By Sharon Jayson
Megan Porter, 24, and her sister Courtney Porter, 23, have both been going to school and working part time since they were 16.
They're not slackers, notes their father, Frank Porter, 52, of Richwood, N.J. That's why he's among the legions of parents of today's twentysomethings who are financially helping their children adjust from adolescence to adulthood. The recession has left many young adults unemployed or underemployed and has sent many back to school.
Megan, for example, earned an English degree last year and is certified to teach elementary school. But education jobs are difficult to find in New Jersey, she says; now she's working 30 hours a week as an administrative assistant. She's returning to grad school in the fall, aiming to be a college professor.
Her father is paying for both daughters' college educations, including tuition and books. He lets them live rent-free in a house he owns in Bergenfield, N.J., and he pays for car insurance, repairs and gas for each.
"I want to take care of my children," he says. "I want to give them as best of a head start as I can." The self-employed landscaping and remodeling contractor adds that his daughters didn't ask him for financial help -- he just offered it.
Parents, kids closer
That's a phenomenon that researchers across the country have been studying and will discuss this week at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, which begins today in San Francisco.
Among the studies being presented is one by sociologist Monica Johnson of Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., whose analysis of data from more than 11,000 young adults found that these 18- to 34-year-olds feel emotionally closer to parents who help them financially.
"The increase in closeness to parents happened more when there was more money transferred," Johnson says. She suggests that to young adults, a parent's financial help represents "a sort of continual reassurance during a period of uncertainty to have that ongoing 'I'm not totally on my own.'"
Both Porter daughters say they are already close to their father and the money hasn't affected those feelings. But Courtney, a sophomore majoring in nursing at Felician College in New Jersey, who also works part time as an independent beauty consultant, says her father's financial support has made a big difference.
"He's been helping us out to get our education and start our careers so we wouldn't end up as many students do these days, with astronomical amounts of loans," she says.
Sociologist Teresa Swartz of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who also has studied parental giving, says many Baby Boomer parents are giving money now so that their kids' transitions from adolescence to adulthood aren't more difficult than they have to be. "They're saying: 'I have this money now, and why shall I wait until I die before I pass it along to them? They could use it now.'"
Sally Koslow of New York City, who interviewed more than 150 parents of young adults ages 22-35 for her book Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations From the Not-So-Empty Nest (out in June), says the recession is a "dark presence in this whole equation."
"I feel that Boomer parents do feel a bit guilty if they can't help their children as much as they wish they could," she says.
In addition to studies about the transition to adulthood, the 1,900 demographers, sociologists, economists, public health professionals and others expected at the meeting will take a closer look at how the recession has influenced the behavior and interactions of American families. In almost five years since job losses, home foreclosures, strained relationships, delayed childbearing and multigenerational housing have become routine, researchers have paid particular attention to how the recession has changed the makeup of households as well as plans for having children.
Among the household studies to be presented is research based on data from more than 3,005 people ages 57-85 surveyed about the number of people in their households in 2005 and 2010.
"What was unique about this recession is about how it was precipitated by the housing bust. It's not that people lost their jobs, but many people lost their homes," says sociologist Linda Waite of the University of Chicago.
She is co-author of a paper that found that among older people who took in younger family members, the "older people's financial well-being went down" because they had to stretch their income across more people without additional income from the newcomers.
Moving out, or not
Sociologist Brent Berry of the University of Toronto has studied household changes and recessions over the past 40 years and found that recessionary years 2007-09 and 1980-82 "really stand out in terms of adult children delaying their departure from their parents' home." His study found that more young people left during "non-recessionary periods," in the 1990s and 2002-06.
The recession's effect on fertility is the subject of considerable attention at the meeting. Sociologist Karen Guzzo of Bowling Green State University in Ohio found that 20% of 831 adults ages 18-49 (considered to be the childbearing years in this study) said the economy has influenced their plans to have children.
Guzzo found that those with the lowest levels of education were more likely to report being affected overall; however, postponement is much more likely among those with higher levels of education.
"I'm not seeing the recession effect among the middle class," she says. "If they're delaying, maybe it's more career and not that they can't afford to" have kids.