Millennials are often characterized as spoiled, selfish dependents who are great at moving back into their parents' homes, but not so great at supporting themselves. The stereotype is not entirely unfounded: A greater number of today's young adults do return to the nest than in previous generations, and studies have found that nearly 56% of millennials receive "at least occasional" financial assistance from their parents.
Turns out, that financial assistance could be what's standing in the way of young adults achieving full independence — but it also seems to be a more and more common part of transitioning to adulthood. According to a study in the journal Social Currents, more than 40% of adults between the ages of 18 and 32 had only "partial independence," meaning they relied on their parents' financial help to some extent in order to live on their own.
Authored by Anna Manzoni, a professor of sociology and anthropology at North Carolina State University, the study investigated how today's young adults make their way toward independence. Manzoni also wanted to find out what role parental financial support plays in helping kids achieve independence.
Unsurprisingly, the study also found that those from higher-income backgrounds were more likely to get support from their parents than people from lower-income backgrounds. Attending a four-year college also had a huge impact on whether or not young adults would end up fully or partially independent. Having a college degree was correlated with a higher chance of moving outside the parental home and achieving financial independence.
But Manzoni also found that if parents gave their kids rent money, they might not actually doing them any favors. In fact, they might even be hurting them in the long run. Manzoni's research suggested that getting financial help — specifically during college — could "generate situations not leading to a progression to financial independence," according to the study. In other words, when your parents pay, it might stay that way for a while.
Of course, much of millennials' need for parental support can be attributed to a challenging social and economic environment. Wages have declined, jobs can be harder to come by and millennials, in particular, are plagued by student loan debt.
But another explanation could simply be that times have changed, and so has our understanding of a parent's role in their adult child's life.
"Parenthood is increasingly defined as a lifelong relationship that gives rise to unconditional parental obligations," Manzoni wrote, "and young adult children have relatively high expectations of parental support."
But as the study points out, even the smallest amount of financial support from your parents might not be a stepping stone to achieving independence. Instead, it could be a "stumbling block" to developing the skills needed to become financially independent on your own. On a macro level, it could also lead to a perpetuation of social inequality; intergenerational financial support is, after all, a major way that wealth gets passed on.
The one bit of hopeful news? According to the Clark University poll, most millennials say they do want to be financially independent, proving that contrary to popular opinion, we're not so selfish or spoiled after all. We want to stand on our own two feet — we're just having some trouble getting there.