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Updated 2:00 PM November 3, 2003



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Much money flows from parents to young adults

Between ages 18 and 34, young adults receive an average of $38,000 in cash and two years' worth of full-time, 40-hour-a-week labor from their parents, according to a study by researchers at the Institute for Social Research (ISR).

The study also tracks changes in parental support for young adults since 1970.

"A successful transition to adulthood depends, perhaps more than ever, on continuing support from parents," says lead author Robert Schoeni, an economist at ISR. "Today's middle-income families spend $170,460 on each child through age 17, studies have shown. But this study provides the first empirical evidence that the giving goes on for another 17 years, during which parents spend 23 percent of the amount they provided during childhood and adolescence."

The study, which appears in "On the Frontier of Adulthood," forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, was conducted by Schoeni and graduate student Karen Ross. It is based on an analysis of data on more than 6,000 young adults from the ISR Panel Study of Income Dynamics and on U.S. decennial census trends.

On average, the researchers found, the proportion of people in their 20s living with their parents increased 50 percent between 1970 and 1990. As a result of this increase in living at home—along with rises in college attendance, college costs, age at marriage, and rates of divorce and single parenthood among young adults—the amount of financial help parents provide to adult children has jumped by at least 13 percent over that time period and now is estimated at an average of slightly more than $2,200 a year.

The analysis examined support provided by parents to adult children who were living at home and to those who lived independently.

"It's very common to receive assistance from parents," Schoeni says. "In any given year, 34 percent of youth ages 18 to 34 get cash from their parents and 47 percent get time help.

"Generally, the amount of help adult children receive declines with age. For all young adults, both those who live with their parents and those who live on their own, the average amount of cash assistance peaks at $3,499 during ages 18 to 20, drops to $2,323 by ages 25-26 and falls further to $1,556 by ages 33-34."

Spending differs dramatically depending on parental income, the researchers found. Adult children from families in the top one-fourth of income categories get an average of $70,965 compared to just $25,000 received by young adults from families in the bottom two categories.

But less affluent families provide almost identical amounts of time help: 3,864 hours for low-income compared to 3,869 hours for high-income families, Schoeni says.

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