Sociologist Katherine Newman explains a new term she has coined to describe the experience of many families in recent decades where young adults return to live at home: the accordion family.
NEWMAN: …[B]asically, an accordion family is a multigenerational household in which you have adult children over the age of 21 living with their parents. And, actually, that has not been the norm in the middle class for some time. It would have been the norm before the Second World War, but it really hasn’t been for some time now…
[I]t’s actually a trend that’s been in play for some time now, so it’s not unique to the recession we’ve been mired in. But, really, ever since about the early 1980s, we’ve seen a pretty steady increase in the proportion of young people of this age group that have been either moving back with their parents or who don’t leave in the first place.And that’s mainly because the economy has been changing in ways that make it difficult for young people to find entry level employment that really pays enough for them to be independent. As well in the middle class, where we see ambitions for professional futures, it takes longer and longer and more and more money to achieve the kind of educational credentials needed to launch a middle class professional life.
So we see young people who complete college and move back in with their parents in order to shelter those costs of the master’s degree or experience with an internship where they’re not earning any money at all in the hopes of launching at a higher level when they get a bit older.
I don’t think Newman says in this interview why she uses this term but I’ll hazard a guess: an accordion implies that American families stretch to accommodate younger adults at home when economic times are bad and then contract when these same adults move out when jobs are plentiful and the economy has picked up. This is different than a norm of multi or intergenerational living – the economic climate affects who can and will move back home.