Leaving home is an important milestone that signals entry into adulthood. But young people are staying home longer than ever before. In fact, the 2011 census report from Statistics Canada shows that 42.3 per cent of young adults aged 20 to 29 still lived with their parents—that's compared to 32.1 per cent in 1991, and 26.9 per cent in 1981.
The diminishing number of blue-collar jobs, rising costs of housing and increasing need for prolonged postsecondary education have impacted how, when and why young adults leave home. At the same time, youth today are less driven to take on adult responsibilities than previous generations.
Recent research shows that individuals in their early 20s—also known as millennials—undergo a brand-new life stage not experienced by previous generations: emerging adulthood. A new study from Concordia's Department of Applied Human Sciences examines how moving out on one's own is a critical element in the transition to adulthood.
It turns out that moving out represents a significant transition that can constitute a crisis. Luckily, this crisis can be overcome with a little help from friends and family, a finding that also has implications for disadvantaged youth.
Varda Mann-Feder, a professor in the Department of Applied Human Sciences and first author of the forthcoming study in the Canadian Journal of Family and Youth, explains that parents and peers are deeply implicated in the moving-out process. This was confirmed by the in-depth interviews that she and her research team conducted with 32 emerging adults who had either left home or were contemplating such a move.
Study participants who had already left home said that parents made significant contributions to a successful move, both through pragmatic help and the provision of an emotional and financial safety net. Peers were equally important, as participants preferred to turn to friends, rather than to their parents, to learn the skills needed for autonomous living.
For those participants still at home, peers and parents were seen as extremely influential in relation to ideas about leaving the proverbial nest. Peers who had already left home represented a key source of information about moving out, and about whether or not to do it. The ability to observe peers and adopt similar strategies or avoid their mistakes also provided reassurance for participants at home.
"This study shows peers continue to play a critical role in development after the teenage years," says Mann-Feder. "They provide unique input not available from parents or romantic partners. This finding gives me hope for those emerging adults who do not have the benefit of a parental safety net; that is, for individuals forced to transition out of foster care, mental health institutions or juvenile justice situations when they reach the age of majority."
She notes that, despite large investments in programs for transitioning these youth into independent living, outcomes have been poor overall. Mann-Feder intends this study to be the first step in a program of research that will help design targeted programs and policies supporting healthy transitions to adulthood for disadvantaged youth.
Research in action: Concordia's new Graduate Diploma in Youth Work will further this type of research. The 33-credit program prepares students for work with youth in both the regular community as well as in specialized contexts like foster care. The applied approach of this diploma integrates community youth development with clinical work.
Says Mann-Feder: "Our students will develop advanced intervention skills, the ability to establish facilitative relationships and use collaborative strength-based approaches in a range of contexts."
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More information: Canadian Journal of Family and Youth: ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/cjfy