Most Americans still rely on parents for financial support well into adulthood

RALEIGH, N.C. — Countless people are eager to espouse the virtues of hard work and “standing on one’s own two feet” to anyone who will listen, but researchers from North Carolina State University suggest most Americans actually rely on their parents for financial support long past their 18th birthday.

Researchers found that just a third of U.S. adults did not rely on their parents for some form of material support between their late teens and early 40s. All in all, the team at NC State says their work details and calls attention to the complex relationships connecting parents, their adult children, and money matters.

While popular culture suggests young adults should establish their independence as quickly as possible, this rarely turns out to be the case in reality. This work indicates parents and adult children rely on each other for financial assistance or a place to live well into the children’s adult years.

“This work really challenges the notion that complete independence is a necessary marker of adulthood,” says Anna Manzoni, co-author of the study and an associate professor of sociology at NC State, in a university release. “Instead, we see a pattern of interdependency that changes over time and appears to be influenced by race and educational background.”

To research this topic, study authors analyzed data on 14,675 U.S. adults who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. For the purposes of this project, researchers chose to focus specifically on data collected from study participants between the ages of 18 and 43.

On a more detailed level, the research team actively searched for various ways in which these adults exchanged financial and residential support with their parents over time, in addition to numerous other social and demographic factors (gender, race/ethnicity, parents’ educational background).

“We found that there is no single pathway that most people take regarding independence from their parents,” Prof. Manzoni adds. “Instead, people tend to fall into one of six different categories.”

Study authors separated their findings into categories called “pathways of intergenerational support”:

  • Complete Independence (33.44% of survey respondents): Children who become financially and residentially independent in their late teens or early 20s and retain that independence.
  • Independent with Transitional Support (20.14%): Similar to the “Complete Independence” group, but received some financial support from parents in their 20s or early 30s.
  • Gradual Independence (15.07%): Refers to children who lived at home into their 20s and received significant financial support, with that support declining very gradually over time.
  • High to Low Support (14.63%): Children who lived at home into their 20s and received significant financial support, but that support declined rapidly as they grew older.
  • Extended Interdependence (10.22%): Kids who lived at home for extended periods of time and who not only received financial support from parents but also provided financial support to parents.
  • Boomerang (6.51%): Refers to children who moved out in their late teens or early 20s, moved back in with parents in their mid-20s to early 30s, and then moved out again in their 30s or early 40s.
Woman packing for move to new home
(Credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

“We also found that these pathways are not evenly distributed across the population,” Prof. Manzoni explains. “For example, Complete Independence is least likely among Black families and most likely among white families, while Extended Interdependence is least likely among White families and most likely among Hispanic families.”

“Educational background also appears to be a significant factor. For example, people whose parents completed less than a high school education are far more likely to experience the Extended Interdependence pathway, while people whose parents completed a graduate or professional degree are significantly more likely to experience the Complete Independence pathway.”

“Ultimately, the work drives home the extent to which access to resources and structural restraints – such as access to education – influence which pathways to independence people have access to,” Manzoni concludes. “It also makes clear that we need to reevaluate how we think of independence and adulthood, given that only a third of study participants were able to take the Complete Independence pathway that is often presented as being the norm.”

The study is published in the journal Sociological Perspectives.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

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  1. If parents instilled values and work ethics when they were growing up, they would have left home at 18 like my generation and worked like responsible men and women… Kids now days living with parents over 18 are sorry slackers and parents shoudl send them packing.

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