Study results indicate some parents serve as a safety net for young adults

Go to school, get a job, and start out life on your own: that was what the path to adulthood went something like in the past. But with today’s struggling economy and increased educational requirements, progress toward independence may require more outside assistance. New research in the Journal of Marriage and Family shows that most young adults can take comfort in knowing their parents will be there for them if they end up broke or on the streets.

Teresa Toguchi Swartz and colleagues at the University of Minnesota find that parents offer money and housing to their adult children when they hit hard times or need extra help to reach their goals. Young adults who are in college or suffering from difficulties like unemployment or divorce appear more likely to get parental support. However, those who have started families of their own are less likely to be receiving money or housing assistance from their parents. Surprisingly, rich and poor parents are about equally likely to give at least some money or housing assistance to their adult children. However, more educated parents give their kids more money.

So how, exactly, do young adults come to receive these benefits? Apparently, young people who are close to their mothers are more likely to receive support.

Swartz says she was inspired to do the study after interviewing young people who told her there was “no shame in getting help from their parents and that their parents were more than willing to help them get through whatever they are getting through.” She wondered, “Is this just the stories of the people I’m interviewing or is this something that is a large phenomenon?” To answer her question, she analyzed survey responses spanning 17 years from 712 young people and their parents. She finds that almost half of young adults received housing or financial help from parents when they were in their early twenties but only 10 to 15 percent received support in their early 30s.

Swartz claims that helping out adult children when they are in need may actually be a positive thing, despite negative media portrayals of “the helicopter parent hovering over a young person, micromanaging their life, and not letting them develop into who they are going to be.” She hopes future studies will determine if offering aid to young adults affects their levels of achievement later on in life. Swartz, who previously conducted research on foster children, emphasizes, “Those who don’t have families can have a real disadvantage in life and even end up in crisis situations if we don’t develop other types of safety nets.”

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