“The “rise of the four-car family”, as some media outlets are referring to it, exposes the hollowness of young adults’ claims that they can’t afford to move out. For here we have adults who clearly have pretty decent levels of disposable income – cars, after all, are quite expensive to buy and maintain – yet who insist on staying in the rooms they grew up in. So I don’t buy the newspaper claims that the rise of the four-car family is yet more evidence that Britain’s “cash-strapped youngsters cant’ afford to fly the nest”; it isn’t hardship that keeps loads of young adults at home, but cowardice, an unwillingness to do what just about every generation before them did: take a risk, leave home, suffer deprivations, live off Pot Noodles, and in the process gain something that money could never buy – a feeling of genuine moral autonomy.”
He’s got a strong point here (says yours truly who left home to live in student digs at the age of 18 and has never lived with his folks since apart from a period of one month during some professional training course I was on. In fact, when I stay with Dad for more than a few days I get cabin fever, love my father though I do).
I could not wait to leave home not because of any dislike of my parents, but because I just wanted my freedom even if that meant having to go without a few things. For some time I rented, and lived sometimes in shared accommodation with others that wasn’t always ideal, but it did mean that when it came to choosing to buy a house, my now-wife and I had a decent lump of capital saved up. I could have done this sooner in a less affluent part of London had I really wanted to do so, but the property market wasn’t right and renting made more sense. Getting a mortgage wasn’t the big deal for me that it seemed to be for a lot of my peers.
This may be a part of a process whereby people are putting off becoming “grown up” until later in their 20 and even 30s than used to be case. There are many drivers of this; official policy, after all, wants at least 50 per cent of school-leavers to go into higher education, when, arguably, that is too high and more should be getting into vocational training and work a bit sooner, and avoiding the drag of student debt. But O’Neill ought to also realise that affordable rental properties in places such as London, where much of the work is, is scarce, and much of the reason for that are our planning laws. It is a lot easier to boot out these adults from the nest when there is a realistic place for them to go.
In general, though, I think O’Neill is on the money and right to be scornful, although generalisations can be unfair on people who stay with their folks for entirely rational reasons (including looking after parents who might be infirm, etc). Quite what the longer-term impact on our society, even our politics, will be from a generation that did not fly the coop until its 30s is anyone’s guess. In the light of what Brian Micklethwait had to say recently about the ideas of Emmanuel Todd, it might be worth exploring the idea in more detail.