The Upside Of Moving Back Home

on Tuesday, Jun. 14th

One day during the mid-1960’s, early in his career as a successful New York writer, the author Wendell Berry sat in the Manhattan office of his editor at the New Yorker, telling him why he planned to leave New York for good and return to his home in Kentucky. Whenever he considered a global problem, he explained–be it population growth, environmental damage, or otherwise–his first thought was what it would mean for the riverside Kentucky hill that his family called home. To write honestly, he said, he had to write in the context of his native place. The editor scoffed at him, told him he was making a career-killing decision, and politely ushered him out of his office. Wendell Berry’s career had just begun.

In the United States, the stigma against moving home is as long-standing as it is intense. This is particularly true for college graduates, whose financial outlays and years of work at school are supposed to catapult them into the fast lane toward a great job and financial independence. And yet, reality interferes. This year, some 85 percent of graduates were forced to move back home after college, up from just 67% in 2007. As a recent sobering article in the Huffington Post illustrates, the dual demons of record student-loan debt and a dismal job market are changing the way college graduates live.

Surprisingly, the stigma may be changing too. “It used to be that people thought something was wrong with the child when they moved home, or with the parents,” said Dr. Susan Newman, a former professor of psychology at Rutgers University and the author of the 2010 book Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily.  “Today, people are realistic: the job hunt is dismal, students have loans and bills.” And dreadful though it may seem to share a bathroom with Mom and Dad, or rehash the job hunt with them at the end of a long day, the return to your stomping grounds offers many hidden–and non-financial–benefits. Here are 5 reasons why moving home isn’t a bad idea.

  1. Be there for your family: After four years of focusing on yourself and your own education, moving home allows you to reconnect with the people closest to you. For years your distance from home or preoccupation with school has likely caused you to miss much of what’s happening in your family, be it siblings’ sporting events, a parent’s successes or struggles at work, or your grandmother’s birthday. Being home is a chance to make up for lost time. A 2011 survey of U.S.16-24-year-olds by the Harvard Institute of Politics suggested that one of the top priorities for this age group over the next five to seven years is staying in close touch with family and friends.
  2. Get to know your parents as fellow adults: The teenager who appreciates the way their parents raised them is about as rare as snow in Las Vegas. Odds are that when you last left home, you viewed your parents as at least somewhat uptight and paternalistic, the makers and enforcers of rules that you were obliged to follow. But four years of relative independence, and the habits it instills, can give you a new perspective on their lifestyle, and their sacrifices. “When you move back, you’re a bit older, and you can actually appreciate what your parents do for you–and have done for you   –while you’re living there,” said Dr. Susan Newman, a psychologist. “And you can discover things about your parents that you wouldn’t know if you weren’t living together.” It’s also “an opportunity for parents to see how you’ve matured and changed.”
  3. Have a stake in the future of your place: College students rarely have time to get involved in politics, and even if they did, their status as transients in their college town would preclude them from caring much about its future. Returning home, you stand a chance of shaping the place you live. A friend of mine recently went to a city council meeting in my small Colorado hometown, intending to register his opposition to an ordinance that would have outlawed noise in public after 7 pm. Arriving, he was shocked to find himself among a small handful of attendees. The proposed law would have restricted every citizen in town, but its fate would be decided by the few who cared enough to show up. This is often the case in politics, particularly the small town variety. And your roots in your town give some weight to your opinion. That noise ordinance, by the way? It was defeated.
  4. Take time to reflect and plan:  What, exactly, did you learn in college? What was the point? Did it change the way you look at your hometown? Did it change the direction you aim to go in your life? The relief from economic pressures that comes with being home can create much needed space to ponder questions like these.
  5. Land the Right Job, Not Just Any Job: Whatever your reasons for going to college, you probably expected that your diploma could land you a decent first job after graduation. On that front, this year’s college graduates face long odds. Nationwide, the unemployment rate hovers between 9 and 10 percent, while 6.4 percent of college graduates between the ages of 20 and 24 are unemployed, a figure that has more than doubled since 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s partly because so many of the jobs today are out of the college labor market, meaning they don’t require a college degree. And tempting though it may be to nab that job behind the deli counter, research shows that the pay at a graduate’s first job often has long-term implications. For college graduates who take jobs below their education level, it could take 7-9 years before their salaries are comparable to the starting salary of their peers who take jobs that require a degree, according to Dr. Susan Newman. The result? “It’s going to take a lot of kids today longer to provide for their own kids,” she said.

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