Goodbye hostel, hello home

Young man, there’s a place you can go. I said, young man, when you’re short on your dough. You can stay there, and I’m sure you will find many ways to have a good time. It’s fun to stay at – your parents.

That is the conclusion of fully one quarter of all 25 to 29-year-old males who have chosen the comforts of the parental home over the dubious joys of the YMCA, bedsit or flat share. For some reason, only 13 per cent of women in the same age group make the same decision and, even more surprisingly, 10 per cent of men in their early 30s end up still there.

All of which creates an interesting challenge for marketers and for data owners. Just how do you unpick a household structure which is very likely to contain two adult males with the same surname (and possibly initial), but with very different lifestyles?

Boomerang children, or “kippers” (kids in parents pockets) as the Office for National Statistics has dubbed them, find themselves back at home for a variety of reasons. The recent housing boom has undoubtedly played a major role, putting that first rung on the property ladder further out of reach than it was for earlier generations.

Rising levels of student debt are another factor, although this does not explain the disproportionate level of men in such circumstances. Recent rises in unemployment which have stopped those graduating in the last two years moving into expected jobs will definitely have exacerbated the difficulties of becoming independently established.

There is also an important shift in social mores taking place. Most 20-year-olds historically left the family home for good when they entered a permanent relationship. According to the ONS, settling down is now being postponed for longer, with those who do move out from their parents’ more likely to live alone or in a flat share.

Tracking this group is no longer the easy task it once was when an 18-year-old would appear on the voter’s roll and could then be followed through adulthood. With more mobility and the boomerang effect, emerging adults are harder to place at any given time. Perhaps only their mobile phone network truly knows who and where they are – and even that relationship is far from stable, especially if funds run out.

Young men have long been the main focus for marketers looking to shift everything from cars and technology to beer and cheap aftershave. That is a model based on the emergence of the teenager in the 1960s and still relatively unchanged by modern demographics.

With the realisation that today’s graduates may be as likely to live with mum and dad as they are to be forming their own family unit, it is time to start rethinking how they are talked to (and perhaps to rewrite those song lyrics…)

By David Reed, editor, Data Strategy

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