Making the Choice to Leave the Parental Home Among European Young Adults

Katrin Schwanitz, University of Groningen

Up until now, very little research specifically addressed young adults’ decision-making process to leave the parental home. This is unfortunate as young adults’ decision-making processes lie at the heart of life course transitions and quantitative modeling of leaving home events or residential trajectories can tell us little about how young adults plan their departure from the parental home and how choices, young adults’ characteristics, and contextual constraints intersect to shape pathways out of the parental home. This paper aims at understanding how young adults plan their departure from the parental home and how choices, young adults’ characteristics, and contextual constraints intersect to shape pathways out of the parental home in contemporary Europe. For this, I use data from the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) for 14 European countries (n= 16,736) to map beliefs and influences on leaving home intentions according to a framework provided by the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB). After illustrating how the effects of attitudes, subjective norms, and behavioral control on intention to leave the parental home vary across the countries and background factors in the sample, (1) I consider how background factors might interact with country-level effects (national context) to explain the decision to leave the parental home; (2) I examine whether or not attitudes, norms and perceived behavioral control are simultaneous determinants of leaving home intentions, even when background factors are controlled for; and (3) I examine on which background factors attitudes, norms and perceived behavioral in turn depend.

Young adults’ decision-making processes lie at the heart of life course transitions and the decision to leave the parental home – often considered to be a very important marker in the transition to adulthood (Furstenberg 2010) – is likely to be carefully thought through, possible alternatives to living with the parents evaluated, and the consequences of staying versus leaving weighed against each other (Baanders 1996; Mulder 2013). Also, life course scholars note that the more recent de-standardization and individualization of life course trajectories compels today’s young adults – more so than previous generations – to exercise agency and construct reflexive choice biographies (Beck 1992; Giddens 1991). In this view, too, young adult''s decision-making and demographic choices take center stage. Although “choice” and “decision-making” consequently feature in many studies of young adults’ life courses and leaving home behavior (e.g. Chiuri and Del Boca 2010), actual decision-making processes of leaving home have been the subject of relatively little demographic research (see two exceptions: Billari and Liefbroer 2007; Ferrari, Rosina, and Sironi 2014). A much larger literature has focused, for example, on how ideational factors (Aassve, Arpino, and Billari 2013; Windzio and Aybek 2015), family background (Lei and South 2016; South and Lei 2015), or socio-economic predictors (Avery, Goldscheider, and Speare 1992; Blaauboer and Mulder 2010; De Jong Gierveld, Liefbroer, and Beekink 1991; Jacob and Kleinert 2008; Le Blanc and Wolff 2006; de Valk and Billari 2007) shape actual leaving home behavior.

Yet, quantitative modeling of leaving home behavior or residential trajectories can tell us little about how young adults make the decision to leave the parental home or how young adults’ characteristics, contextual constraints, and decision-making processes intersect to shape pathways out of the parental home in Europe. It is important to note that leaving the parental home has different meanings and implications (vis-a-vis its link with partnership and family formation, for example) (Sobotka and Toulemon 2008), refers to different time frames and age deadlines (Aassve, Arpino, and Billari 2013), and also ranks differently in significance as a marker of adulthood (Spéder, Murinkó, and Settersten 2013) across European countries. If views on leaving home vary across European countries, how leaving home decisions are taken in different European countries may also very well differ.

In this article, I use data from the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) for 14 European countries to map beliefs and influences on leaving home intentions according to a framework provided by the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB, Ajzen 1991). The GGS is a rich data set which collects information on demographic choices with the following two unique strengths: they are prospective (asked about the next three years) and they provide measures of proximate determinants of leaving home (Vikat et al. 2007), which allows analyzing the decision-making process of young adults. My research objective is to provide the first comparative and systematic examination of young adults’ decision-making process of leaving home, paying particular attention to the link between young adults’ beliefs about leaving the parental home and contextual conditions prevailing in different European countries.

The data for this study come from the first Wave of the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS, 2002–2013; http://www.ggp-i.org/), an internationally comparable and harmonized set of survey data for 19 countries with about 10,000 individuals aged from 18 to 79 years of the non-institutionalized and resident population per participating country (see for a general overview: Vikat et al. 2007). A key advantage of the GGS is that it surveys life course decision-making processes by collecting information on respondents’ intentions about a series of key demographic choices (e.g. leaving the parental home, getting partnered, or having children) and that it includes TPB item variables. This allows framing the decision to leave the parental home as an intention, which in turn is a function of attitudes, perceived social or normative influences to leave (or not leave) the parental home, and perceived control over factors associated with leaving home. From the GGS I selected respondents from 14 European countries who were aged between 18 and 34 and still lived with at least one parent at Wave 1 (n = 16,736). Although a standard questionnaire exists for the GGS, certain questions of the TPB framework were skipped altogether or certain items were omitted in some countries. These countries are included in the analysis when appropriate.

Presented in Session 1131: Life Course