Meet generation boomerang

Sebastian, 24, Esperanza, 49, and Simon, 15

In the 1980s, almost half of 18-to-34-year-olds lived in a property they owned. Now, around 40 per cent have moved back in with their parents – that’s if they ever moved out at all. Hello, mum and dad. Have you missed us?

Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.

In 2024, the milestones of young adulthood have shifted dramatically. For some, they’ve collapsed completely. Only a few years ago you’d go straight from school into work, get an apprenticeship, or graduate from university/​college. Then, having landed a decently paid job, you’d start saving as best you could. After that you’d buy somewhere to live. Your first home.

And now? Although house prices have dropped, approaching the foot of the property ladder remains a money minefield. To secure a mortgage, you’ll need a 10 per cent deposit, which is no small feat. And that’s assuming you have a regular, PAYE income – if you’re self-employed, you’ll have an added layer of financial hoops to jump through. If you’re lucky enough to find a property in an overheated market, you’ll need to contend with bloated interest rates, which have reached a 15-year high (The Bank of England is expected to announce an interest rate cut later this year.)

So, if buying your own place is now a pipe dream for most of us, rented accommodation it is. Except…

Across the UK, renting a decent room, for a reasonable price, has become an Olympic sport. Or, if you like, a physical, emotional and financial assault course. We’ve all heard the stories. Last year, upwards of 50 prospective tenants were made to queue in the street to simply view a property in Romford. Landlords have held bidding wars, pressuring tenants to pay upwards of the asking price. Rents have risen in London by 11 per cent in the last year alone. Across the UK, renters are now, on average, paying an extra £960 a year compared to 2023.

It’s painful enough that, these days, four pints and a packet of cigarettes will set you back almost 50 quid. But in the midst of an ongoing cost-of-living crisis, young people’s inability to get on the housing ladder is what has led to this rental rip-off explosion. The thought of saving up for a deposit, let alone owning a home outright one day, feels impossible for most young people who don’t have rich parents, access to inherited wealth or a really, really good salary. And landlords – hardly renowned for their fairness at the best of times – are exploiting a captive market.

This isn’t just hurting our bank accounts, though. It’s changing the way we live and grow up. According to data published by the Financial Times in January, in the 1980s, almost half of 18-to-34-year-olds lived in a property they owned – with their children. Now, for around 40 per cent of the same age group, the most common living arrangement is to have moved back in with their parents – that’s if they ever moved out at all.

We talk a lot, and we also fight a lot. Communication is everything. Sometimes I just want to be alone for a second, but you learn to manage your mindset”

Sebastian, 24, Northwest London

The last couple of months haven’t been easy for Sebastian, 24 – he moved out of the family home, then moved again, and again, before finally having to move back in with his mum. Now, he’s relocated to a small, two-bed flat in Willesden Junction, Northwest London, with his 15-year-old brother Simon and their mum Esperanza, 49. Sebastian is in the throes of his second year studying games development at the University of Greenwich; Esperanza is studying there too, to get her masters in marketing and communication. This year, Simon will take his GCSEs.

I walk past Sebastian at uni and I’m like, I know you!” Esperanza says.

Then, he hides…”

The family were previously based in Old Street, East London, where they’d lived since before the pandemic, but were evicted in February. Section 21, just get the fuck out, no explanation,” Sebastian says, well-acquainted with the sense of precarity that comes with being at the mercy of a landlord. Eviction clauses such as Section 21 and Section 8 mean landlords only have to give tenants a two-month minimum deadline to leave. The government promised to abolish no-fault evictions in 2019. Guess what? They didn’t.

His and Esperanza’s commute to university was once a 45-minute journey. Now, on a good day, it takes more than an hour. What’s most difficult is settling in again,” he continues. You move into a place, you make it your own, it’s your safe space. Moving is tiring emotionally. I’m constantly late submitting uni work now because of that. We’re all sharing this small space and having to manage it in terms of our work. Trying to piece that puzzle together is hard.”

