I read historical romantic novels in old fashioned paper format before bedtime. Life is difficult enough, so what I read before falling asleep must help me escape and switch off from screens and the day’s challenges. However, historical novels are often more than an escape. They can be useful. They can expose ways of living and thinking, of how the world worked in previous eras.
Reading about living through the Great Depression, the world wars or the Spanish Flu can give perspective. Nowadays, for example, it is expected that young people will leave the home and become self-sufficient and live on their own. We believe that they should preferably get a foot in the door in the property market as soon as possible and then build their own life as a nuclear family. It is seen as financial failure on the part of the parents and the young adult if they are still living at home after a few years. Yet, my bedtime reading tells a different story. In my romantic historical novels, I am reminded how newlyweds lived with even wealthy parents – it was the exception to afford the suburban family home. Even now, other cultures do not stigmatise living together as Western cultures do.
However, this trend is perhaps changing, partly due to the pandemic. A recent article in the Financial Times, stated that the number of 20 to 34-year-olds living at home rose by 46 per cent over the past 20 years. Apparently, millennials no longer consider it a failure to not leave the roost; but rather a sign of financial restraint in order to achieve long-term goals. The pandemic has seen many families moving back in together and indications are that they may not move out again. Financially, it makes so much more sense.
Property prices and rent have become unaffordable for young people in many of the world’s cities. Many parents consider it their responsibility to help young people enter the property market, sometimes to their own detriment. Living independently should not be considered a symbol of financial success if the cost puts your future financial independence at risk. Likewise, helping children to enter the property market must never put your own retirement at risk. Paying too much of your income toward a property must also not put your own retirement at risk.
Re-imagining life after the pandemic for young adults and retirees could involve rethinking living arrangements. The pandemic has put a spotlight on the vulnerability and loneliness of old people – whether living alone in retirement villages or simply by being separated from family. Sharing living costs between a few single older people or families make so much sense. It also makes sense from a safety and companionship point of view. Perhaps the idea of communal living for retirees or communal living for different generations should no longer be merely historical.
What stands in the way is our attachment to independence and individualism. However, this attachment is the very reason our generation suffers from loneliness. And it may also stand in the way of future financial security.
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// 04 September 2020