“One striking finding is the number of these young adults grew across the board, all racial and ethnic groups, both men and women, and in metropolitan and rural areas,” Cohn says. “We don’t necessarily know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. We’ll have to see.”
There are some negative psychological implications that are already obvious among young adults, says Amanda Zelechoski, associate professor of psychology at Valparaiso University in Indiana and co-founder of Pandemic Parenting, a platform for parents struggling with lifestyle shifts related to COVID-19.
“We’ve seen a difference in pressures and responsibilities for young adults,” Zelechoski says. “For some, it’s helping their parents care for younger siblings or grandparents. Some have had to take on extra shifts at work because their parents were laid off.”
Because their internal resources have been under high demand — like coping mechanisms and decision-making — Zelechoski has seen students suffer academically and, in turn, question their competence.
“They’ll say, ‘I’m such a good student, I don’t know why I can’t pull it together,’” Zelechoski says. “They beat themselves up for that.”
The pandemic’s toll on mental health isn’t just anecdotal. Two-thirds of young adults have experienced anxiety or depression as a result of the public health crisis, and a quarter have seriously considered suicide, the CDC reported.
Though members of this age bracket have varying reasons for relocating back home, a related Pew survey found 1 in 10 young adults reported moving because of the outbreak. Among them, 23% said they moved because their college campus closed, and 18% said it was due to job loss or financial hardship.
The phenomenon reported by Pew is not new to American culture, but has not been the norm in recent years. According to researchers, the number of young adults living with parents declined in the 1950s and 1960s.
“We’re used to thinking of this pattern we’ve had for a while now of this pattern of kids leaving home as normal, but it’s not normal historically or worldwide,” says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University in Massachusetts, whose research focuses on emerging adulthood. “In fact, it’s an aberration.”