In instances like these, the parents aren't saps, and their children aren't freeloaders. Both parents and children understand that in a world where the young are saddled with debt and find it difficult to quickly enter a career, parental support — where possible — is indispensable.
After graduation, many of my Columbia University students plan to move back home. And they're happy about this. My generation — Oberlin, Class of 1973 — would have regarded returning home as the ultimate symbol of failure and a huge sacrifice of personal liberty. But my students consider their parents friends. Their homes will be their base camps from which they will pursue the internships and educational experiences they want. For one of my students, this involved volunteer service at the Arab American Family Support Center and internships at Freedom House and Seeds of Peace. She also had the opportunity to curate a museum exhibit before leaving to study Arabic in Qatar. That's a circuitous path, and one that required enormous help from her family well beyond graduation.
But it turns out that this type of path is the best preparation for success in an economy that rewards ambition, risk-taking, entrepreneurship and adaptability.
With very few exceptions, the students whom I and other faculty members around the country work with are not a generation that has gone soft from being coddled. They are a generation facing a historic transformation in the route to a successful job and family life.
In the 1950s and 1960s, most young people reached the markers of conventional adulthood, including marriage, parenthood and homeownership, by their mid-20s. As recently as 1970, half of all women were married by age 21, with their husbands about two years older. With real wages rising rapidly for men, even high school dropouts, but few opportunities for women to achieve economic security on their own, there was little reason to shop around, whether for a long-term job or a long-term mate.