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When is junior moving out? Transitions from the parental home to independence

by Pascale Beaupré, Pierre Turcotte, and Anne Milan

Children obtain most of their early socialization at home with their parents, where they acquire the experiences and ideas that will influence their adult years.1 Consequently, leaving the parental home is a significant event for both parents and children. For the parents, it may represent relief, pride in having fulfilled their parental role, and joy at seeing their children move towards greater independence. For the children, the first departure is a symbolic marker as they make the transition from youth to adulthood.

However, there has been a substantial increase in children still living at home long past the age when their parents expected them to leave. The largest growth has occurred among young adults in their late 20s or early 30s: between 1981 and 2001, the proportions doubled from 12% to 24% for those aged 25 to 29 and from 5% to 11% for those aged 30 to 34.2

Most of this increase took place during the early 1980s and early 1990s, years during which Canada endured two of the most severe labour recessions since the 1930s. Given the context, it does seem fair to ask whether young adults are really taking longer to leave the nest than their parents did.

This article uses data from the 2001 General Social Survey to examine patterns in leaving the parental home. It compares the transition process for five birth cohorts, with the focus on Wave 1 Boomers (born 1947-56) and Generation X (born 1967-76). The differences in patterns of leaving the parental home are examined, and then the principal factors associated with a young person's initial departure from home are identified.

What you should know about this study
More children staying home longer
Birth cohort a key predictor of leaving home earlier
Non-traditional and large families encourage earlier first departure
Parental employment linked to first launch
Mother's place of birth and the respondent's teenaged religious attendance habits influence home leaving
Westerners more likely to leave home early
Smaller towns prompt earlier departures from the nest
Men with higher education leave sooner

More children staying home longer

According to the 2001 GSS, only 87% of Generation X had left the parental home at least once and (as expected) almost all of Wave 1 had done so. Of course, leaving the parental home does not preclude a child from returning, but the transition of Wave 1s seems relatively smooth compared with Gen Xers. About 14% of Wave 1 Boomers returned home after their first attempt at leaving, while almost one-quarter (22%) of Gen Xers had boomeranged.

Using life-table estimates, it is possible to examine the changes across generations in the timing of children's first departure from the parental home. Younger Wave 1 male Boomers (born 1952-56) had a 59% probability of leaving by age 21, compared with 46% for younger Generation X males (born 1972-76). On the other hand, older Gen Xers had a higher likelihood of leaving by age 21 than older Wave 1s (born 1947-51), at 53% versus 49%. (Table of probabilities for all cohorts in Appendix A.)

Women tended to leave home earlier than men, largely because they marry or cohabit at younger ages3, and in this study, this was especially the case for women in the older cohorts. There was a two-thirds probability that both older and younger Wave 1 women had first launched before turning 21; the probability dropped to 59% and then 55% for older and younger Generation X women. (See Appendix A.)

Of course, economic conditions had changed considerably between the time that Wave 1 quit the nest and the time that Gen X was expected to leave. Well-paying unionized jobs were not nearly as plentiful, and real wages for young workers had fallen, reducing the incentive and opportunity for independence. (See “It's a wild world: Changing labour market conditions after the postwar boom”).

The reasons for leaving the parental home have also changed. Most young adults today move out voluntarily to pursue educational or employment opportunities, or simply live independently of their parents. However, studies have consistently found that children who leave home for these reasons are significantly more likely to boomerang than those who leave to marry and set up their own conjugal household.4

Birth cohort a key predictor of leaving home earlier

Researchers have been examining the path to independence for many years, and have identified a number of important influences on the transition from the parental home to independence. A wide variety of factors unique to the individual and the family play a role, of course; on the larger stage, general economic conditions, jobs opportunities, family financial pressures and regional diversity are also linked.5

Exactly how old a young person is when he or she first leaves the parental home depends on their unique situation. However, a risk ratio calculated using a proportional hazard model can estimate the probability that a person's first departure will occur at a younger or older age than a reference individual, when all other factors are controlled for. (See “What you should know about this study” for the list of variables included in the model.)

Earning a living is a key step to independence, so the state of the economy plays an important role when a young person is deciding whether to leave home. Reaching adulthood in a good or bad job market is entirely an accident of birth, and it is not surprising that young men from Generation X had a 16% lower probability of an early first departure than men in the War/ Depression cohort. Similarly, women had a 12% lower risk of leaving home at a given age if they belonged to Gen X than to the 1932-46 cohort, which reached adulthood during the economic heyday of the 1950s and 1960s, while the younger cohort faced the difficult labour market of the 1990s.

Chart 1. By age 21, about half of men in Wave 1 and Gen X had left their parents' home for the first time.

Chart 2. But over half of women in Wave 1 and in Generation X had left home by age 20.

Non-traditional and large families encourage earlier first departure

Children who experience family disruption during their childhood generally leave home earlier, probably as a way to deal with difficult relationships or other problems in the family.6 This seems to be especially true of women. When all other variables are controlled for, women who spent at least part of their childhood in a step-family had a 57% higher risk of leaving at a younger age than women who grew up in an intact family (both biological parents present). Men raised in a step-family also had a greater likelihood of leaving home earlier, but the increased risk (30%) was substantially lower than for women from step-families. In short, the presence of a step-parent seems to encourage young adults to leave home at an earlier age.

