‘Comeback kids’ a headache for parents

There could be one in your extended family, perhaps even under your roof. Years ago, they flew the nest, obtained a qualification, possibly travelled and/or started working. But then they came back home to live with – or off – you, their folks. They are the “boomerang generation” – young adults in their 20s and early 30s living with their parents.

Richard Sparg, a chartered accountant with a Certified Financial Planner accreditation at Netto Invest, says “boomerangers” are a worldwide phenomenon and the main reasons for the trend are economic. The reasons include youth unemployment, declining middle-class incomes, the diminishing advantage of a degree, the high cost of property, and affirmative action.

Illustration: Colin Daniel. Credit: PF

Statistics SA recently started to record information relating to young people who are not in employment, education or training, Sparg says. In the Quarterly Labour Force Survey published at the end of last year, Stats SA reported that 31 percent of South Africans aged between 15 and 24 were not studying or in training or working.

The impact of the changing global economy on young lives is significant, Sparg says.

According to findings by the Pew Research Centre in the United States, 35 percent of adults aged between 18 and 34 in the US have gone back to study, 24 percent have taken an unpaid job, 24 percent have moved back in with their parents, 22 percent have postponed having a baby and 20 percent have postponed getting married.

Bleak as this may sound, the research found that only 25 percent of those living with their parents felt it was “bad” for the relationship, 24 percent said it was “good” and 48 percent said it made “no difference” to the relationship.

Levels of optimism among US boomerangers is surprisingly high: 83 percent of those who don’t have enough income now reckon they will in the future.

Although some nasty labels have been given to this group – names such as “parasite singles” and “fridge raiders” – when asked about the contribution they make to the home, 96 percent say they do chores, 75 percent say they contribute to household expenses, and 35 percent say they pay rent.

Sparg says some of the positives to the boomerang phenomenon include increased family time and closer-knit families, but there are undoubtedly negatives. A culture of dependency and entitlement can develop, relationships can be strained in the absence of sufficient space and independence, and children may find it more difficult to establish a long-term relationship with a prospective life partner from the confines of their parents’ home, Sparg says.

But it is the parents who pay the biggest price, he says. Hidden costs, such as those for extra food, water, electricity and fuel, can have a big impact on your finances, which, in turn, could affect your retirement plans.

“For example, the opportunity cost (the cost of a lost opportunity to save) of spending R3 000 a month over a 10-year period – at a six-percent real return – is close to half a million rand.”

Having an adult dependant at home could also delay your scaling down to a smaller house that could free up capital for investment at an important time in your life.

Sparg says things for parents to watch out for with boomerang children include:


Richard Sparg, a financial planner at Netto Invest who has a keen interest in the subject of boomerang children and the impact they can have on their parents’ finances, says not all of these “adultescents” are the same. Understanding them can help you to help them.

Your boomerang child may be:

* Discouraged. A set-back, such as the loss of a job or a relationship, can be demotivating and even cause depression. Parents should be patient and offer appropriate encouragement, Sparg says.

* Ill-equipped. Children who have inadequate coping and problem-solving skills can become frustrated and angry. They may be lacking these skills because their parents have been too quick to help them in the past. These children might need help finding their vocation or need skills training.

* Lazy or free spirited. If your child sees adulthood as limiting to their freedom, he or she may be resistant to settling down. You can help them by setting clear boundaries and deadlines.


If you have a boomerang child – an adult between 20 and mid-30 who has moved back home – there are no easy answers, Richard Sparg of Netto Invest, says.

Sparg offers the following pointers on how best to parent such children: