The Long Road To Adulthood Is Getting Longer
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
These days, more and more young people continue to rely on their parents to help out with housing, cell phone bills, car payments - even after they turn 21, after they graduate from college. And we've all heard about the kids who move back in with mom and dad.
The economy accelerates this trend, researchers say, but it started well before the recent troubles and is not likely to change, even when things pick up. The road to adulthood, they say, is longer than it used to be.
The new health-care law that allows parents to cover their kids until they're 26, along with new credit card rules requiring parent co-signers until the age of 21, are beginning to institutionalize the trend, all at a time when many parents are financially strapped themselves.
In a few minutes, personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary joins us to talk about when to help out your adult kids, and when to draw the line. And we want to hear from you, from young people and from parents. What's happening in your family? Tell us your story. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website, at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, Ben Bailey, from "Cash Cab." But we begin with Frank Furstenberg, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, chair of the MacArthur Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, and he's with us from his home in Massachusetts. Nice to have you today on TALK OF THE NATION.
Professor FRANK FURSTENBERG (Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania): It's a pleasure to be here, Neal.
CONAN: So if this is not a byproduct of the recession, when did the transition to adulthood start to stretch out?
Mr. FURSTENBERG: Well, it was very short up through the period after World War II. And beginning in the late '60s, early '70s, it began to reverse course and become longer. And in the '80s, it picked up the pace. And now we have, on average, about a period of five years more in the transitions that make up what we commonly refer to as adulthood.
CONAN: And the milestones that measure adulthood - well, they're not as ubiquitous as they once were.
Mr. FURSTENBERG: Well, they're less orderly than they once were. Marriage used to be the mainspring of the transition to adulthood. It accompanied leaving home and for men, was followed shortly after entering the workforce. But no longer. Now, marriage lags the work transitions and the school transitions and leaving home by - often by a matter of some years.
CONAN: And parenthood can lag even that.
Mr. FURSTENBERG: Yes, it can. Parenthood increasingly is occurring in the late 20s and early 30s, whereas in the baby boom era, it often typically started in the late teens and early 20s.
CONAN: To some degree, you have to say technology played a role in that, in the availability of birth control.
Mr. FURSTENBERG: Indeed it did. It played a part, and - even more larger role, I think it would be fair to say, is the changing economic conditions that young people face.
You could go out and get a job - as many of your listeners probably did -in the postwar period without a high school education. And certainly, you were well-situated with a high school graduation. That's no longer the case.
CONAN: Because more and more, you're going to need a college education. And of course, along with a college education, for most people, comes a lot more student loan debt.
Mr. FURSTENBERG: That's exactly right. And most people do not have the wherewithal to most families can't send their children to a four-year residential college. It's up to the kids and the families to take loans, or to work and go to school at the same time, which is a very common pattern in contemporary America.
CONAN: It's interesting. One of the conclusions is that children have to rely more on financial support from their parents. Adults between 18 and 34 received an average of $38,000 in cash and two years' worth of full-time labor from their parents, or about 10 percent of their income, according to studies by the MacArthur Network.
Mr. FURSTENBERG: That's correct. And that has been true certainly since the late '80s, and it may we're currently conducting research to see if the burden on families has grown. But it we don't know yet, but it, it's certainly a high proportion of disposable dollars on the part of parents that go to their young-adult children.
CONAN: We're talking with Frank Furstenberg, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, the chair of the MacArthur Foundation's Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood. We want to hear what's happening in your families, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And Vicki's(ph) on the line, calling from Tucson.
VICKI (Caller): Yes, I have a daughter about to leave for college, and I live in fear of the idea that she might come home and live with us again. I believe my job is one of trying to teach her to be independent, and I'm not sure how to balance those issues of the financial constraints of these days, and how to do that.
I have a lot of friends who are still helping to support adult children, even those with jobs, and I sort of selfishly don't want to be in a position to do that, even though we could.
CONAN: Yeah, the experience of your friends suggests that this is a possibility.
VICKI: Right. And I also think that I heard in the clip leading into this, the idea that children coming home and living at home, that there's no that they become more friends rather than parents and children.
And I have my own friends. I don't want I want to be her mother. I don't want to be her friend.
CONAN: I understand, Vicki. Well, and she's just going off to college this fall?
CONAN: Well, I wish her the best of luck, and four years from now, get back to us.
VICKI: I will. I will, thank you.
CONAN: And good luck with that, Vicki. And it's not necessarily, Frank Furstenberg, that kids are coming home, though that obviously does happen, but parents helping out with credit card bills, with car payments and with housing.
Mr. FURSTENBERG: Yes, that's true, though room and board is the most common help that many middle-income and low-income parents can offer. I think it's typically the higher-income parents that will help from a distance.
And this is really - with all sympathy to your caller, Vicki - I think a dilemma for parents of just how to cut the how to shape the boundaries in this new world. And parents will do it differently and have different feelings about it.
I don't think there is consensus on this. From our research, we seem to find a lot of diverse opinions and strategies that parents are using. Mostly, parents are willing to help out when young adults are in school, working and trying to see their next steps. And that's the general pattern that we observe.
CONAN: But given your research and the degree to which parents can help out given their affluence, aren't you beginning to see an even wider gap between the relatively well-off and the relatively not so well-off?
Mr. FURSTENBERG: That's precisely right, Neal. The early years of adulthood or the late years of adolescence, whatever we want to call it, is creating yet another locale in which there's great inequality among families and among young people themselves.
Young people who are headed for more education do need help. They can only take out a certain number - a certain amount of loans and debt, and we ask a great deal of them, as we do of their families.
In many nations, the government offers full support for tuition, much as we do for public school - high school education.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Raisa(ph), Raisa with us from Gainesville, Florida.
RAISA (Caller): Hi, thanks for having me.
CONAN: Hi, sure, go ahead.
RAISA: I was just telling the person who answered the phone that there are a group of about 10 of us who started school at UF. And the 10 of us, who just graduated in May, only one of us found a job. And the rest of us either went back home to live with their parents, or they're like me and decided that grad school was their only other option. So we just keep getting ourselves into more debt.
CONAN: Are you parents helping out as well?
RAISA: Yeah, my mom is actually really good at helping out, and she knows the struggles. My grandma also says, you know, right now, it's hard for young people, it's hard for old people, it's just hard for everybody. So...
CONAN: I suspect, though, it's your grandma and your mom, they're both having troubles of their own.
RAISA: Yeah, the economy has hit us pretty hard. We're about middle-class. So the way that our financial aid system works, unfortunately, doesn't really help us out because you make too much money to get aid, and you don't make enough to actually pay for college. So most of it's just student loans.
CONAN: And where are you going to grad school to study?
RAISA: I'm actually staying at Gainesville, at UF, so...
CONAN: And to study what in particular?
RAISA: I'm studying international business. So hopefully, that'll help me out in the future.
CONAN: It sounds like there may be some going on even when you finish studying that. So good luck with that.
RAISA: Okay, thanks.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Raisa. Here's an email we got from Samantha(ph) in Winona, Minnesota: I'm a recent college grad living on my own but have several student loans in my parents' names. I am the opposite of most people my age in that I find my reliance on my parents a burden.
I went into college with the understanding of paying my parents back for the loans, and now in this economy, their financial future is directly tied to mine. They sometimes think they deserve a louder voice in my future than they think I should have, since I rely on them financially.
And - well, Frank Furstenberg, this is part of the phenomenon, that even though kids have turned the what used to be the age of adulthood, to 21, they're still tied to their parents financially.
Mr. FURSTENBERG: Yes, and it's a real dilemma both for parents and children or young adults, for precisely the reasons that your emailer pointed out. Parents are frequently in need of the money that they're extending to their children, particularly if they're not professionals or better off than that. And young people do feel beholden to their parents. There's no question about that.
It's certainly a far cry from the early autonomy that was the ideal at the end of the Second World War and the middle of the last century.
