While living with one's parents is not an attractive lifestyle for adults, marketers are realizing that these boomerang kids could be a fruitful consumer base.
After years of stories aimed at helping parents adjust after their children grow up and move away, the media have suddenly discovered that many couples face the exact opposite dilemma - children who don't leave, even after they've reached adulthood.
Earlier this year, Time coined a new term, "twixters," to describe today's 20-somethings who are still dependent, financially and otherwise, on their parents. The phenomenon of adults still living at home gained even more media attention - as well as another moniker - this summer with the publication of Elina Furman's Boomerang Nation: How to Survive Living with Your Parents ... the Second Time Around.
"It's a trend that is definitely here now," says David Morrison, president of Twentysomething, a Philadelphia-based marketing research firm, who adds that grown children still living with mom and/or dad represent a potentially lucrative, yet still untapped consumer base.
"Do most boomerangers have a plasma TV? Definitely not," he says. "But they are spending more proportionately than their friends who are slaving away and paying rent, so this is a demographic that has a very high return for brands, especially luxury goods."
Uncertainty in marketing
Young people are moving back home for a variety of reasons: lack of money due to unemployment or low-paying jobs, to save up for a house, to recover from a breakup, or simply to delay having adult responsibilities. And while it's more socially acceptable, it's still nothing to brag about, and rarely will you see an article endorsing the boomerang lifestyle.
It's simply hard to glamorize a lifestyle in which your mom still does your laundry, and Morrison notes that any pitch aimed at this group has to be done just right.
"There are about 18 million young adults between 20 and 34 living at home right now, which represents about 38% of all adult singles, so we're talking about a huge market," he says. "But at this point, there's a great deal of uncertainty with marketers and publicists in terms of how to go after this audience."
But there is some media traction behind stories targeting the parents of boomerang children.
"We get a lot of calls from magazines, especially around graduation time and also during back to school, when parents begin to wonder why so many children are going back to school, but theirs are staying at home," says Susan Morris Shaffer, co-author of Mom, Can I Move Back in With You? A Survival Guide for Parents of Twentysomethings. "We try to make sure parents don't feel like failures and, instead, use it as an opportunity to mentor their kids so they can really launch into adulthood because so many are just not ready after graduation."
Pam Abrahamsson, VP at the Stephenson Group, who represents Eileen and Jon Gallo, authors of The Financially Intelligent Parent: 8 Steps to Raising Successful, Generous, Responsible Children, says it's not just lifestyle and family/parenting writers who are showing interest, but also financial magazines like Forbes and Worth.
"What we're finding in media pitching is the sense of stigma of having grown children living at home has been greatly diminished," she says. "From the standpoint of PR, there are tremendous opportunities because it cuts across every part of society. You're either a parent or a child, so we try to pitch steps for how to manage that relationship and make sure you're helping, not hurting."
Abrahamsson adds that what reporters are looking for in these pieces is not just expert commentary, but also anecdotes and tips relevant to both the parent and the adult child. "It's really an evergreen topic because ... returning children will always be an issue."
Reaching empty nesters
Though they seem to have taken a bit of a backseat in the media to the novelty of boomerang children, you can still pitch stories aimed at parents whose grown children have finally left home, says Marla McCutcheon, principal with Synergy Media & Consulting.
To marketers and the media, this group has a surprising amount of financial clout; a Del Webb 2004 survey found that 67% of empty nesters said their disposable income increased after their children left.
"One of our clients advises developers on how to design homes that appeal to empty nesters, and we've gotten a lot of media placements on this issue," McCutcheon says. "But we've found with a lot of reporters you need almost two news hooks, such as empty nesters and real estate, to get them interested."
Pitching... twixters, boomerangers