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