Sebastian, Esperanza and Simon have done more than their fair share of country-hopping over the years. Sebastian was born in Madrid, with the family moving to Colombia, where Simon was born, eight years later. Eventually, in 2008, they chose the UK as a home to escape the Spanish financial crisis. I had no job,” Esperanza says. I tried to learn English in Barcelona. We got here by ferry and bus – it took 33 hours. That’s all we could afford. I came without any money.”

Sebastian carried this sense of financial responsibility into adulthood. When he was 18, he moved to Southampton to work in door-to-door sales and lived on his own, partly to avoid being a burden”, but also as a way to crack open a shell of shyness he’d built around himself. When the company moved to London, he came back too, just before the pandemic hit. He wasn’t ready to give up the independence he’d worked hard to build, so he snapped up a room he found in Bethnal Green. Rent: £600pcm. At that price, it seemed too good to be true. And it was.

There were so many problems,” he says. The fridge was always leaking, the [front] door could be pushed open and one of the windows wouldn’t close. I tried to tell the landlord for a year, but he did nothing.” Eventually, he was forced to do what he’d been avoiding for the best part of two years: move back in with his mum and little brother. Then I found another place for the same price, but after six months the landlord sold the house.” Once again, he was forced home to his mum’s.

I thought I was done [with moving] – I’ll pay her some money, we can both save a bit. And now we’re here, which is tiny for the three of us. We’ve always lived together in small spaces, but my brother’s a teenager now. We get along, at least.” At this, Simon’s ears perk up. It’s fun having my brother here,” he says quietly. He’s silly.”

Out of nowhere, the three of them burst out laughing. Their familial bond is clear, from Sebastian and Esperanza’s matching Spongebob sliders to the way they all attempt to beckon Simon’s cat, Iggy, out from under the bed. And, among the cramped chaos, Sebastian remains grateful he’s managing to save cash by living at home.

We talk a lot, and we also fight a lot. Communication is everything. Sometimes I just want to be alone for a second, but you learn to manage your mindset,” he says. I try not to spend that much time here – because I’m saving money, I can eat out a bit more and spend time exploring Greenwich. But there’s a constant sense of impending doom. Like, are we gonna get kicked out again?” Generally, though, he feels positive, and hopes to crack the worlds of 3D modelling and VFX after graduating – unless I fuck it up”. Before that, though, fingers crossed, he’d love a holiday. I really want to travel around Europe. Or maybe I’ll overthrow the government, who knows…”

For certain young people – those, perhaps, from homes in desirable parts of desirable towns – moving back in with their parents is a privilege. For others, like Sebastian, it’s a necessity, one rooted in a lack of affordable housing and poor conditions in rented accommodation. In 2015, then Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to turn generation rent into generation buy”. None of which, obviously, happened. But at least the PM who tossed us into the flames of Brexit is now Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton and Foreign Secretary, eh?

In terms of the nation’s capital, where the rental crisis is particularly acute, the causes have long been a point of contention within both the Conservative and Labour parties. The Tories have dragged their feet with the Renters Reform Bill – it was first floated by then PM Theresa May five years ago and included the abolition of Section 21, but is still yet to be passed.

In fact, Rishi Sunak has been criticised for watering the bill down at the behest of Tory MPs lobbying for landlord interests. As it stands, we’re no closer to protecting tenants by law. Meanwhile, Keir Starmer’s proposed Labour manifesto promises to build more homes and help first time buyers with first dibs’ on new homes in their area”, should the party be elected at the forthcoming general election. In April, though, London mayor Sadiq Khan told Byline Times that he has not been able to persuade” Starmer of the need for private sector rent caps in the city.

Crisis? What crisis?

Felicia, 72, and Chrissy, 32

Chrissy lives at home with her widowed mum Felicia, 74, in Hackney to take the financial pressure off. She’s using this opportunity, largely, to ensure she doesn’t need to sacrifice what’s most important to her: a base in the corner of London that suits her.

