We’ve all seen the headlines: college students are increasingly entertaining the idea of moving back in with mom and dad. According to the U.S. Census in 2008, 5 million Americans aged 25 to 35 are living with their parents. A CollegeGrad.com survey found that:
Among 2009 U.S. college graduates, 80 percent moved back home with their parents after graduation, up from 77 percent in 2008, 73 percent in 2007, and 67 percent in 2006.
And no one’s disputing the spreadsheet-sanctioned benefits of doing so: the job market sucks; the ‘rents will likely hook you up with free food and cable. The economic reality can appear to be a vast expanse of No Choices At All. But consider this, from the press release announcing those survey results on collegegrad.com:
According to the CollegeGrad.com poll, nearly 70 percent of recent grads did not have jobs lined up when they graduated. The job market is certainly competitive, but Ogunwole believes there’s an additional dynamic getting in the way of some graduates’ employment: unreasonable expectations.
“Many recent graduates are turning down good job offers, holding out for better jobs and salaries in the belief that a college degree entitles them to more than entry level,” says Ogunwole. “In today’s job market, that’s just not realistic.”
Undone by great expectations?
But I think, sometimes, there’s even more to it. And a piece from yesterday on Time.com provides an extreme (this 40-something “boomerang” girl’s husband left her for a man he met on Gay.com; she crashed her car; her parents are Mennonite) example of what I’m talking about.
A little background:
When Rhoda Janzen went away to college, she was determined to leave her past behind. But unlike the average independence-minded freshman, Janzen was Mennonite–a member of a small, strict Christian denomination with only 110,000 members in the U.S. She went on to earn a Ph.D. from UCLA and became an English professor. But in 2006, at age 43, a personal crisis sent her back to her Mennonite roots in Fresno, Calif.
Janzen has written a book about the experience, called Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, and spoke with TIME reporter Andrea Sachs about the experience.
Sachs: So what was it like when you first went back?
Janzen: I had expected to sleep in, hole up out of self-pity, but my mother was so busy and cheerful that I didn’t have time for any of that. The very first morning, when I was still jet-lagged, she stuck her head into my old bedroom and said, “You want to help me make pie-by-the-yard? I picked up a big bag of Granny Smiths!” I found it comforting to snap back into old patterns, with my mom presiding over the kitchen in her safari apron. Trailing one’s 70 year-old parents around town is an excellent and under-discussed cure for heartbreak.
Granted, that is an extreme example. But I think she hits on something pretty universal: there’s a certain level of comfort in a life where choices are simply trumped by routine. And I think that’s a dirty little secret lurking behind some of the numbers that make up this trend: the big wide world can be scary–it’s vast, unfamiliar, and uncharted. Making your own way in the world is always hard, but picking which way to go can be even harder.
When we’re students, we play like we’re adults, but our options don’t really amount to much more than multiple choice. Soc 101 or Anthro 64? Two roommates or four? Keg or cans? We could plot our answers on a ScanTron. Then, one day, we’re handed a piece of paper and sent on our way–into the wild bluebook yonder. And nothing’s scarier than an empty Blue Book. But sometimes, in lieu of an outline, the familiar taste of mom’s apple pie can make a fine substitute.