Despite Stigma: Research Points to Maturity of “Boomerang” Millennials, by Corey Magstadt

Think “boomerang” kids are less mature than their peers?  Think again.

“The negativity surrounding popular views of intergenerational co-residence casts a pall on what can be (and usually is) a rewarding experience.” -Alicia Patterson, PhD

by Corey Magstadt

Matthew McConaughey as a 35-year-old who just can’t leave the nest. (“Failure to Launch”: Paramount Pictures)
A recent doctoral dissertation by Dr. Alicia Patterson, PhD,  “Emerging adulthood as a unique stage in Erikson’s psychosocial development theory: Incarnation v. Impudence,” sheds new light on misperceptions on the growing national phenomena of “Boomerang” Kids — adult children living with their parents after college.
Building upon Erickson’s developmental theory, Dr. Patterson theorizes two stages of emerging adulthood – Incarnation and Impudence:

Incarnation is seen when young people accept responsibility (particularly financial responsibility) for their actions and make decisions in regard to, but not as a result of, parental guidance. The primary reason given for returning to the parental home was finances. Simply put, those emerging adults felt they did not have the resources to continue to maintain their residential independence and took advantage of an opportunity to live with their parents and save money.

For impudent emerging adults, there is typically less thought toward the future. They may not consider how expensive it is to maintain a household or live in school housing, instead adding their living expenses into the cost of college student loans that can be paid later. What used to be paid on rent now is paid on student loans that can be paid later.

In my work with emerging adults and their parents, I often use the analogy of running a cross country race versus running on a treadmill.  In both activities you’re body is performing the same motions, but in only one case are you actually getting somewhere. Patterson’s work reveals that “Impudent” boomerang kids are using their parents’ home only to avoid adult responsibilities, whereas the boomerang experience helps others mature into responsible adults.  They might look the same to outside observers, but the Incarnational emerging adults are actually getting somewhere.

A Generally Positive and even Beneficial Experience

One of the key findings in Dr. Patterson’s research is that attitudes toward boomerang children need to be adjusted. She discovered that boomeranging back home does not negatively impact the adult child’s development into adulthood. She writes:

The negativity surrounding popular views of intergenerational coresidence casts a pall on what can be (and usually is) a rewarding experience, which is not only tolerated well, but also desirable in many families.

Research indicated that boomerang children do not suffer developmental setbacks in emerging adulthood due to living in their parental homes. Instead, it is more likely that as emerging adults mature and move toward incarnation, they have a greater likelihood of returning to live with their parents.

Misperceptions and Popular Culture

Despite this, attitudes of parents and emerging adults view boomeranging quite negatively. Emerging adults are haunted by feelings of inadequacy (even though 40% of their peers are in the same situation). Parents feel that they have failed in their role if their children are not successfully launched from the nest immediately. The feeling that boomerang children are dead weight is often unfounded and may place unnecessary stress on the family and the adult child.
Interestingly, Dr. Patterson found that adult children who live at home are often more mature and responsible than those who are attempting to make it on their own. She believes that this is due to the fact that it is not very satisfying to live at home while abdicating decision-making to their parents or refusing to accept responsibility. Those that are in this ‘impudence’ phase find living at home with rules and responsibilities imposed upon them to be quite stressful.
By removing the stigma of young adults living at home, both parents and emerging adults can work together to make the most of this transitional time so they can get the best start possible into their adult life.


Corey Magstadt is the founder and Executive Director of Launch Ministry. He is the author of the You Are Not Alone small group curriculum for parents of struggling young adults. Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.


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