CONAN: Frank Furstenberg, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Mr. FURSTENBERG: A pleasure.
CONAN: Frank Furstenberg, chair of MacArthur Foundation Network on Transitions to Adulthood, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, with us today from his home in upstate New York.
When we come back, we're going to be talking with financial columnist Michelle Singletary, who has some advice about when to give help and when to draw the line. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan, TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
We're talking about the ongoing shift in how we define adulthood. The lousy economy and job market only accelerated a cultural and institutional change that began many years ago.
We want to hear from you, young people and parents. What's happening in your family? Tell us your story; 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
All these decisions are fraught with financial consequences for parents and for their grown children, and joining us now is Michelle Singletary. She writes the nationally syndicated finance column "The Color of Money," and she wrote the book "The Power To Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom." And she joins us today by phone from her home in Maryland. Nice to have you back on the program.
Ms. MICHELLE SINGLETARY (Author, "The Power To Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom"): Oh, it's wonderful to be here.
CONAN: And Michelle, I wonder, are you hearing from more top - parents about this topic?
SINGLETARY: I get mail from people all the time, much like the email that you just received, from parents and from students, college graduates, just frustrated that they can't find work and frustrated that they may have to go back home, or wondering should they go back home, and parents wondering, what should I do if my kid wants to come back home?
So it's across the board and at all income levels - not just middle income - upper income, lower income. You know, just everyone is struggling with this.
CONAN: And one of the big issues, of course, is health insurance. Parents want their kids to be covered. The new health-care law that -well, some places it's taking effect now; and some places, it will take effect later this year - but parents can cover their kids until they're
SINGLETARY: That's right. And you know, interestingly enough, I have not heard any parent say that's a bad thing. I mean, many parents understand how much it can cost if you are uncovered, in terms of medical expenses. And so they're willing to keep them on their policies until they get established.
And they love this part of the law because they would rather pay those premiums than have to pay some outrageous hospital bill in case their kid gets sick.
CONAN: Or gets in an accident or God forbid, something like that.
SINGLETARY: That's right.
CONAN: But there are also financial implications. If your parents are underwriting your credit card, if they're paying your cell phone bill, you're not building up a credit history.
SINGLETARY: Well, you know, I don't want to worry about that. I tell parents first of all, I do not advise parents to co-sign on a credit card for their child, or to put them on as authorized users. I know that that's the conventional wisdom out there, but you do not want to link your credit with your child - or anybody, for that matter, unless you are married to them.
It's not that hard to build credit. Now, it's harder to get credit with this whole issue with the recession. But honestly, it's not really that hard. You can start out with a secure credit card, build up a little credit history, and then jump to a regular credit card.
And so a part of the new credit card law would require parents to cosign for their kids if their kids can't show they have enough income to carry the credit card. That's a great part of the law because just think about it. If they don't have enough income to qualify on their own, they don't need a credit card.
CONAN: Okay, the cell phone, though, is another issue. A lot of them have the friends and family plan.
SINGLETARY: You know, I don't have a problem with that if they're still on their plan, as long as their kid's paying their share. You know, if you are you know, yeah, the summer job or part-time job, and you want a cell phone - because it's not a necessity. I know you're going to get lots of emails; people think I'm crazy.
A cell phone is not a necessity. So if your kid wants it, or you want your kid to have it, then they should pay for that. I don't think that's something that parents should bear the burden. There's enough debt out there for them to help their kid with, that they shouldn't be paying for a cell phone bill.
CONAN: There is bank accounts is another issue. Should parents subsidize their kid's bank account?
SINGLETARY: Well, you know, I think in college, it's a difficult time for them to be trying to work and study and put in enough hours, and there are studies that show that the more hours they put into - college, you know, their grades suffer.
And so my husband and I have decided that we will be giving our children a stipend when they're in college so that they don't have to put in so many work hours, so they can concentrate on their studies. If you can afford it, I don't have a problem with that.
You know, the time to cut those strings or, you know, when they become adults, when they're moving out, they're working full time, then there's plenty of time for you to cut those strings.
CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. We'll start with Matt(ph), Matt with us from Granger in Indiana. Matt, are you there? Hey, Matt? I guess Matt has left us. In that case, we'll go to Hope(ph), and Hope's with us from Sacramento.
HOPE (Caller): Oh, he's going to take the call.
CONAN: Yes, I'm going to take your call, Hope.
HOPE: I was telling my mom.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HOPE: I just wanted to say that I am actually 39, and after a bad relationship, I ended back up at home. I've been here three years and come this October - rather, it would be four. I'm going to actually I have to tell you that it was very hard to decide to move back home.
So it's not that - I don't think that the youth of us the ones that are younger, that are ending up back at home are just doing it because it's easy. We have nowhere else to go. I had nowhere else to go.
And fortunately, I have parents. You know, I have a father and a mother that have been, you know, married for 40 years, and I still have that childhood bedroom. But I guess what my concern is, is that don't make it just sounds to me in the conversation that we are using or taking advantage of the fact that we do have a failsafe, that our parents are available, because it's not that at all.
I don't have a personal life. I mean, I can't invite company over. You know what I mean? I can't I can go out, yes, I can go out. I can, you know, have a relationship, but I still live at my parents' house. So you still have to respect those boundaries.
And I don't think that everybody has come home and then look at their parents as friends, you know what I mean?
CONAN: No, I understand that.
CONAN: But at 39, I expect they don't wait up for you on Saturday night.
HOPE: Exactly. There you go.
SINGLETARY: Hope, let me ask you, do you have a plan to move? Do they want you to move? Do you want to move?
HOPE: Actually, I am going to take a leap of faith. I just worked for nine years for AT&T. I worked for nine years. We were laid off December the 30th. I am going to take a leap of faith and move to Georgia on August the 15th, okay?
SINGLETARY: Now, when you say leap of faith, do you have a job waiting for you?
HOPE: No, no. I'm going to I saved my severance money. You know, I've made provisions. I've figured out my budget, everything.
SINGLETARY: And how long can you stay in Georgia with the money you saved up before you find a job?
HOPE: 'Til April, April 2011.
HOPE: Before I really have to stress off - of what am I going to do now?
SINGLETARY: So you're actually not you're not really taking a leap of faith. You sound like you have a plan.
HOPE: I do have a plan.
SINGLETARY: Okay, so let's just rechange(ph) those words. And I think that's a good plan. As long as you've got enough money to you know, I hate to hear people say, I'm going to run and go to another state, and they don't have a job lined up. They don't have savings, and then they end up coming back home. So that's not your situation.
HOPE: No. You're right.
SINGLETARY: And I think that's an important thing, that you're there you came back, and I don't have a problem with that, and I don't think you know, I was listening in. I don't think anyone's saying that it's a bad thing that you go back home to live with your parents.
It used to be the tradition that you stayed until you got married or got into the workforce.
HOPE: Right. There's no men. There's no men.
SINGLETARY: I think when it becomes a problem, however, Hope, is that - when you come home and you use your parents' house like it's a hotel.
SINGLETARY: And there's no plan to save or to get yourself back right so that, you know, you can have your own space.
I mean because, you know, I'm a parent of three kids, and I love them, and they're welcome to come back if they get in trouble. But at some point, I do want them out of my house. I want to run around naked again.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HOPE: No, and that is the truth. And I respect their space, you know what I'm saying? I respect their space. I give them the respect that this is not a hotel, you know, and I just wanted you know, for people in my situation, in my age group, born in the '70s, who have found their - selves back at home with their parents, I mean, God willing that they still even have their parents because a lot of people don't...
SINGLETARY: Right. Well, it sounds like you did the right thing, and it sounds like you've got a good plan. And if there's some people out there in that age group who are having trouble - a lot of times because of divorce or because of a job loss or medical problems - they end up back home, as long as there is a plan, and your parents and - both are in on it.
I think I heard the professor talk about no, one of the callers mentioned, or the emailer, I can't remember exactly, that their parents want a say-so in their future or their life.
