New data from Eurofound show that almost half of Europe’s population between the ages of 18 and 30 are still living with their parents. The numbers have risen in recent years as economic problems have taken their toll.
While demographics change across the continent, a generational gap of opportunity and prosperity is beginning to surface.
Households with multiple generations living under the same roof show lower levels of life satisfaction and higher levels of social exclusion. This cements social inequalities, and creates numerous other problems for youths and parents alike.
Now we need active policies to counter this trend, for it will not stop on its own.
There are, however, significant differences between the European states.
For some time, Italy has been singled out as a country where many stay in their parents’ homes well into their thirties, particularly men. Numbers differ in various surveys, but the latest figures from Eurofound claim that as much as 79 percent of Italian young adults live with their parents. Slovenia and Hungary also have towering statistics.
On the other end of the scale we find Finland, Denmark, Germany and Austria, where less than a fourth of twentysomethings reside with their parents. But figures are on the rise in many places where they had been low for some time, such as Sweden, France and Belgium. And the overall trend is one of increasing dependence of the young on their elders.
Education is not enough
While this is happening, the share of youths with higher education is larger than ever before. Ironically, a generation that is better educated than their parents is finding it harder to prosper.
We all imagine that access to education and vocational training for broad segments of the population creates a more prosperous and equal society. But reality now shows us that this is not enough.
The lack of opportunities and resources lock more and more youths to their parental homes. The ones that do manage to get out are increasingly those from wealthier families. When getting a proper education does not warrant getting a good job, meritocracy suffers at the hands of plutocracy.
We are in danger of losing the gains made by previous generations in the fight against inequality. And with this comes a less thriving Europe.
What can be done then?
What we need are active policies to reduce soaring house prices and create better access to job markets.
In the United Kingdom, Labour leader Ed Miliband has proposed a grand house building scheme. The project is criticized for being not well thought through. But it is at least a recognition that housing is one of the biggest problems facing society. And it shows a willingness to do something.
In Germany, only about half of the population owns their own homes and rent prices are rising as fast as ever. Chancellor Angela Merkel says that interventions in the housing market are necessary, and that rents need to be more affordable.
In southern Europe, on the other hand, house prices continue to fall as part of the economic crisis. Greece, Italy and Spain all registered a price decline of between five and ten percent last year. But this does not mean that it is easier to get a new home: new mortgage lending in Italy was halved in 2012. Houses that locals cannot afford are instead being bought by wealthy foreigners as holiday properties.
When investors buy up homes and prices are out of touch with residents’ means, we need checks on housing markets.
But building homes and regulating house prices is not a remedy in itself; on its own, it is rather a recipe for more financial crises. Only employment security and higher wages for the lowest earners can give people back the ability to get a home for themselves. This is where the real political push is needed.
Youth unemployment drives the overall low employment rates in Europe. Almost half of the population between the ages of 15 and 24 in Greece, Spain and Croatia is unemployed. That is a lot of people. We may end up with a generation of adults who have spent large parts of their working life jobless, living with mum and dad.
With a housing market in shambles and prospects of employment minute, it is no wonder that Europe’s youths live at home. And the home-stayers are not only an effect of difficult times; they will also become a cause of further problems. If we cannot get the kids out of the house, Europe’s troubles will only grow.
Edited by: Margarida
Photo credits: Kate Hiscock via Flickr