Not too long ago, Tory Gervay’s friends might’ve thought she was crazy for moving back home with her mum in her late 20s after several years of independence.
But experts say the notion of having your parents as housemates is more socially accepted, thanks to the rising cost of living and a new trend of digitally induced loneliness in young Australians.
Tory initially planned to only stay for a short time, but five years on the account administrator and masters student, and her mum Susane, a children’s author, remain flatmates.
“It just kind of made sense for us,” Susane, 66, told news.com.au.
“I moved into a (new) house. I was away a lot. I had space. So, she came home and she hasn’t left. I love it.
“She was going to move away at one point but she said she loved it here and didn’t want to go. She was comfortable. But she felt like maybe it was something she had to do — go off again and live on her own. We realised that if there was no point, why should she go?”
New research on the make-up of households has shown that the traditional concept of the nuclear family — a married couple with a few kids — could soon be a thing of the past.
The Pure Profile study, commissioned by the insurer Allianz Australia, found 22 per cent of us live in share houses and 21 per cent are couples without children.
University of New South Wales sociologist Melanie White said another emerging trend from the research was the number of young Australians who leave the nest, only to return a while later.
It’s what has been dubbed the “un-empty nest” phenomenon, with 26 per cent of Millennials who took part in the research reporting that they moved back with mum and dad.
“In explaining the un-empty nest phenomenon, we need to look to some of the economic drivers, which plays a big role,” Dr White said.
Cost of living pressures, low wage growth, the difficulty of buying a first home, and the tendency to marry and have children later in life are all playing a part.
“I think though, the desire for connection, the desire to be nurtured and cared for, is also a factor,” Dr White said. “There’s nothing quite like returning home.”
There’s a growing field of research proving increased levels of loneliness observed in young people, ironically blamed on the hyper-connected world we live in.
“For many in this digital world, we can be simultaneously connected to lots of people but feel quite alone,” Dr White said.
Susane said the arrangement worked well for her and her daughter, who would otherwise be living on their own.
“A lot of people who are single and live alone suffer a lot of disadvantages. It’s lonely. You can’t call on anyone. If you travel, you don’t have to worry about leaving the house alone.
“There’s something nice about being able to yell out goodbye when you leave and hello when you come back, and have someone there.
“It’s the coolest thing to share a house together with Tory. She knows me, I know her.
“If she’s doing washing, she might throw mine in too. If I’m shopping and see something I think she might like, I grab it. It’s a closer connection than the traditional flatmate scenario.”
But they emulate traditional housemate dynamics by having their own space, living their own lives and respecting each other’s privacy.
Like a share house though, they share chores, split bills and spend time socialising — including their very own “secret vice”.
“It’s a terrible show but we watch Married At First Sight together and we laugh and laugh. We get our cups of tea and we sit down to watch it together.”
Susane knows their happy household isn’t one for everybody but said it works for her. And she knows it won’t last forever
“One day, a tall and handsome gentleman will come into Tory’s life and she’ll go off again, and that will be lovely. Until then, we’re happy.”
Another a particularly interesting trend to emerge is one dubbed “framily” households, Dr White explained.
The term describes housemates who view each other as family and live together long-term, even making serious commitments like getting a pet together.
“These arrangements have a lot of the same qualities of a nuclear family household — day to day interaction that’s far from superficial but rather a deep connection with others,” Dr White said.
“It’s especially important for people in this digital world where we can be simultaneously connected to lots of people but feel quite alone.
“The prospect of being able to come home and mimic a blood relation family … to fully experience the connectivity of family, is very important.”
The Allianz study also found the number of Baby Boomers living in share houses — not with blood or marital relatives — was about 16 per cent.
That’s not an insignificant number, Dr White said.
“The fact Baby Boomers are embracing shared housing, not strictly a blood relation or marriage relation, but living with friends and flatmate, suggests there’s a source for nurturing and care that’s really important.”