My friend from Denmark pays £950 per month for a room in Leytonstone,” she says of the neighbourhood further east and a touch more suburban than buzzy Hackney. That’s bad. She’s like, I’d love to live in Hackney!’ Well… I have the privilege of living there. [My mum and I are] like Tom and Jerry, but she’s my best friend.” The 32-year-old model was born around the corner in Homerton and raised in this flat tucked away on the edge of a sleepy park leading into the reservoir-turned-nature reserve of Walthamstow Wetlands. It’s an enviable location, and many of the block’s residents are lifelong neighbours who’ve brought an invaluable sense of community to the area.

My nieces, who are seven and eight, come here every Sunday,” Chrissy continues. My cousins come here, too. It’s home. I help my mum put her lashes on when she goes to church – she’s very glamorous.“

The youngest (by some distance) of four siblings, Chrissy has previously cut the apron strings twice: once, aged 19, to study events management at Buckinghamshire New University; another to take a job in Atlanta, Georgia, back in 2017, which is where she was initially scouted. But despite having had a taste of independent living, Chrissy is in no rush to move out for a third time.

I refuse to pay [exorbitant rents],” she says firmly. I wouldn’t say I love it, but I’m OK with living at home. I’m grateful for it. A lot of the time, if it’s been a dry season for modelling or I haven’t done any freelance work [as a receptionist]…” She trails off. If I wasn’t living here, I might work harder, but I’d also be in this rat race of doing something I don’t love just to put a roof over my head.”

Chrissy’s bedroom, meanwhile, is her sanctuary. Her and Felicia have separate bathrooms, which means they don’t always need to cross paths in the house. For her part, Felicia, who moved to London from Lagos in 1976 and almost immediately started a family, enjoys having her daughter around for company. I wouldn’t want to be here alone,” she says. Chrissy looks after me – she makes me food, goes to the shops. Last week she took me to the hospital, which is great because I don’t always understand the terms they use [there]. But if she wanted to move on, I couldn’t say no to that.”

When you’re a grown woman back living with your mum, tensions inevitably arise. At one point last year, Chrissy was in a relationship. She was desperate to move out and start the process of buying a home with her partner, before realising she wasn’t cut out for it – not for the relationship, and not for the pressure put on it by meeting monthly mortgage payments. And I’m not killing myself to pay someone else’s mortgage [by renting],” she says. Chrissy is hardly extravagant, but equally isn’t willing to skimp on small luxuries: occasional meals out, the odd holiday, beauty treatments. I want to live my life on my own accord. My hair alone cost me £90.”

Her love life, however, is still suffering. I don’t like [partners] coming back here unless it’s official,” Chrissy says. You can’t exactly bring a one-night stand home. That’s tough, but it means I’m more of a good girl these days. I guess I’ll have to live out my summertime flings in the park…” she adds with a smile. Certainly, the cost-of-living crisis has pressurised young couples to move in together too quickly, as a means of saving cash in the face of unaffordable rents (inflationships, we called it, in Issue 14 last year).

While this is undoubtedly still the case, things can also go the other way – that is, backwards, to awkward memories of teenage dating and trying to sneak someone up the stairs without your parents overhearing. Stumbling through the front door with a Hinge date while mum’s having a Saturday night Corrie catch-up doesn’t exactly ooze eroticism.

But what about managing long-term adult relationships in the my house, my rules” shadow of your family?

Imelda, 52, Joseph, 25, Mikey, 21, and Christopher, 54

Mikey, 21, who lives at home in Acton, West London, with his 25-year-old brother Joseph and their parents, Imelda, 52, and Christopher, 54, has luckily found juggling this dynamic fairly straightforward.

He regularly makes trips to Sunderland to see his boyfriend, who’s based there and also lives with his parents, for a couple of weeks at a time. My parents love him and he’s welcome to stay whenever he wants, too,” Mikey says. They get that privacy is something we need, but we’d both like to move out together at some point when we can afford to.”

