Tag Archives: current population survey

Why there are 3.1 million extra young adults living at home

Answer: The COVID-19 pandemic.

UPDATED with June 2020 data

Catherine Rampell tweeted a link to a Zillow analysis showing 2.2 million adults ages 18-25 moving in with their parents or grandparents in March and April. Zillow’s Treh Manhertz estimates these move-homers would cost the rental market the better part of a billion dollars, or 1.4% of total rent if they stay home for a year.

We now have the June Current Population Survey data to work with, so I extended this forward, and did it differently. CPS is the large, monthly survey that the Census Bureau conducts for the Bureau of Labor Statistics each month, principally to track labor market trends. It also includes basic demographics and living arrangement information. Here is what I came up with.*

Among people ages 18-29, there is a large spike of living in the home of a parent or grandparent (of themselves or their spouse), which I’ll call “living at home” for short. This is apparent in a figure that compares 2020 with the previous 5 years (click figures to enlarge):

six year trends

From February to April, the percentage of young adults living at home jumped from 43% to 48%, and then up to 49% in June. Clearly, this is anomalous. (I ran it back to 2008 just to make sure there were no similar jumps around the time of the last recession; in earlier years the rates were lower and there were no similar spikes.) This is a very large disturbance in the Force of Family Demography.

To get a better sense of the magnitude of this event, I modeled it by age, sex, and race/ethnicity. Here are the estimated share of adults living at home by age and sex. For this I use just June of each year, and compare 2020 with the pooled set of 2017-2019. This controls for race/ethnicity.

men and women

The biggest increase is among 21-year-old men and 20-year-old women, and women under 22 generally. These may be people coming home from college, losing their jobs or apartments, canceling their weddings, or coming home to help.

I ran the same models but broke out race/ethnicity instead (for just White, Black, and Latino, as the samples get small).

white black latino

This shows that the 2020 bounce is greatest for Black young adults (below age 24) and the levels are lowest for Latinos (remember that many Latinos are immigrants whose parents and grandparents don’t live in the US).

To show the total race/ethnic and gender pattern, here are the predicted levels of living at home, controlling for age:

raceth-gender

The biggest 2020 bounce is among Black men and women, with Black men having the highest overall levels, 58%, and White women having the lowest at 44%.

In conclusion, millions of young adults are living with their parents and grandparents who would not be if 2020 were like previous years. The effect is most pronounced among Black young adults. Future research will have to determine which of the many possible disruptions to their lives is driving this event.

For scale, there are 51 million (non-institutionalized) adults ages 18-29 in the country. If 2020 was like the previous three years, I would expect there to be 22.2 million of them living with their parents. Instead there are 25.4 million living at home, an increase of 3.1 million from the expected number (numbers updated for June 2020). That is a lot of rent not being spent, but even with that cost savings I don’t think this is good news.


* The IPUMS codebook, Stata code, spreadsheet, and figures are in an Open Science Framework project under CC0 license here: osf.io/2xrhc.

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That number you want, it is not precise (women’s labor force edition)

Everyone wants a number. You want to know if the number is different from last year, or 100 years ago. Numbers are great. But the number you’re using is usually a statistic, a number calculated from a sample drawn from a population. You want a good number, you need a good sample. And a big one. And that’s going to cost you.

Who didn’t love the news recently that single British men ages 18-25 change their bedsheets only four times a year? Really? Really. How does anyone know this? Ergoflex, a memory-foam mattress distributor. At least UPI had the decency to report, “No survey details were provided,” although somehow Time found out the sample size was 2,004 (men and women, all ages). Rubbish, I reckon, or bonkers, or whatever. No one can resist a number; methods details don’t make it into the tweet version of the press release.

Here’s a more answerable question: What is the labor force participation rate for married, college graduate women with children, ages 25-54 in the United States? I’d say 76.1% — plus or minus a percentage point — based on the gold standard for labor force data collection, the Current Population Survey, easily analyzable these days for free with the IPUMS online tool.That’s from a sample of 60,000 households with a 90+% response rate, at a cost of umpteen million taxpayer dollars (well spent).

Here’s the trend in that number from 1990 to 2012, with 95% confidence intervals, based on the sample size, as calculated by IPUMS:

cps-error-bars

As more women have gotten college degrees, and the CPS sample has been enlarged, the sample size for this trend has grown and the error bars have shrunk, from a spread of almost 3 points to just less than 2. Still, there are only 8,265 of these women in the sample.

Only! Hold that up to a Gallup or Pew poll and compare confidence intervals when they start dividing and subdividing their samples. (Nothing against them — they give us the information we need to know how much variance there is in the estimates they put out, and then most people [+/- 51%] ignore it.)

There aren’t many one-year changes in this trend that are statistically significant at conventional levels. Of course, with this sample size you could say with confidence the labor force participation rate was higher in the late 1990s than the early 1990s (but check the survey redesign in 1994…), and higher again in the late 2000s than in the early 2000s. But were 2007 and 2002 sample flukes? And if so, what about 2012?

What about if you want a slightly smaller subgroup, say, Black married, college graduate women with children, ages 25-54. That’s a reasonable question. Here’s the trend (note the y-axis scale changed):

cps-error-bars-black

Now the sample size is a couple hundred and the confidence intervals are more than 6 points wide; there isn’t a pair of years in the trend that doesn’t have overlapping confidence intervals. And look at 2007 and 2012 — Black women are blipping in the opposite direction from the larger group in each of those years. Yes, if you put the whole Black trend in the blender with a time trend you have a significant decline of about a fifth of a point per year on average (and a sliver of this change is because of the increasing tendency of college graduates to be in grad school and not working — there are 13 of them in 2012, dragging down the participation rate by 0.6%). But don’t hang a lot on one year.

So, my advice for doing simple description:

  • Eyes on the prize: who cares what the exact number is? Is it a lot or little, going up or going down, higher or lower than some other group? That’s usually what matters.
  • Stick to data with reported methods
  • Know the size of your subsamples, try to get confidence intervals
  • Don’t fixate on (or report) small changes or differences (don’t use that second decimal place if the margin of error is 6%)
  • For trends, pool data from multiple years, or report moving averages
  • Spend tax money on surveys, not war

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