The "empty nest" that parents are supposed to find as their children grow up is not so empty any more. An increasing number of young adults in the US appear to be coming back or staying at home after high school, college, and even marriage. Although there are few statistics on the trend, everyone from sociologists to families to economists sense something in the air.
"With the high cost of homes, apartments, and automobiles, it's becoming difficult for young adults to sever family ties," says Fred Allvine, professor of economics at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. "I think this [ the "refilled nest] will be with us for some time. Families are finding that the 'unbundling' they did when children went away to school was just temporary."
Margaret Hellie Huyck of the psychology department at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago is not sure whether refilling the nest is more common today or not. But she has been hearing about it from parents and has begun to do research to find out.
Experts list several factors that keep young adults at home. Foremost are economic considerations.
Bob Macdonald, a recent college graduate who lives at home in Corona del Mar, Calif., says money is a definite reason to stay at home a while longer. He adds up the rent and food costs that he might have to pay if he lived with another young adult.
"That's $350 to $400 a month I am not paying, because I live at home," he says. "I need to raise a cash base, since I just got out of school."
Mr. Allvine points out that the middle management jobs available to college graduates in the '50s and '60 are not there for this generation.
"The independence of young adults developed between 1946 and 1970 was brought on by the rapid improvement of the standard of living and affluence," says the Georgia economist. "Now, unless the economy surges back, it's going to be increasingly difficult for younger people to break out into their own."
Lou Cottin, newspaper columnist and author of "Elders in Rebellion," says there is an increase in the number of young married couples who come to live with parents.
The average older couple lives in a house with six or seven rooms rattling around," he says. "When young people marry and find a mortgage is unbearable, they move in with one or the other of the parents."
But some young adults say they move back home because they just enjoy living there.
Mark, a Pittsburgh salesman, has lived at home since he graduated from college in 1974. Two sisters, ages 35 and 24, also share the home with their mother.
"I am very comfortable here," says Mark. He likes the fact that his home is such a "no pressure" place. Mark's parents were divorced several years ago, another reason he has stayed at home.
"I find my home a great energy source as far as ideas go," Mark says. "My mother and sisters are really good friends that I can talk to. Our home is like a little apartment building." The only reason he would move out is if he married or took a job somewhere else in the country.
A key in the success of a refilled home is whether parents and children can have a new relationship with each other. Will mother still be expected to pick up the towels? Does the returned child have to eat what the others eat, or fix his own meals?
How can a parent deal with his son or daughter's standards of dating and relationships? What about parents who have just adjusted to life without their children and begun to enjoy their new life, only to have the children flock back home?
Parents find they have to realize they are not dealing with small children any more.Young adults must see their parents and themselves as adults.
"I think it is unhealthy if families treat each other like before the child went to college," says Bob Macdonald, who is working at a manufacturing firm until he is ready to pursue his first interests - publishing and entertainment.
Observers advise that certain guidelines need to be set down before a young adult returns. Will he or she pay rent? Who is responsible for what chores?
For example, Mr. Macdonald doesn't pay rent, but he and his parents have an agreement for him to help with chores around the house. He stresses the importance of having a schedule for these duties:
"It's a lot better than being 'on call.' Assumed responsibility can kill anything. You have to lay the cards on the table."
He adds that it's important not to become homebound.
"Personally I think it would be unwise if I didn't have commitments outside the home," says Mr. Macdonald. And although he enjoys the company of his parents, he intends to stay at home for a couple more months, earn some money, and then move out.
"It is best to live on your own," he says.
To give both generations privacy while they live together, some families are converting garage space and attics into apartments for adult children, Mr. Allvine of Georgia Tech reports. Mr. Cottin recommends that an architect set up a dividing section to make a home into two separate living places.
Some parents complain that young adults sometimes "take over" when they move back home, says Mr. Cottin.
"The big problem for older people is to make sure we are not exploited," says Mr. Cottin. He points out, for example, that when grandchildren are born into these households, grandparents are recruited as babysitters.
One mother admonishes parents, "Mother-love makes it easy to overlook someone's faults. Analyze the situation to see if he or she is trying to bob from another responsibility. Make him realize that you will help out, but don't become a victim."