A recent graduate in fashion production and styling from London College of Fashion, Mikey lived with friends in Bethnal Green while studying, covering his £650 monthly rent with his student loan. But that kind of price, currently, feels like a rarity. He now works a creative, flexible job as a casting assistant. I don’t feel stuck, though,” he says – but nor does he feel secure. So, for financial ease, and given generally low salaries in the fashion industry, it makes sense for him to stay with his family.

But you do leave dirty stuff everywhere,” chimes in his dad Christopher, a National Rail worker. Mikey rolls his eyes. This subtle regression into parent-teenager dynamics is a bit of a sticking point, it seems. It’s hard, in a way, to come back and for the rules that I had growing up to still apply,” says Mikey. Only to an extent, though. I’m an adult, I’m basically free to do whatever I want, and I know how lucky I am to have my family’s support. And when we run out of toothpaste, there’s always a tube spare…”

Joseph’s career, on the other hand, is more traditional: he’s a management consultant who studied finance at Loughborough University. Still, even that corporate paycheck doesn’t stretch far enough. London rent is crazy. It’s easily half your salary,” he says. But knowing that’s being saved, you can live life a little bit.” Down the line, sure, he’d like to own a house. But he also acknowledges that, for his generation, there’s been a shift in perspective, at least in terms of priorities.

Kids, marriage and buying a home used to be the apexes, signifiers of security and success. It’s not that Joseph doesn’t want these things. They just feel less attainable now. You could say that many young people these days, especially those still living at home, are trapped in a sense of prolonged adolescence. Of more time spent just figuring shit out.

This is a knock-on effect of financial strain, to some degree, but also a general adjustment in terms of what is thought of as a milestone” at all, a definition that’s less rigid than ever. These two forces feed into one another, creating a feedback loop that’s pushing young people further away from tradition and, yes, perhaps into the arms of their parents – but also, hopefully, towards a view of their lives that’s both more holistic and realistic.

According to a poll carried out by relationship counselling charity Relate, a third of both Gen Z and millennials felt that traditional life milestones were outdated altogether, and that leaving a job to do something you love”, for example, should be better recognised by society as something to strive for and prize. Much more so than that feverish determination to get on the property ladder”.

Manuel, 49, and Omar, 25

This is a feeling that’s echoed by Omar, 24, who lives with his mum Jacqueline and uncle Manuel in a flat in Stockwell, Southwest London.

As well as working as a supervisor at a nightclub, he’s also a music producer. I’ve lived with friends before, but there’s no way to save money that way,” he says. All I want is to be able to fulfil my passion as a career.” Living at home for the last four years, then, has allowed Omar to pursue his music in a more serious way: without a mortgage to worry about, he’s been able to put cash towards equipment and studio sessions.

If you get a mortgage, you’re tied down to it every month,” Joseph echoes. But these days, you’re more connected to the rest of the world [and] you can work remotely. You have more opportunities to go abroad, experience life in other countries. I’d love to buy a house, but it’s not urgent like it used to be.” This reflects a point that data reporter John Burn-Murdoch made in that Financial Times article. Not being able to leave home, or moving back in due to financial circumstances – and indeed the UK’s housing crisis overall – has contributed to a breakdown of a central aspirational belief” in Gen Zers and young millennials. It’s not exactly hard to see why. In 1990, saving up to buy a house in the UK took three years on average – four in London. Now it takes around 13 years and 30 – yes, 30 – in London, unless you can count on the Bank of Mum and Dad.

For the most part, Mikey, Joseph and their parents fit well into each other’s lives and share a deep sense of gratitude for each other. Joseph has heard enough housemate horror stories from friends; with his family, at least, there’s no awkwardness and resentment is easily quashed. Christopher and Imelda, a primary school teacher, enjoy knowing their kids are safe with them. I like having them around. They know I’m here to do everything,” she says, one eyebrow raised.

