Boomerang Kids Forever: The New Normal

While unemployment seemed to drive millions of young adults back to their childhood homes, the fact of having gotten jobs did not result in their moving out. Recent research suggests that the adult Millennial child and his or her Boomer parents are now a permanent part of our landscape. Marketers need to face this new reality: their “coveted 18-34 year old” is probably eating food, sitting on furniture, and streaming content via wifi that has all been purchased by his or her midlife parent. 

Living at Home: Here to Stay

In May, the Pew Research Center issued the first of two reports illustrating this strange new world: Living with parents is now the #1 living arrangement for 18-34-year olds. 

More than living with a partner or living with a roommate or living alone, young adults are now living full-time with their parents. While lower education and employment levels make it more likely that a young adult lives with his or her parents, the phenomenon began before the Recession and reflects our changing attitudes towards marriage (which is being delayed or avoided entirely) as much as it reflects the economy. 



Millennials may represent the first American generation that never engages in the all-important act of buying a home. As a result, more people than ever are avoiding all of the purchases associated with household formation, including (in addition to the home purchase itself) furniture, insurance, home repair and landscaping supplies, television and/or cable installation, and more. 

Living with Parents Is Not About Employment

In July, the Pew Research Center further confirmed these are not just “trends”: During the last eight years, adults aged 18-34 continued to move home in greater numbers even as more of them also had jobs. Employment — even for young adults — is nearing pre-Recession levels. But those same young adults are more likely than ever to live with their parents. 

What this New Normal Means for Marketers

Marketers are slow to adapt, and it’s always easy to think that something represents a passing “trend” rather than a new reality. Until recently, the story of boomerang kids has focused more on the Recession than on broader cultural trends and the longer-term challenges of economic independence today.

Pew’s research confirms now that these new households — young adults living with parents — are here to stay. 

Marketers need to adapt in several dramatic ways:

  • Increase investment in marketing to the Boomer (or Gen X) parents who are making purchase decisions (and making purchases) for a larger multi-generational household.
  • Learn how to market to new multi-generational purchase decisions. This will require more psychographic research about the relationships between young adults and their parents to understand how they influence each other. Are young adults who live at home more like pestering children (“Mom, why didn’t you buy the cereal I like”) or shopping partners? On more expensive items, do they have any influence at all? You can be sure that most of these households are not making entirely distinct brand decisions (buying two different laundry detergents, for example), yet marketers are still treating them as if they did.
  • Change your message and your method. Media buying follows old-fashioned targeting ideas: you get in front of one generation at a time. But when two generations live under one roof and make coordinated purchase decisions, sharing a mailing address and ISP, it may no longer work to target each of them separately. 

It’s always exciting to be around when an entirely new consumer segment is being born. 2016 marks the year when the multi-generational household became one. 

Just as when a wave of working women or the expansion of the Hispanic middle class created a new consumer segment, marketers can’t wait for a return to “normal.” It’s time to strike out boldly with new research, new messaging, and new tactics.

2 comments about "Boomerang Kids Forever: The New Normal".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Stephen Reily from IMC/Vibrant Nation replied, October 11, 2016 at 11:43 a.m.

    Exactly! There are millions of millennials who will not be buying starter homes (or even renting starter apartments) as home builders and developers expected.

  2. Stephen Reily from IMC/Vibrant Nation, October 14, 2016 at 3:40 p.m.

    For anyone interested, here's another articles addressing this trend, this time on the long-term savings habits of Millennials:

Next story loading loading..