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Junior comes back home:
Trends and predictors of returning to the parental home

by Pascale Beaupré, Pierre Turcotte and Anne Milan

Boomerang noun (1) a curved flat hardwood projectile used by Australian Aborigines to kill prey, and often of a kind able to return in flight to the thrower. (2) a plan etc. that backfires. intransitive verb (1) act as a boomerang. (2) (of a plan etc.) backfire.1

Canadians with adult children may be familiar with both meanings of the word “boomerang.” It describes the behaviour of young adults who, after living away from home for a time, return to live with their parents. Although many parents may be unprepared for this “blast from the past”, an adult child returning home has become a fairly common, predictable event in family life.2

Leaving home is often a continuing process in which close ties with the family home are unravelled slowly rather than being cut quickly. Even though the child is living elsewhere, some level of dependence remains, whether it is emotional, financial or functional, or all three.3 In this stage of what researchers have called "semiautonomous living," the family home may provide a form of safety net for young adults and a refuge from financial or emotional difficulties.4 Consequently, leaving may occur multiple times rather than just once.

Returning home is not usually characterized by tension and discord between the generations.5 In fact, parents may appreciate having their adult child's companionship and help at home, although studies do find that parents' satisfaction is greater when their adult children are more independent, more mature, and give as well as receive support.6

However, a return home does interrupt each party 's plans for the future, and neither parents nor children may know what is expected of them in their new roles. Returning home tends to increase parental responsibility, as mothers are left with additional care giving tasks such as cooking or doing laundry.7 Sharing the house again can also produce difficulties caused by interpersonal conflicts or lack of social or practical support.8

This paper uses data from the 2001 General Social Survey to examine patterns in the frequency with which young people have returned home over the last few decades, their reasons for returning, and the sociodemographic and economic factors that influence this process.

What you should know about this study
Returning has become more common with each generation
Factors that increase the risk of return are birth cohort...
...reason for going
...leaving before age 18
...occasionally attending religious services
...and growing up outside Quebec
Factors that discourage a return to the nest are growing up in a small town or foreign country...
...being raised in a non-traditional family
...having a higher level of education and a job

Returning has become more common with each generation

Returning home in young adulthood has evolved from a relatively rare to a fairly common event. While a proportion of youngsters have always returned home after first striking out on their own, what we see from a life table analysis is that the tendency to return home at least once has risen in each generation, starting with the boomers. For example, among early Wave 1 Boomers (born 1947-51), the probability of returning home within five years of first leaving was less than 12% for men and 10% for women. In contrast, the probability for the later wave of Gen Xers (born 1972-76) was 32% for men and 28% for women. In other words, for both men and women, the likelihood of coming back home has nearly tripled.

There are a number of factors that help explain this growing trend. These include the increasing acceptance of common-law relationships (since such unions are more likely to break up than marriages); the pursuit of higher education, which tends to leave young graduates with heavy student debts; financial difficulties; the reduced stigma attached to living with parents; wanting a standard of living impossible to afford on their own; the new and different roles of parents and children in families; and needing a parent's emotional support during the stressful transition to adulthood and independence.9

Table 1. Demographic and socio-economic factors associated with home returning.

Table A.1. Cumulative probabilities of first return to the parental home for male and female birth cohorts 1932-1986, Canada.

Factors that increase the risk of return are birth cohort...

Hazard model analysis allows us to estimate the probability that a young adult with certain characteristics will return home to their parents; when this probability is compared to that of a reference group, it produces a risk ratio that identifies whether the characteristic will increase or decrease the likelihood of a young adult moving back into the family home.

This method shows quite clearly that the boomerang phenomenon began with the female Wave 1 Boomers and accelerated among both sexes in the succeeding cohorts. Compared with women born during the Depression and Second World War (1932-46), and when all other variables in the model are controlled for, Wave 1 Boomer women had a 39% greater likelihood of returning home. By the time Generation X women (born 1967-76) had reached the fledgling stage, their chance of returning home was almost two-and-a-half times higher. Meanwhile, Gen X men's risk of coming back to their parents' home was over twice as high as that of men from the 1932-46 birth cohort.

