In the Nest: Did the Pandemic Push Young Adults to Live With Their Parents?

Popular claims that the pandemic prompted young adults to "return to the nest" did not reflect reality

PRB’s analysis of the Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking revealed that young adults who lived with their parents during the 2017–2022 period were more economically strained than those who did not. For example, compared with peers in other living arrangements, young adults living at home with their parents were more likely to earn below the median income for their age group, to have difficulty paying bills, and to have a small (or nonexistent) emergency fund.

While many headlines proclaimed a trend of young adults “returning to the nest” during the pandemic, an examination of living arrangements before and during the pandemic reveals a more nuanced story. We found that the characteristics of young adults who lived with their parents during the pandemic were very similar to those of young adults who lived at home before COVID-19 struck the United States in 2020.

And while young adults who lived at home during the pandemic reported feeling that their financial circumstances were worsening, in many ways their personal economic conditions improved during this time. While they remained behind their peers on important measures of financial health, they were more insulated from worsening financial circumstances throughout the pandemic years.

Our dive into the demographic and financial characteristics of young adults and their living arrangements revealed four key findings:

  • Overall, the pandemic did not significantly increase the likelihood of young adults living with their parents; in fact, despite a spike at the start of the pandemic, the share of young adults who lived with their parents did not change significantly when comparing the full three-year pandemic period with the years just before.
  • The pandemic did not significantly alter the demographics of the young adults who lived with their parents. Both before and during the pandemic, Hispanic young adults, young men, and those earning below the median income were the most likely to live at home in young adulthood.
  • Fewer young adults married or cohabited during the pandemic, despite living with a spouse or partner being linked to overall better financial well-being than living with parents.
  • Young adults who lived with their parents enjoyed a degree of protection from unforeseen financial blows that their peers living elsewhere did not, despite their overall more strained financial status.

These findings suggest that media reports claiming that the economic downturn during the pandemic prompted new living arrangements for young adults did not reflect the reality of who actually lived with their parents, and that, for many young adults, living with parents during the pandemic did indeed pay off.