I do think that they do have a say-so on your finances. If you're coming back home, they ought to see that you're saving. They ought to see that you're trying to make a way to get out of debt, if that's why you came back home. Because once you come back into my house, I want to see everything. I want to see a budget. I want to see a plan. And I think they have a right to see that.
CONAN: Hope, we wish you the best of luck in Georgia.
HOPE: ...dollar shoes, I did once I moved back home, you know, because that's out of respect, you know.
CONAN: All right, Hope. Thanks very much.
HOPE: Nice talking to you guys.
CONAN: Here's an email from Matt(ph) in San Francisco: I'm 28 years old. My parents paid for my tuition, room and board in college, which was a huge help. I have transitioned into a successful accounting career. After six years of college, I can't imagine having $20,000 to $30,000 worth of debt that some of my peers have - or upwards of $100,000 for those earning an advanced degree. However, how are we ever going to save up for our homes?
SINGLETARY: It's going to be hard. You know, I get emails daily from folks who have gone to college and racked up debt, and I'm not talking people who are going to be lawyers or doctors who, you know, several years out are going to be earning six-figure salaries. I'm talking about people who are still going to be earning $40,000, $50,000, $60,000. But they racked up so much student loan debt.
And it's a problem because we feel like it's good debt, and there is no such thing as good debt. There is just debt.
And I think if - that if more parents and students realizedthat and really think about: Is all this debt going to really be worth it five, 10 years out? Because that's how - people carrying this debt 10, 20, 30 years, it's going to make it very difficult to buy a house, to afford health insurance, and do some of the other basic things that you need in life to be a full adult.
CONAN: Now, let's go to Kristen(ph), Kristen with us from Green River in Wyoming.
KRISTEN (Caller): Hi. Wow, I can't believe I'm actually on here.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KRISTEN: So I'm 29 years old. I, yeah, live in Green River, Wyoming, and currently reside with my very-reluctant-to-have-me parents.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KRISTEN: Yes. And one thing that other people haven't brought up is like, I'm kind of finding myself caught in a Catch-22. I want to be anywhere but living here. I would love to be somewhere else. And I did what I supposed to do. I got out of high school. I went to college. And now not only have one bachelor's degree, but two, but cannot find a job. And I've been doing everything that I'm supposed to do. And now that I have that wonderful education, I also can't find any job locally, even working retail now, because apparently...
CONAN: You're overqualified, yeah.
KRISTEN: Yes, I'm overqualified. They assume I'm basically a job flight risk, that I'll leave as soon as I find something that I am better qualified to do. And so I have not been able to find any means of saving or leaving, much to everybody's dismay, especially my...
KRISTEN: So I'm wondering what your advice might be.
SINGLETARY: You have a lot of student loan debt?
KRISTEN: I do.
SINGLETARY: About how...
KRISTEN: I have 30,000 in debt. My parents did what they could to help me, but lower middle class and, you know, tuition is expensive and that's a...
SINGLETARY: How much do you have...
KRISTEN: And now this...
SINGLETARY: How much studen loan debt do you have?
CONAN: She said $30,000.
SINGLETARY: Oh, 30,000, I didn't hear. Okay. And so, are you on - so you're not making anything now?
KRISTEN: I am not making anything. In fact, I had a small retirement from a previous full-time job I had, and ended up having to cash that in just to have money to live off of.
CONAN: Green River is a beautiful place. But there might be - you'll excuse the expression - greener pastures elsewhere.
KRISTEN: Yes. And though my parents, I'm sure, would like to see me employed, they're also worried that if I go somewhere else where there are more jobs, that I'm taking a leap that will be risky and that somehow, I'll just end up back here, too.
KRISTEN: I'm looking at Denver and Salt Lake and nearby areas that certainly, have more options available. But at the same point, I think they're worried that I'm going to get out there and find myself in -because I'm so desperate for any job right now - in a job that I'll be unhappy with.
KRISTEN: And then they'll be faced with having me yet again.
