In the English-speaking world it is a great badge of shame to be still living with your parents as you approach you late 20s/early 30s. I remember the raft of hand-wringing articles that sprang up a couple of years into the recent crisis about college graduates forced by straightened times to move back in with their parents. It was like the world was ending for both parties. Journalists even came up with a name for these unfortunates — boomerang kids. In the Mediterranean world in general, and Spain in particular, there is no such shame. It has never been frowned-upon for adult children to remain living at home with their parents until they themselves got married, and now, with the economic crisis seemingly deepening by the minute, the situation is getting drastic: 80% of young adults under the age of 30 still live with their parents. What are the reasons for this anomalous (to our American/Northern European eyes at any rate) situation?
Let’s talk about those of a cultural nature first and then go onto the economic factors. The Spanish family is famously strong. It is the glue that holds society together and the foundation stone on which the state itself is built. If it weren’t for family unity and solidarity, Spain would have succumbed to widespread social unrest a number of years ago. You’ll hear no complaints from Spanish parents (especially the long-suffering Spanish Mother) along the lines of having the grown-up kids under their feet or wanting a bit of peace and the house to themselves in their old age. Spanish parents adore having their twenty- and thirty-something children around. And they can’t do enough for them. The Spanish Mother being the Spanish Mother (only too delighted to cook, clean, dust, wash and iron for any number of close relatives), the grown-up kids living under her roof receive higher levels of service and care than if they were to relocate to the Ritz in the Paseo del Prado. Typically, adult children are not expected to pull their weight around the house. They are discouraged from pitching in with the cooking or cleaning or other chores; allowing your children to help at home would be a sign of weakness and laziness on the part of the parents. On the children’s part, they see nothing wrong with the arrangement. In Spain there just isn’t the same idea of fleeing the nest as early as possible (me and most of my friends left home at 18, for example) as in other countries. As long as they have the freedom to come and go and if all their friends are doing it why shouldn’t they?
Perhaps being on the receiving end of a pampering at home might just be the only break this current generation of Spanish young adults gets. Times are tough for them. They have no work — over 50% of them are unemployed (this figure hits 80% in some regions). Those that do work are paid a pittance — the average wage for the 18-30 group is €13,600 per annum. They wait longer than their peers in other countries to start their first job (including part-time or weekend work, 23 is the average age). Contracts are short-term and part-time. Spanish young adults are spending more time than ever in higher education, which means they are more highly skilled than ever, but which also means that when they do finally secure employment they are more overqualified than ever. All of which means one thing: whatever about lacking the motivation, they don’t have the cash to put into a house-share.
Perhaps if living with your parents at 28 years of age was as much of a mark of looserdom as in other countries, Spanish kids would have a by-hook-or-by-crook attitude to leaving home as did most young adults I knew when I was young. And perhaps the social acceptability of being unemployed and living at home with your parents would be lessened. At present in Spain, there are so many young people in the same boat that the stigma of being on the dole and living at home that should drive a young person to entertain measures such as starting one’s own business, retraining or even emigrating is absent — something which may explain the net inward migration of 18-30-year-olds into Spain last year. It seems Spanish kids just don’t want to leave the nest.