Young adults are increasingly getting bankrolled by their parents, yet rarely talk about it.
Jordana Gilman, a 24-year-old Ivy League graduate, is studying to be a doctor at SUNY Upstate Medical University. She has worked part-time jobs since she was 15 years old, balancing babysitter, restaurant hostess, and camp counselor gigs with heavy course loads to save money and carve out a little bit of financial independence. Yet as an adult living away from home, she gets an occasional check from her parents to cover the cost of groceries, movie tickets, and meals out.
“I feel embarrassed that I can’t support myself,” Gilman says, adding that she’s “immensely grateful” for the help. Her investment in medical school left her strapped for cash and time, she says, and it would be nearly impossible to make ends meet without her parents supplementing her income.
Gilman has plenty of company. In 2015, 36 percent of parents said in a poll published this week that they expect to support their child for more than two years after graduation, up from 18 percent the year before. More than 16 percent think that arrangement will last more than five years, according to the poll, conducted by massive education lender Sallie Mae. According to a report published last month by Bank of America, 40 percent of millennials regularly receive financial assistance from their parents. Financial advisers have taken to warning clients their grown children may destroy their hope for a secure retirement.
For many recent graduates, allowances from mom and dad are a crucial way to get a foothold in their educations and careers. Yet despite being commonplace, the practice is something of an open secret: Most millennials are reluctant to admit they’re being bankrolled, and struggle with the contradiction inherent in being a self-assured professional and a dependent child at the same time.
“There’s this negative stereotype we have about young adults, that getting financial help from their parents indicates a character deficiency on their part,” says Jeffrey Arnett, a research professor of psychology at Clark University.
The newest crop of workers graduated with record student debt, historically high unemployment rates, and scarce hope of being able to afford a starter home. Young people bore the brunt of the recession, so it’s not surprising some would be subsidized. Yet many fear being slapped with the label of basement-dwelling bum. Getting parental help is “one of the things they’re most ridiculed for,” Arnett says.
Arnett has spoken to hundreds of young adults for his research on “emerging adulthood”—the period between ages 18 and 29—and found that broad trends like delayed marriage, the move away from a manufacturing economy, and the increased emphasis on advanced education have driven the increased parental reliance. A widespread case of millennial entitlement, he believes, has little to do with it.
“They’re generally striving really hard to become financially independent, but they just can’t find a job that will pay enough, or are between educational programs, or they’ve lost a job,” Arnett says. “It’s not because they’re lazy and they’re tired of doing their own laundry.”
Understandable though it may be, the arrangement leaves some feeling as guilty as they are thankful.
Malavika Singh, a 24-year-old marketing professional in New York, was relieved when she’d saved up enough to stop taking money from her parents. They’d previously helped pay her phone bills and rent, something she’d refrained from sharing with some people in her social circle because she felt it was awkward.
Now that she’s financially independent, she says, her relationship with her parents “feels purer … like I’m not trying to get something out of it.”