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Unaffordable house prices mean five million adult children still live at home

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

More families in England and Wales had adult children living with them in 2021 compared with a decade earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The number of families with adult children living with their parents rose 13.6% between the 2011 Census and the 2021 Census 2021. In 2021, around one in every 4.5 families (22.4%) had an adult child living at home, up from around one in five (21.2%) in 2011.

The total number of adult children living with their parents increased 14.7% in the same period from around 4.2 million in the 2011 Census to around 4.9 million in the 2021 Census. The ONS said “most people in their early 20s” were living with their parents by the time of the 2021 Census.

Unaffordable housing

The ONS found that adults were more likely to live with their parents in areas where housing was less affordable. Adult children were also more likely to be unemployed, or providing unpaid care.

Male adult children living at home outnumbered female adult children in 2021 at a ratio of about three to two (60.8% and 39.2%, respectively). This is a similar split to 2011 (61.6% and 38.4%).

The average age of adult children living with their parents in England and Wales in 2021 was 24, one year older than in 2011. Adult children were oldest in London, where the average age was 25, but in five London boroughs adult children’s average age had risen to 26.

More than one in 10 (11.6%) of those aged 30 to 34 years were living with their parents in 2021, up from 8.6% a decade earlier.

Boomerangs and barnacles

Sarah Coles, head of personal finance at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Almost five million adult children are boomerangs or barnacles – either returning home after studying or never moving out at all. Some are students, others are carers, and some can’t find work. However, a huge number are employed and keen to move out – they just can’t afford to. And while this can make life a difficult compromise all round, it can have a devastating impact on parental finances.

“Most people in their early 20s were still living with their parents in 2021 – at 51.2%. This was up from 44.5% a decade earlier. However, the number of adult offspring living at home at every age has grown, so more than one in four of those in their mid-to-late 20s still live at home (26.7%) and more than one in 10 of those in their early 30s.”

What’s keeping adult children home?

Adult children living at home is likely to include a lot of students. Many students moved home due to the pandemic, but others may not be able to afford the cost of living away from home. In some cases, adult children live at home to care for a parent.

However, in a huge number of cases, adult children are still living with their parents because can’t afford a place of their own. This is reflected in the fact that they’re more likely to live with their parents in areas where property isn’t affordable.

In the North East, where property is most affordable (at 4.9 times average earnings) the proportion of adult children living with their parents has risen more slowly than anywhere else in the UK – up just 0.5% in a decade.

Coles added: “If your children are still living at home, or you think they’re likely to, there are some approaches which can help keep a lid on costs, and give them some support with the leap to a place of their own.

“Once they’re adults, it needs to be clear from the outset that your expectations are different: they need to pull their weight. It’s worth having a serious conversation so they understand their new responsibilities.

“Once they have had a few months to find their feet, you can consider charging a nominal rent – perhaps to cover their share of the bills – to put you on a firmer financial footing. You can then gradually increase this towards the kind of money they’d pay for a room in a shared house. This will help make the transition away from home more manageable, because they’re used to having to budget.”