Generally, young people who leave home before age 18 due to an unstable family situation may not feel they have the option of returning home if they need help. This tends to expose premature leavers to having lower educational attainment, poorer labour market attachment and associated difficulties. In contrast, staying in a stable home environment after age 25 can provide a child with more resources to pursue a higher education or to build up savings, thus building a solid foundation for adult independence.7

Growing up in a large family also promotes being independent sooner rather than later. Men with three siblings had a 20% greater chance of moving out compared to someone the same age with only one sibling. Similarly, women had an 13% greater chance. And having four or more brothers or sisters at home increased the probability of leaving home earlier even more.

Table 1: Demographic and socioeconomic factors associated with leaving home for the first time.

Parental employment linked to first launch

Having a mother who was not in the paid labour force during their adolescence seems to reduce the likelihood of moving out of the parental home, when all other factors are controlled for. Compared to people the same age whose mothers had worked outside the home, men had a 12% lower and women an 8% lower probability of leaving home if their mothers had not been employed when they were 15. However, the effect of having an unemployed father was not statistically significant for either young men or women.

Mother's place of birth and the respondent's teenaged religious attendance habits influence home leaving

A young person's cultural background can influence the process of leaving home, and ethnicity and religious observance play significant roles. Researchers have noted that if a family has preserved some of the ethnic norms and preferences of a familistic culture intact, children tend to launch at older ages than those with British backgrounds.8 According to the GSS, men whose mother was born in a foreign country had a 31% lower probability of moving out early than men whose mother was Canadian-born; the probability for women was 23% lower.

The importance of family and kinship ties to people with strong religious beliefs has been well-documented,9 and respondents who often attended religious services in their youth might internalize these values. Certainly, compared with respondents who had attended services once a week, individuals who had never attended as a teen were more likely to depart at a younger age: the probability was 22% higher for men and 27% higher for women, when all other factors are controlled for.

Westerners more likely to leave home early

Region of residence, especially during childhood, has an effect on patterns of leaving home because it tends to create, support or reinforce social norms. Compared to adults who spent at least part of their childhood in Quebec, people who grew up in any other province had a greater likelihood of launching early. The highest probabilities were recorded in the West: they were 64% greater for women and 54% greater for men who had grown up in the Prairies, and 50% and 42% greater, respectively, if they had lived in British Columbia as a teen. The differences were not as great in Ontario or Atlantic Canada, but the risk ratios were significantly higher compared to Quebec, when all other factors are controlled for.

Smaller towns prompt earlier departures from the nest

People raised in small towns (less than 5,000) had the greatest likelihood of leaving home, compared to those raised in cities with populations over one million. Women, especially, left small towns at a younger age. When all other variables are controlled for, they had an 80% greater probability of an early first departure, while men had a 44% greater likelihood. Even those who grew up in a mid-size city of 25,000 to 100,000 had a higher likelihood of leaving sooner.

Geography influences the cost of housing, job availability and access to higher education. Young adults in a very large city might delay moving out because the cost of setting up an independent household is prohibitive, while those from less urban areas may accelerate their first launch because they can only obtain education, employment or labour market skills in a bigger city.10

Men with higher education leave sooner

Education is also associated with an earlier first departure. Men who have at least some postsecondary education had a 12% higher chance of leaving the parental home than young men who were the same age but had only high school graduation. For women, the opposite is true; that is, women without high school had a 12% greater probability of leaving home at a younger age than those with secondary completion.

The literature generally suggests that having personal income is an important predictor of leaving home sooner rather than later.11 The risk of leaving home at a younger age was 13% higher for employed than unemployed men whereas there was no statistically significant difference in risk between employed and unemployed young women.


Leaving the parental home is seen as an important event on the path to adulthood, although young adults today seem to delay leaving the nest. The exact timing of the first departure may be influenced by many factors, such as relationship formation, educational or employment opportunities, or expectations about establishing an independent household.

The GSS shows that those born during the early to mid 1950s left home earlier than later cohorts of young adults. In addition, young adults are more likely to leave home sooner rather than later if they spend at least part of their childhood in a non-traditional family, have more than two siblings, have a Canadian-born mother, did not attend religious services during adolescence, live in a region outside Quebec and grow up in a smaller town.

Appendix A table. Cumulative probabilities of first leaving home.


  1. Goldscheider, F. 1997. Recent changes in U.S. young adult living arrangements in comparative perspective. Journal of Family Issues 18(6): 708-724.
  2. Statistics Canada, 2002. Profile of Canadian Families and Households: Diversification continues. Catalogue no. 96F0030-XIE2001003. Population, unpublished tables.
  3. See for example, the literature review in White, L. 1994. Coresidence and leaving home: Young adults and their parents. Annual Review of Sociology 20:81-102.
  4. Mitchell, BA. 2006. The Boomerang Age: Transitions to Adulthood in Families. New Brunswick, N.J.; Transaction Publishers.
  5. Mitchell, 2006.
  6. Aquilino, W. S. 1991. Family structure and home-leaving: A further specification of the relationship. Journal of Marriage and the Family 53 (4): 999-1010; Mitchell, 2006.
  7. Mitchell, 2006.
  8. Mitchell, 2006.
  9. Clark, W. Autumn 1998. Religious observance: Marriage and family. Canadian Social Trends 50: 2-7.
  10. Turcotte, M. Spring 2006. Parents with adult children living at home. Canadian Social Trends 80: 2-12.
  11. Mitchell, 2006.

Full article in (PDF)


Pascale Beaupré is an analyst with Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division, Statistics Canada;

Pierre Turcotte is Acting Assistant Director, Strategic Analysis, Partnership and Dissemination Directorate, Human Resources and Social Development Canada; and

Anne Milan is an analyst with Demography Division, Statistics Canada.

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