...reason for going

The boomerang phenomenon partly reflects the changing reasons for leaving the parental home over recent generations. According to the 2001 GSS, getting married and having a job were the two main reasons why the War/Depression birth cohort left home for the first time; by the time Generation X was ready to go, being independent and going to school were the top-ranked reasons. And generally speaking, people who move out to attend school, live independently or because of work have a greater likelihood of returning home than those who leave to marry.10

A brief review of why adult children come back to their family home offers some insight into why their reason for going is a useful predictor of the likelihood that they will return. There are five main reasons why boomerang kids come home (respondents were permitted to give multiple answers). The most common is educationrelated: either it was the end of the school year (19%) or they had finished their program or quit school (8%). Another 25% returned the first time for financial reasons, while 12% said their job had ended. Just over one in ten (11%) came home with a broken heart, seeking their parents' sympathy at the end of a relationship.

Refining this idea further, the boomerang kids who most often returned for education-related reasons were those who had left to attend college or university; the large majority of those who returned because they got into financial difficulty were those who had moved out to be independent or to attend school; and those who came back because their job had ended had most often left in order to take the job.

The hazard models confirm this link between the reason for the initial departure and a return home. Men and women who left to pursue their studies had a 32% and a 38% higher chance, respectively, of coming back home in comparison with those who moved out because of a job. On the other hand, men who left home to form a union were about 76% less likely to return, while women had a 71% lower risk, when all other variables in the model are controlled for. This confirms earlier research that has also found that departures for education- or employment-related reasons have higher probabilities of boomeranging than adult children who leave to form a relationship.11

Leaving home to be independent is not statistically significantly different than leaving because of a job, when all other variables in the model are taken into account.

Chart 1. Over the generations, the most common reasons for leaving home have changed.

Chart 2. The main reasons for the initial departure from home were closely related to reasons for returning.

...leaving before age 18

Young adults who first leave home as teenagers have a higher probability of returning to their parents' home. For those who left home between 15 and 17 years of age, men had a 74% greater likelihood and women over two times higher risk of return compared to those who waited until they were at least 21. The risk was lower among 18- to 20-year-olds leaving home for the first time. This result matches previous research which has found that boomerang kids tend to leave the parental nest at younger ages; moreover, the younger they are at their first departure, the more likely they are to boomerang multiple times.12

...occasionally attending religious services

Young adults who had sometimes gone to religious services at age 15 had a higher probability of coming back home. Compared to those who had gone to church, temple or mosque each week, the likelihood of returning was 19% greater for men and 20% greater for women who had attended services occasionally when they were teens.

Young adults who had never gone to religious services in their adolescence were neither more nor less likely to return to the nest than those who had gone every week.

...and growing up outside Quebec

Young adults who grew up in Quebec tend to be older than those in other provinces when they leave home,13 but once they go, they are the least likely to return. Youngsters from Ontario and the West show the highest propensity to come back home. Men who spent their adolescence in Ontario (49%) or B.C. (48%) had the greatest likelihood of returning home compared to men raised in Quebec. Meanwhile, women who grew up in Ontario (65%) and the Prairies (58%) had much higher risks of return than young Québécoises, when all other variables in the model are controlled for.

It is not clear why there is such a difference in the home returning patterns of Quebecers and other young Canadian adults. Previous research suggests that Anglophones may be socialized to accept leaving home as a process that may also include returning home. In contrast, this same research also suggests that the social norms for Francophones seem to expect more autonomy and independence once the first launch from home is achieved. Perhaps young adults in Quebec delay leaving the family home until they are confident that a return will not be necessary.14

Factors that discourage a return to the nest are growing up in a small town or foreign country...

Not surprisingly, having been raised in a small town of less than 5,000 people reduces the likelihood that a young adult will return home by 26% for men, compared to being brought up in a city of over one million people. Most probably, these youngsters felt that more education and employment opportunities awaited them in a large city.

Growing up in another country also reduced the like lihood that men would return to the parental home; their risk of coming back was 38% lower compared to young men raised in Quebec. For women, spending at least part of their own childhood abroad did not have an impact when other factors are taken into account. However, if their mother was born outside Canada, a woman's risk of moving back in with her parents was 17% lower than that for women with Canadian-born mothers. For men, their mother's country of birth did not play a role in the probability that they would return home after their initial departure.

