Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Changing Determinants of UK Young Adults' Living Arrangements

Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Changing Determinants of UK Young Adults' Living Arrangements

Article excerpt


The postponement of partnership formation and parenthood in the context of an early average age at leaving home has resulted in increased heterogeneity in the living arrangements of young adults in the UK. More young adults now remain in the parental home, or live independently of the parental home but outside of a family. The extent to which these trends are explained by the increased immigration of foreign-born young adults, the expansion in higher education, and the increased economic insecurity faced by young adults are examined. Shared non-family living is particularly prominent among those with experience of higher education, whilst labour market uncertainty is associated with an extended period of co-residence with parents.

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1. Introduction

The transition to adulthood in many economically developed countries has become more protracted and de-standardized (Billari and Liefbroer 2010; Corijn and Klijzing 2001; Furlong and Cartmel 2007). The decline of traditional, predictable, trajectories of transitions to work and family life has been viewed as evidence of individualization, with young adults negotiating "elective biographies" that are increasingly unbounded by pre-existing social structures (Beck 1992; Giddens 1991). Previous research has emphasized trends in the average age at leaving home and entry into partnership or parenthood, particularly postponement (Billari and Liefbroer 2010; Corijn and Klijzing 2001; Iacovou 2002). Important differences in the timing of leaving home according to individual and parental resources, family structure, region of residence, and state support have also been highlighted (Blaauboer and Mulder 2010; Buck and Scott 1993; de Jong Gierveld, Liefbroer, and Beekink 1991; Goldscheider 2000; Iacovou 2010).

In the UK young adults have tended to exhibit earlier home-leaving than many other European countries (Aassve et al. 2002; Billari, Philipov, and Baizan 2001). However, this may be changing as a consequence of the extension of young adults' dependency, or 'semi-dependency', on their parents (Furlong and Cartmel 2007). Increasing house prices, increased labour market insecurity, and reductions in welfare support for young adults mean that for many leaving home is a precarious and non-linear transition (Aassve et al. 2002; Coles, Rugg, and Seavers 1999; Jones 1995). Rising levels of student debt may be a barrier to residential independence for young graduates, with debt from student loans alone increasing six-fold in the past decade (The Student Loans Company 2011).

At the same time, the lengthening of the transition to adulthood has provoked debate regarding the presence of a 'new' developmental phase of the life course between adolescence and adulthood. This 'emerging adulthood' tends to be presented as a largely positive development, described as a 'volitional' period from roughly ages 18-25 years when individuals "examine the life possibilities open to them and gradually arrive at more enduring choices in love, work and world views" (Arnett 2000). The extent to which emergent adulthood is a legitimate concept across all sections of society has been rigorously debated (Arnett 2007; Bynner 2005; Hendry and Kloep 2007). Some contend that young adults are more accurately experiencing "structured individualization" (Côté and Bynner 2008; Furlong and Cartmel 2007) with opportunities and pathways to adulthood still strongly influenced by young people's original location in the social structure, despite a greater sense of individual autonomy (MacDonald et al. 2005; Roberts 2009; Schoon 2007; Yates et al. 2010).

This paper contributes to the literature in a number of ways: firstly, we emphasize the variability in living arrangements across age, gender, country of birth, educational background, and economic activity. We extend previous research by differentiating those young adults living outside of the parental home according to whether they are living in a new family, living alone, or sharing with others outside of a family. …

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