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Americans Are Living on Their Own Later and Less Often

Finishing school, joining the workforce and moving out on your own is a rite of…

  • October 10, 2019

Finishing school, joining the workforce and moving out on your own is a rite of passage for many young people. Today’s young adults are taking longer to make this transition, and doing it less often overall, than previous generations, according to a new analysis from online real estate company Zillow.

In 1980, 1990 and 2000, the tipping point age at which more people lived independently than not remained steady at 23. But by 2007, it had risen to 25, and then to 26 in 2017.

And not only does it take longer for young adults to begin living independently, but fewer people ever do. A smaller share of adults of every age lived independently in 2017 than 1980, including a 10-percentage-point gap for 40-year-olds.

Typically, adults begin living independently later in more expensive metros, and the gap has widened over the past four decades.

Since 1980, the tipping point age has increased by an average of about four years in metros in the top quarter of most expensive home values, compared to about two years for metros in the bottom three quarters.

In 2017, the tipping point age was highest in Riverside, Los Angeles, New York and Miami at 29. Each of these metros have seen their tipping point ages increase by at least five years since 1980, while it has only increased one year in less-expensive Oklahoma City, for example – from 21 to 22.

Young people today more often pursue higher education, which typically delays when they begin working full-time.

In previous decades, people with a high school education lived independently at similar rates to those with a college education, likely due to the additional years of earnings they can accrue in their early 20s while their college counterparts are in school.

Now, there is a significant gap. Those with a college degree are more likely to live independently than those with a high school education by age 26, and at age 30 the gap widens to 12 percentage points.

Changes in social and cultural norms, as well as affordability challenges, likely explain some of the shift.

Young people today are more likely than their predecessors to live in urban cores, where housing is more expensive and rent price growth has hindered the ability of renters to afford a home without roommates or save enough of their salaries each month for a down payment.

Increased demand for starter homes as the large Millennial generation reaches typical home-buying age, along with persistently low inventory, has contributed to robust home value appreciation in many large metro areas, making it more difficult for first-time buyers to get into a home.

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