...being raised in a non-traditional family

A non-traditional family structure deters returning home, perhaps because of the resources lacking in many lone-parent families or the tensions arising within a reconstituted family. Both situations affected the likelihood that young women would return home; if they had lived in either a lone-parent or a stepfamily, their chances of coming back were 23% and 26% lower, respectively, than if they had grown up with both biological parents. Men raised by a lone parent had a 43% lower risk of returning home compared to those who grew up in a two-parent intact household, but growing up in a stepfamily did not have a significant impact.

...having a higher level of education and a job

More educated men have reduced chances of returning to the parental home, when all other factors are controlled for. Compared to men who had left home with a high school diploma, men who had a partial or complete postsecondary education were 20% less likely to come back. As would be expected, men who were employed when they first moved out of the family nest were also less likely to return home (29% lower risk) than those who had not had a job at the time of their first departure. Young men with these resources - that is, education and a job - are better able to support themselves and therefore less reliant on the safety net of the family home.

In contrast, neither employment status nor education at the time she left home had a significant effect on the probability that a woman would return to her parents.

Whether or not their father had been employed during a young adult's childhood did not have a significant impact on their risk of returning home. However, both men and women had a reduced likelihood of coming home if their mother had not been in the workforce (15% and 20% lower, respectively), perhaps because they knew that fewer resources were available to help them. Indeed, previous research has noted the higher rates of return to more affluent families and suggested that coming back home may be an informal social safety net accessible to those who are already advantaged.15


This study has identified five sociodemographic factors that significantly affect the likelihood that a young adult will be a boomerang kid. These are: the generation into which he or she was born; the reason for leaving home; leaving home for the first time when still a teenager; occasionally attending religious services during adolescence; and growing up in a province other than Quebec.

Among the factors that reduce the risk of an adult child boomeranging are: being raised in a lone-parent or stepparent family; having a mother who did not work outside the home during the child's adolescence; and, for men, having a postsecondary education, a job and growing up in a very small town.


  1. Compact Oxford Canadian Dictionary. Alex Bisset (ed.). Oxford University Press; Don Mills, Ontario. 2002.

  2. Mitchell, B.A. 2006. The Boomerang Age: Transitions to Adulthood in Families. Transaction Publishers; New Brunswick, N.J.

  3. Mitchell (2006).

  4. Goldscheider, F., C. Goldscheider, P. St. Clair, J. Hodges. 1999. Changes in returning home in the United States, 1925- 1985. Social Forces 78(2):695-728.

  5. Mitchell, B. A. 1998. Too close for comfort? Parental assessments of "boomerang kid" living arrangements. Canadian Journal of Sociology 23(1): 21-46; Turcotte, M. Spring 2006. Parents with adult children living at home. Canadian Social Trends 80: 2-12.

  6. Mitchell (1998).

  7. Mitchell (1998).

  8. Mitchell (1998)..

  9. Statistics Canada. 2002. Profile of Canadian families and households: Diversification continues. (Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 96F0030XIE2001003); Mitchell, (2006).

  10. Mitchell, (2006).

  11. Goldscheider, Goldscheider, St. Clair and Hodges (1999).

  12. Gee, E. M., B.A. Mitchell, A.V. Wister. 1995. Returning to the parental "nest": Exploring a changing Canadian life course. Canadian Studies in Population 22(2):121-144.

  13. Beaupré, P., P. Turcotte and A. Milan. "When is junior moving out?" Canadian Social Trends, online edition, August 2006.

  14. Mitchell, B.A., A.V. Wister, and E.M. Gee. 2000. Culture and co-residence: An exploration of variation in home-returning among Canadian young adults. Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 37(2):197-222.

  15. Mitchell, Wister and Gee (2000).
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Pascale Beaupré is a senior analyst with Social and Aboriginal Surveys Division, and Anne Milan is an analyst with Demography Division, Statistics Canada; Pierre Turcotte is Acting Assistant Director, Strategic Analysis, Partnership & Dissemination Directorate, Human Resources and Social Development Canada.

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