Christopher, meanwhile, just wants everyone to join him in watching Franco Zeffirelli’s 1979 boxing drama The Champ – the mention of which is met with a collective groan. I even paid £7.99 for it on Amazon Prime!” he pleads, laughing. A bit of a treat, then. Although living at home has relieved some financial strain for Mikey, he acknowledges that, overall, the cost-of-living crisis has certainly made his family’s situation much more fraught. Basically, all of our decisions consider trying not to spend,” he says. We’re all a lot more careful than we have been previously, and both of my parents have been working longer hours. My brother pays a fraction of the rent, I pay for some food and bills. It’s putting us under a lot of pressure and we try to focus on supporting each other financially to try and find some stability together.”

Sasha, 24, and Sonia, 65

Sasha, 24, still lives in her childhood home in Hither Green, Southeast London, with her mum Sonia, who’s 68.

Shortly after graduating in 2021 with a fine art degree from the University of East London, Sasha’s dad passed away, leading her to take a career detour. I was so, so angry,” she says, her nails digging into the palm of her hand. I was like: I’m going to change the world, so I applied to do a nursing degree at Kingston. I don’t remember the interview process, I don’t remember signing up, but I’m in my second year now. I’m hoping to eventually loop things around and do art therapy.”

For Sasha, living at home while studying isn’t something she takes for granted. It was also born from an emotional necessity – she and her mum were able to support each other in their shared grief. As a result, the pair have a renewed sense of closeness and friendship that somewhat transcends the parent-child dynamic. Getting older, losing dad… We appreciate our time together.”

What does she make of those damning FT statistics, then? It didn’t seem crazy to me, having my mum as an example,” she says. She was a homemaker in the 80s – I feel like there was less emphasis on further education back then. Relationship dynamics were different, too. When you met someone you liked, you were more likely to pursue the relationship properly.” That is, without distractions such as dating apps. Sonia, meanwhile, hasn’t ever lived on her own. She left home at 19 to move in with Sasha’s dad and never looked back. We worked really hard and got our own place,” Sonia says. It’s definitely harder for kids to do that now.”

For me, owning a home and having a family is still very important. If you want that too, and you have the opportunity to live at home [and save up], take it”

Sasha, 24, Southeast London

That, in fact, is the crux of it: working really hard just doesn’t cut it anymore. As salaries stagnate, inflation rises and rent prices keep surging, young people will be among those who suffer the most. And if it’s tough for the people who have no choice but to move back home, what about those who don’t have good relationships with relatives who can put them up, or have family at all? Sasha knows that she’s privileged. But although she acknowledges a general shift in the way young people envision their future, a reframing of what those goalposts of young adulthood look like, that doesn’t necessarily reflect what she wants for herself.

For me, owning a home and having a family is still very important. If you want that too, and you have the opportunity to live at home [and save up], take it,” she says. I want to be a mother. I don’t set that as a standard [for everyone] and I see that, generationally, things are starting to change. But those things are still important to me.” Really, though, whether you get on with the parents you might have to move back in with isn’t the most troubling thing here. What we’re starting to witness is a tipping point that threatens to shake the very foundations of what we consider to be adulthood”: the homes, the kids, the marriage.

What might adulthood” look like if it becomes a luxury that only the wealthiest can afford? If the umbrella of the family that raised you is all that’s left to protect you, when a neglectful government and underfunded public services leave you out in the cold? And, yes, that could be literally, given the UK’s homelessness problem, which is surely another facet of this property crisis. Young people moving back in with their parents is, at least partly, a story that flits between privilege and necessity. But it also represents a serious societal sea-change, the consequences of which we can’t yet fully foresee. As the rules of adulthood are steadily being rewritten, for better or worse, one thing is certain: this generation will adapt to survive. Even if it takes the help of the people who love them most in the world.


CASTING DIRECTION Isabel Bush PHOTOGRAPHER’S ASSISTANT Sam Alfie Harrison CASTING ASSISTANTS Maszia Oettgen, Valerie Norman and Zach Turkson

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