Entrepreneur Olivia Howell speaks to me from her sister’s childhood bedroom. The single mum-of-two never expected to be living with her parents—her two sons in tow—at the age of 38.
But that’s where circumstances led her after she separated from her husband in 2019—and it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
Howell is one of millions of Americans living with their parents or grandparents. According to data from the United States Census Bureau one in three adults aged between 18 and 34 live in their parents’ home.
And despite the number of children living with their parents more than doubling over the past 50 years, those moving or staying at home are still looked down upon.
A Pew Research Center study published last summer found that 36% of Americans think it’s bad for society if adult children live with their parents, while just 16% thought it was good for society.
But what if you don’t have a choice?
‘The security is priceless’
When Howell’s divorce went through the entrepreneur wanted to help other families going through major life transitions—her dream was to launch a company that could provide the basic necessities in a time of flux.
But as the founder of a New York-based marketing agency, Howell knew she’d need some capital to get the initiative off the ground and provide her sons—aged seven and nine—with some financial stability.
So she sold her three-bedroom Long Island home in May 2022 and moved 15 minutes down the road to Huntington, back into the family home she had first lived in aged 10.
Howell’s evenings have morphed into late-night chats with her mom and step-dad, school pick-ups, and the duty of looking after the children on sick days rotates between the adults.
“I knew that moving in was going to be an adjustment, I just wasn’t sure how,” Howell said. “I didn’t realize how lonely I was as a single mom in my own house until I moved in here. Having the extra support is truly life-changing.
“When you’re a single mom you don’t have the chance to live life, you’re constantly hustling, but now I know I’ll always have a home for us and that security is priceless.”
Howell no longer has a mortgage and doesn’t need to pay rent—every week at the grocery store she battles her mom to buy the food shop: “I sometimes let her win,” Howell laughs.
The founder added there’s a great deal of “shame and stigma” around multi-generational homes, but said her sons are flourishing with the support: “They’re proud of it. For them this is very normal, they get to show off their grandparents.
“It does take a village to raise kids and we’re all worthy of support, so why not take advantage of support if you can?”
Forming a multi-generational household has also been a game-changer for Howell’s career—it meant she could launch Fresh Starts Registry, a website that puts together bundles of items that can be purchased for families going through upheaval.
Moving in with her parents has allowed Howell to take professional risks she has “never” been able to before: “There’s no way I could’ve launched Fresh Starts without this. There’s got to be some financial support—some people look for investors, some people look for raising a friends and family round. For me, it was selling my house.”
Howell has no plans to leave her parents’ home—and her parents don’t want her to leave either—but she’s aware not everyone is that lucky
“I don’t really know what our next step is at this point,” Howell said. “My big thing is giving people permission to think outside the box—maybe you could live with your grandparents or a cousin, there’s always other options and sometimes we don’t realize that.”
It’s normal in Europe
Unfortunately for Americans, the stigma of living with parents is diminished across the Atlantic—in some European countries up to 76.5% of adults aged between 18 and 34 live in their parents’ homes.
This is most common in southern Europe, namely Croatia (76.5%), followed by Greece (72.9%), Serbia (71.3%), Portugal (72.3%) and Italy (70.5%).
In the U.K. 4.9 million adult children were living with their parents in 2021, up from 4.2 million a decade before, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Among these millions of people is West London-based journalist Éilis Cronin, whose parents purchased a new home in order to accommodate Cronin, her younger sister and her grandparents last summer.
For the 28-year-old, a critical part of the decision to live in a multi-generational home is financial.
Cronin didn’t want to spend money on London rent—which on average costs more than £2,500 a month ($3,211)—and instead save up for the sizable deposit needed to buy a home, which in the capital is on average £144,500 ($185,608).
By paying her parents rent instead of a commercial landlord, Cronin hopes to start her property search when she turns 30 next year—3.8 years before the average first-time buyer in London makes their purchase.
But for Cronin living with her relatives goes far deeper: it’s given her a wealth of insight and a connection to her heritage.
“My grandparents are Irish and moved to the U.K. in the 60s,” Cronin explained. “We sit down for dinner on a Sunday and the stories come out: the people they knew, the places they lived. It’s helped bring us closer and understand each other more.
“Living with my parents has also meant any questions I have about bank accounts or savings or interest, they’re there. We can have open and honest conversations about it because they understand. It does do wonders.”
Cronin’s grandparents and parents sold their two homes in the suburb of Hillingdon to purchase a larger house that allowed each adult their own room, as well as living spaces for each couple and a large, shared kitchen.
One of the reasons for the move was to support Cronin’s grandparents as they got older, a reasoning Cronin says is always met with respect: “Every time I explain it to people they say: ‘How lovely.’ It’s something you hear more about in other cultures but every time I talk about it, it’s really positive.”