In a lot of Asian culturesincluding my family’s Chinese and Filipino backgroundit’s common for kids to move back home to their parents’ place after college. In fact, it’s encouraged. But having been born and raised in the United States, I have been placed in the stressful situation of balancing my family culture with the Western emphasis on independence and stigma against “still living with your parents.” 

But with the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m finding that I’m not alone in this problem.

More and more of my friends are stuck at home with their parents, whether they are unemployed or working from home. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of young adults, aged between 18 to 29 (52% in the US to be exact) are living at home with their parents. This extent of young adults flocking home has not happened since the Great Depression. It comes as young adults have been more affected by pay cuts and job losses than older generations. In fact, for those between the ages of 16 to 24, almost 30% are neither employed nor attending school. 

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As a result, I’ve had the same conversation with several friends, most of them recent college graduates who have moved back home. Despite what many may think, we are more than willing to move out. But while all of us have spoken about needing the space for a sense of self, our conversations often come to a standstill when we are unable to reconcile the financial cost of living alone during a pandemic.

With so many of us working from home, a lot of people are simply moving to live in cheaper towns, apartments and spaces where the commute to work is not a concern. However, living at home is a practical solution. It saves us a lot of money, especially during such a tumultuous time. Admittedly, not all of us live entirely cost-free with our parents. But it is a known fact that things like groceries, laundry, water and gas are sometimes easier combined with roommates. In this case, our parents happen to be the roommates.

And still, I’m seeing a lot of my college friends genuinely struggle and reconcile with themselves living back at home.

For many of my friends, we found a sense of independence in college. After all, most of us lived in our dorms with friends for the past four years or even rented spaces off-campus. Giving up this sense of independence is no small feat. Moreover, parents can drive you up the wall. Even with the most understanding parents, it’s a very different environment to being back home surrounded by your family 24/7 when you might have previously had a dorm room to yourself or some lone time in college. 

For some of us, our live-at-home situation might even have a negative impact on mental health. According to a study by Jennifer Caputo, moving back home can create a sense of failure in a culture where economic and “residential independence” is highly valued. 

A month ago, two of my former roommates and I were having this exact conversation over Zoom. One of my roommates, while living with her parents for the first few months of her new work-from-home job, eventually packed her bags and moved out. Since moving out to an apartment, she’s been happier than I’ve seen her in a while, despite now having to pay one-half of the rent. Our other roommate went back home to the Midwest. While she has a good relationship with her parents, she has been feeling the stress and pressures of living at home while studying in her master’s program. 

For myself, while I am freelance writing for different publications, it’s not enough security to move out. With the challenges of finding a job during the pandemic, such as facing historic unemployment rates in the United States, it’s not easy to find security either. The job search itself can become a stressful process.

The decision to move out of our parents’ homes comes down to the tough balancing act between financial health and mental health. It’s easy to say that your mental health should always come first, but realistically without caring for your financial health you will become unable to maintain long-term mental and physical health either. Both of those are incredibly valid and important to care for, and it’s worth considering those issues.

Ultimately, when we talk about moving back home, we have to remember that the way we handle money and finances can shape the very real mental and physical health we have. Financial health is just as important to be able to care for our relationships, especially during this downturn in the economy that the pandemic has created. It affects our relationships, not only with our parents as roommates, but our relationship with ourselves. 

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  • Helena Ong is a freelance writer and journalist from San Francisco, California. In the past, she's worked at San Francisco Public Press, World Policy Journal, and NBC4 Los Angeles. She graduated from Pomona College, where she served as Production Editor for her college newspaper, The Student Life.