According to the Pew Research Center, more Millennial women are living at home than ever—almost 40 percent of us. That's more 18-34 year olds living at home now in the 1940s (and for men, the number is closer to half). What the heck is going on?
Obviously, student loans and a poor job market are big reasons as to why we might end up moving back in with mom and dad (or never leaving in the first place), but the researchers behind the study don't think that's the whole story. They guess it has something to do with the fact that living at home for a few extra years has simply become less stigmatized. Rent-free room and board with a full suite of amenities (like HBO you don't have to steal a login for)? What is there to stigmatize in the first place?
But regardless of whether or not you think it's #embarassing to be sharing a bathroom with mom again, living with your parents can have some real consequences for your health—both negative and positive. To get the scoop on what hanging out at home is doing to your brain and your bod, we went to the experts. (Find out how much influence your parents have on your bad workout habits.)
The mental health effects of moving back in with the 'rents are largely dependent on the circumstances of your situation, says to Franklin Porter, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York City. "Choice versus obligation is a major consideration that is certainly going to affect one's perception of that experience," he says. "Moving home by choice to save money before grad school is very different than wanting to be independent but not being able to for whatever reason."
The fact is, some of us will have to make the financially-prudent decision to move home for a stint at some point or another. But according to Porter, whether that move stunts your growth or actually serves to help support your maturation is all a matter of attitude. "The benefits or the detriments are really internal," he says. "It can affect how you feel about yourself, which has an impact on social and occupational functioning." If you feel like a failure, you're more likely to come across like one in a job interview or on a date. And that can be a recipe for a quick downward spiral into depression and delayed development.
Your parents' attitudes are a big factor here too. "If your parents are too enabling it will stunt your maturational growth," Porter says. "You need to be perceived as an adult and treated as an adult and there need to be expectations consistent with being an adult." In other words, mom doing your laundry and making your bed in the morning shouldn't be part of the deal. (FYI: You can lose weight doing household chores!)
That being said, for some of us, living at home for a few extra years can actually do wonders for our confidence, maturity, and overall mental health. "Many kids when they hit 21 aren't necessarily ready for the demands of adult life," stresses Porter. "Staying at home can be an additional learning experience."
Sitting down at the family dinner table every night can also have a big impact on your twenty-something physical health. And much like your mental health, whether that's good or bad for your bod totally depends on how you approach the situation. "For many, living at home and having more of a routine with meals could be a very healthy thing. But that's if you come from a family that serves veggies with dinner," says Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Diet Change. (Are Your Parents to Blame for Obesity?)
Having a home-cooked meal every night is more than just a millennial fantasy—it's much healthier than hitting up sodium-saturated Seamless menus. And for a lot of us living on our own, the difficulty of cooking for one at the end of a long day often leaves us on the takeout train. But the benefits of eating mom's cooking every night only exist when we're taking some responsibility for the food shopping or actual meal prep, says Alissa Rumsey, R.D, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"A big part of healthy eating includes planning ahead for meals, and balancing out your overall food for the day. When someone doesn't have autonomy over many of their daily meals, it makes it harder to ensure they are getting a good balance of nutrients," she says. If the person running the show in the supermarket and at the stove doesn't value healthy eating, you're set to consume more calories. (You Can Pass "Fast Food" Genes On to Your Kids.)
"You need to become a willing participant in your own life, meaning you need to help out," adds Gans. "Just because you're living at home doesn't mean you can't contribute a little and do the food shopping or the weekly meal planning."
The bottom line: If you find yourself at home, make the most of it. "At any age we can learn from each other," says Gans. "We're never too old to learn from our parents and we're never too young to teach them something."