SINGLETARY: Right. Well, I think you obviously need a plan, and you do probably need some move if you can't find something where you are. And if - but before you move, go to those locations, you know, do some job interviewing there, look into some roommate-sharing possibilities, some places where you could maybe do some house sharing with someone who's in financial trouble themselves, and is looking for a roommate for a period of time. I mean, there's some things that you can do to put yourself further, closer to moving out of your parents' house. And listen, it's not just a leap of faith. If you've listened to the caller before, Hope said she took a leap of faith. But she was actually planning in saving up a little as fast as she can. And I think that's probably the same thing that you need to do.
KRISTEN: I guess my biggest thing right now is just trying to find that job, any job to save money...
KRISTEN: ...with the complication of being overqualified for everything that's available around here.
CONAN: Kristen, we wish you the best of luck.
KRISTEN: Thank you so much.
CONAN: We're talking about what happens in families as adolescence extends and adulthood, the road, grows longer. You're listening TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And our guest, of course, Michelle Singletary, Washington Post business writer, nationally syndicated personal finance columnist, and the author of "The Color of Money" and "The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom."
Here's an email from Mary Ann(ph) in Boise. My husband and I recently purchased a home without a spare bedroom to prevent his adult children -in their 20s, unmarried, uneducated, with babies - from asking to move in with us. Even though they chose not to complete their college education and to have children, they expect both financial and day-care support from us. We have tried as graciously as possible to explain that these were their decisions, and they have to live with the consequences. I'm surprised to see they have many young friends, both married and single, choosing to have babies before they are financially or emotionally ready. Is this a national trend?
SINGLETARY: Well, we certainly have a lot of unwed birth going on in this country. I think if you look at the census numbers, the number is way too high. And the number of young folks living together is extremely high and obviously, a lot of these situations end up with people becoming pregnant. And so, I think that's a right - that's a - you know, a right concern. I don't know if I would go as far as to buy a certain house so that people wouldn't come, you know, live because people make mistakes. And I think, you know, listen, I would hate for anyone out there to say, listen, you know, you made a mistake, that's it. You're on the street. I don't care.
I think as family members, that we are responsible for each other, and to whom much is given, much is required. And I've helped out many family members who prove - who made huge life mistakes. But you know, you try to help them. You try to get them back on the road. Now, certainly you don't want to be in a position where someone is taking advantage of you. But I do think we need to have some leeway for people to make mistakes. And people are going to make life mistakes.
CONAN: And let's see if we can squeeze in one more call. This is Will(ph), Will with us from Cookeville in Tennessee.
WILL (Caller): Hello. Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And just have a few seconds left, Will, but go ahead.
WILL: Well, I just want to say right now I'm in the middle of my graduate degree and I have a full-time job. My parents helped me out through my undergraduate - for my degree there, you know, for help paying my housing. But I paid for my tuition, for a full scholarship. And right now, I only have about less than a year left of this, and it's really looking great to be able to - soon be able to pay them back for all the times they have helped me, that it's just that light at the end of the tunnel. It's so close. I'm almost there.
CONAN: So you feel just about ready.
WILL: I'm almost ready, you know? It's - I'm sure I'll have a job lined up as soon as I graduate. It's a big field that I work in so I - you know, hopefully, it'll be - coming within the next year, I'll be able to say, I'm, you know, free, you know, thank you for all you've done and, you know, I'm on my own now.
CONAN: Yup. See you at Thanksgiving.
SINGLETARY: Well, take them out for a great, great dinner when that happens.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Will, it's nice to end with a story where - with such optimism. Thanks very much. Good luck to you and your parents.
WILL: All right. Thank you.
And Michelle Singletary, thanks, as always, for your time.
SINGLETARY: You're so welcome.
CONAN: Michelle Singletary joined us by phone from her home. And again, she's the author of "The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom."
Coming up, New York's most famous taxi driver. We'll talk with Ben Bailey, the host of "Cash Cab" on the Discovery Channel. Stay with us.
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.