Moving back home for the pandemic
How the pandemic could add to the boomerang generation as young people return to live with their parents
"We made the decision on Friday 20th March, three days before the lockdown was announced,” Hila tells me.
Like a lot of young people across the UK, seeing the coronavirus crisis build from a distant news story to an immediate threat caused the 25-year-old to question where she wanted to be and who she wanted to be with through what was bound to be a difficult and strange time.
Stay put or move home: some version of this choice has played out in the minds of many a student, apprentice and young worker whose living arrangements may have been adequate in the first few months of 2020, but that now began to feel precarious as life changed.
Maybe it was time to move back in with her parents, she wondered, just for a short while. Although nobody could be sure how long the situation would last.
But then, what about her boyfriend? Hila lives in London, where she works for a charity, with her boyfriend, Simon, who is a musician with a part-time job in a cafe. Would they want to be apart indefinitely?
“It was a stressful decision to make. I was even considering staying in London in a flat where I would have been all by myself, because I was worried about relinquishing some of my independence,” Hila says.
Simon convinced Hila that staying in London could be dangerous and isolating, as the capital was hit hard in the early days of the crisis.
Plus, he had his own choices to wrestle with: Simon’s parents, who live near Dumfries, are in the shielded category. He worried about being separated from them in case they needed help – and they worried about him, too.
“My partner’s parents were fairly sure that lockdown wouldn’t happen, whereas my parents were really concerned for our safety in London – even citing that we would be too far from farms and unable to get food!” Simon wrote to me by email.
“It was very difficult to choose between going to my parents or my partner’s, as we were certain we wanted to be together through this.”
And so this is how the couple ended up spending lockdown together in Dumfries, with Simon’s parents.
In the two months since, the hastily created family unit is mostly enjoying the new set up.
While continuing to work remotely, Hila has started baking bread, embroidering and taking photos, giving her life a “1950s level of wholesomeness,” she says. Simon, while on furlough from his cafe job, is able to work on musical projects.
“The most difficult thing is ensuring that life doesn’t stop because of this, but that we find a way to adapt,” Simon says.
“It’s also been good to have a different chef every night,” Simon’s father Mark adds in his own email.
The number of people who have made similar moves is untold, and the experiences will surely be mixed depending on each family’s circumstances. Of course, some won’t have had the choice.
In writing this article, I’ve heard from students who have had to abandon flats as classes were moved online; sailors who have been quarantining at sea planning to head home as soon as allowed to dock; bartenders who don’t know when their city-based jobs will call them back; ski instructors who moved back as slopes closed indefinitely.
Prior to lockdown, those aged between 20 and 34 were already more likely to be living with their parents than at any time since the 1950s. The Office for National Statistics says that across the UK, 27 per cent of people in that age range are living with parents, around 3.5 million. That’s an increase of 46.3 per cent from 1999 to 2019.
And looking at the trend, it’s clear that moments of national crisis tend to play a role: the sharpest rise occurred after the financial crisis of 2008.
This has fed into the narrative of the ‘boomerang generation’, who leave home only to come back as well-paying jobs and affordable rent prove difficult to secure.
These intergenerational disparities are something Gen Y-Z have always had on their minds: “I guess things were already pretty bad in terms of the social contract, as I’ve grown up in a time where none of us expect to ever be able to afford a house, car and a family but hope somehow we will,” Simon reflects.
Simon’s father, Mark, confides he shares some of these concerns:
“Living and working in London has been tough financially on them and we constantly look for other places or other jobs that they could have,” he says.
“Now that the virus has halted the economy, all of the old plans are up in the air. I hope there are some new opportunities out of this as a lot of the old ones are long gone.”
The pandemic breeds uncertainty; that is news to no one. With governments warning of a deep recession in the months ahead, there is a worry that for some young people the temporary move home could last longer than anticipated.
But with policies like universal basic income, flexible working and a four-day week gathering momentum, the workplace and society could be transformed, perhaps could become a little more just.
Hila is confident she’ll return to London. Simon, slightly less so. They’re in the process of letting go of their flat and hope to move in with a larger group of friends. Hila still has her job, while Simon is unsure the cafe will be able to keep him on. But they are hopeful and feel they can cherish their lockdown life for now. The first priority is to visit Hila’s family.
I asked several parents how much longer they could put up with their adult kids around the house and all said for as long as it takes this crisis to abate. One mother in the Highlands responded: “Indefinitely – is that not what families do!”