Just how much of a bummer is it to be well past the age of adulthood and still living under your parent’s roof? As this living arrangement grows increasingly common, the perception is that it’s not so bad after all. In fact, living with mom and dad can be pretty sweet. According to a new survey, young adults who live with their parents are nearly as likely to say they are satisfied with their housing situation as those who live on their own.
Last fall, a study revealed that the number of young adults living with their parents had soared. Prior to the recession, 4.7 million Americans ages 25 to 34 lived with their folks. As of last year, though, the number had increased to 5.9 million, thanks largely to years of widespread high unemployment and underemployment for young workers—who often simply did not have the money to move out of their own.
According to a new Pew Research poll, 21.6% of Americans ages 25 to 34 now live in multigenerational households. The figure has risen steadily since 1980, when it measured at just 11%, and it spiked, unsurprisingly, starting in 2007.
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Some may assume that these young adults are desperate to move out on their own. Living with your parents just has to be demoralizing, perhaps even a bit soul-crushing. Another recent survey, timed to be published for Valentine’s Day, made a strong case that living with your parents does nothing for your love life.
But in the new Pew survey, the attitudes and optimism of young adults living with their parents aren’t that different from that of young adults living on their own. Nearly 7 in 10 (68%) of those living with mom and dad say they are satisfied with their family lives, compared with a slightly higher percentage (73%) of those living on their own who report the same. While 49% of adults out on their own declare themselves satisfied with their present housing situation, 44% of those living with their parents can say the same thing. Roughly the same portion of both groups (83% with parents vs. 84% on their own) believes that they will have enough money down the line to live the kind of life they want.
In a column published by the Los Angeles Times over the weekend, one college grad forced to move back home explained why her living arrangements have proved, surprisingly, to be pretty great:
After four years of dorm living in New York City, with fire alarms that wrenched us from bed at 2:30 a.m., cursing whatever drunk sophomore had pulled the emergency lever “for fun,” I appreciated the quiet. I loved having a house to myself, 9 to 5. I loved hosting elaborate meals for my parents’ friends, the overworked adults sighing with relief into their glasses of wine. I loved my parents, come to that, and the long conversations we had on world events prompted by my hours in the kitchen listening to NPR.
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Even so, she’s well aware of the perception that if you’re in your 20s or 30s and still living with your parents, you’ve failed at some level:
My generation was seared with the terrorizing ultimatum that come graduation we’d better be hired — think of the college loans! the American dream! — because financial independence was the ultimate predictor of success.
The Great Recession has brought with it a reevaluation of the American Dream, and even whether a college degree is worth the money. Now, the idea of living at home with your parents isn’t associated with failure or a lack of achievement. More likely, young adults living with their parents are thought of as victims of unfortunate circumstances, with plenty of good company.
They may also be considered to be pretty smart customers: At the very least, they weren’t foolish enough to buy a home that they couldn’t afford—and that promptly declined in value by 50%. That’s what so many adults, young and old alike, did five or so years back. To homeowners who are deeply underwater or facing foreclosure, living debt-free in your parents’ home must sound like a nice possibility.
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Other recently published columns—penned by older writers, it must be noted—have suggested that young Americans who stay at home lack a sense of independence, adventure, and ambition. The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki speculated that “all the young adult Americans who have spent the past few years living with their parents” represent enormous “pent-up demand,” and that as soon as this group manages to leave the nest, they’ll help lead an economic boom through their spending related to all of the new households they form.
The only problem with this theory, besides the still-stagnant jobs market, is that many young adults don’t seem to be in much of a hurry to leave their parents’ warm, comfortable nests.
Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.
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