New Names for Today’s Households

As I wrote in a previous blog about older kids returning to live with their parents, it really wasn’t that long ago that it was OK, respectable even, for a young adult to live at home until marriage. Then it became almost unheard of in my generation. And now, everything old being new again, 85 percent of college grads return home before flying solo, according to Time magazine. Sociologist Katherine Newman, author of The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition (2012), says it’s a global issue.

First, the trend was called “boomerang kids.” Next, returning kids were called an “accordion family.” In a PBS interview, Newman said, “The reason I use the accordion term is to capture this sense of expansion and contraction, that the family is not a stable group. It’s sort of moving in and out. But primarily, I mean multigenerational households with working or nonworking young adults and their parents.”

I recently learned a term coined in Japan for kids returning home as young adults to live with parents: parasite singles. When I am out of my realm with new terminology, I turn to the Urban Dictionary website. (It’s less humiliating than asking my teenagers for help.) Urban Dictionary defines a parasite single as “Someone (with) no plans for marriage any time soon, not dating, still living with parents. Most ‘parasingles’ don’t quit this lifestyle until their late 30s, early 40s.”

Why the derogatory slant? Because in Japan, parents are ashamed, blamed for failing to raise independent children. Not so everywhere—in Spain, disenchanted parents hold the government accountable for the loss of livelihoods that could establish independence. But in Italy and some Nordic countries, they welcome their kids back, if they had ever left.

Newman interviewed 300 accordion families and speculates that households in which both parents worked when kids were younger may be at a stage where they can really enjoy their kids as young adults.

Should we be worried about the growing trend of young adults returning home, spending their parents’ 401(k) and not making enough to start saving for their own futures? Or should we accept the “new normal” of multigenerational living and just learn to share a bathroom?