Study Reveals Empty Nesters Grapple with Adult Children at Home

According to an online poll commissioned by the National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®) and conducted by Harris Interactive in May 2011, 40 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 to 39 who are not students currently live at home with their parents, or have in the recent past. Although this provides a welcome reprieve for adult children facing heightened financial pressures, it can be detrimental to their parents’ personal and financial lives. Additionally, the NEFE poll found that among U.S. adults who are providing, or have provided, financial assistance to their non-student adult children ages 18 to 39:

  • 26 percent have taken on debt
  • 13 percent have delayed plans for a major life event, such as getting married, taking a vacation or buying a home
  • 7 percent have delayed retirement

“What’s worrisome is that many parents are sacrificing their long-term financial health to help their adult kids,” says Patricia Seaman, senior director with NEFE. “We encourage parents to find ways to help their children become financially independent without threatening their own financial stability or putting strain on the family dynamic,” says Seaman.

Down Economy Makes It Tough to Say “No”

Parents have a natural instinct to take care of their children, and this tendency increasingly has been tapped during the lingering recession. The NEFE poll found that among parents who have provided financial assistance to their adult children, 37 percent say they have struggled themselves in the past and do not want their children to struggle in the same way. This is especially true in an economic climate in which 32 percent of parents feel the financial pressures faced by their children are more difficult than the pressures they faced when they left home.

Yvonne Schlueter of Centennial, Colo., agrees. “People who are getting laid off, with five or six years experience, are willing to take the entry-level jobs,” says Schlueter, whose son, Brett, has been living at home for the past two years while looking for a job in his field. “Even if you get a job, it doesn’t mean it’s there to stay. My husband and I used to worry about doing a good job, but we didn’t have to wonder whether our company would be downsized or merged with another.”

While the national unemployment rate lingered at 9.1 percent in August, it hovered at a much higher level for young people””25.4 percent for Americans ages 16 to 19; 14.8 percent for those ages 20 to 24; and 9.5 percent for those ages 25 to 34, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This has left many job-seeking children returning to homes in which parents already are juggling their own financial responsibilities, such as Schlueter and her recently disabled husband, who also support Brett’s two siblings in college.

“This is when parents need to walk the line between the obligations they feel toward their child and their own financial needs,” says Seaman. “Regardless of whether your adult child is unemployed, taking a semester off college or struggling through a significant life event, it’s important to think logically about the situation.”

Establish a Plan (and Stick to It)

  1. Understand where your child is coming from. Ask your child why he or she thinks living at home will help him or her toward specific financial goals. Discuss how long he or she plans to live with you, and whether he or she can contribute financially.
  1. Assess your current financial situation. If moving your adult child back home means cutting into retirement savings or delaying other financial goals, reconsider how you might help. Offer to watch grandchildren or pets while your child interviews for jobs or works extra shifts. Introduce your son or daughter to professional connections that could lead to job prospects.
  1. Establish ground rules for living under the same roof. Before your child moves in, decide on a move-out date and set guidelines for maintaining privacy and mutual respect. You might consider drawing up a contract, which will show your child you’re serious.
  1. Require your child to contribute, financially or otherwise. Consider charging a small amount of rent or at least having your child help around the house. The Schlueters don’t charge Brett for rent or food, but they expect him to fix things around the house, which has saved them money during the past couple years.
  1. Help your child toward financial independence. Discuss steps your child will take toward getting out on his or her own. Make them specific, and attach deadlines. For example, Brett applies for three to five career-related positions a week, but if he isn’t hired by January 2012, he plans to enroll in graduate school.
  1. Regularly discuss your child’s progress. Celebrate your child’s accomplishments but hold him or her to his or her end of the deal, whether that includes job-seeking goals, responsibilities around the house or a move-out date.
  1. Once your child has left the house, remember the big picture. Evaluate what you and your son or daughter has learned from the experience, and review your child’s plans for maintaining his or her financial independence.

For more tips, visit

Survey Methodology
This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive on behalf of NEFE from May 10-12, 2011, among 683 adults ages 18-39 who are not students, and 391 parents of children ages 18-39 who are not students. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology (including weighting variables) click here.

About the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE)
NEFE is an independent nonprofit organization committed to inspiring empowered financial decision making for individuals and families through every stage of life. For more information, visit

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