Prosperity on Hold

Europe’s permanent economic decline takes many different forms. One of them is that young Europeans are increasingly living with their parents years into adulthood. Der Spiegel reports:

Young Europeans in countries hit hardest by the Continent’s economic crisis are finding it difficult to move out of their parents’ home. Data shows that over 50 percent of those aged 25 to 34 in some countries have yet to move out. Most young adults are eager to leave home to start independent lives. But in those European countries where the economic crisis has hit hardest — particularly in southern and eastern EU member states — that appears to be a difficult move to make. In 2011, more that 50 percent of the 25- to 34-year-olds in Greece, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Malta still lived in their parents’ homes, a SPIEGEL analysis of information from the European Commission statistics division Eurostat has revealed.

Just as Europe’s decline is not a new phenomenon but something that has been long in the making, this trend is not new. Eurostat data over household age distribution in Europe reveals that young households make up a decreasing share of all households. The data, which is not produced annually, show that from 1999 to 2005, the share of total households where the reference person (called head of household in America) is younger than 30:

  • Decreased by 36 percent in the United Kingdom;
  • By 25 percent in the Netherlands;
  • By  24 percent in France;
  • by 22 percent in Portugal;
  • By 18 percent in Sweden;
  • By 15 percent in Slovenia and Spain;
  • By 13 percent in Latvia;
  • By 12 percent in Denmark and Luxembourg; and
  • By 11 percent in Ireland.

The share did go up moderately in some EU countries but those examples are exceptions to the general trend.

We have more Eurostat numbers to report, but first let’s get back to Der Spiegel:

In Portugal, Italy, Hungary and Romania more than 40 percent of those in this age group remain in the nest (see graphic). Nations with a high percentage of Catholics show a particularly high number of young adults who have yet to move out of their parents’ home. This is also the case in Eastern Europe, where working conditions for entry-level workers are particularly precarious. These numbers are in stark contrast to those in the EU’s most northerly member nations, where less than 5 percent of 24- to 34-year-olds in Finland, Sweden and Denmark continue to enjoy the luxuries of Hotel Mama.

That’s selective reporting. If you look at the entire “young” population, aged 18-34, the data from Eurostat continue the disturbing trend we discussed above. The share of 18-34-year-olds living with their parents in 2005 and 2011 increased in 18 EU countries, with the United Kingdom at the top. In 2005, a notable 29.1 percent of young Brits lived with their parents; in 2011 that share had gone up to 38.6 percent. This is an increase by one third.

Sweden and Hungary share second place in terms of increase: in both countries the share of at-home living 18-34-year-olds grew by 25 percent. For Sweden that meant a rise from one in five in 2005 to one in four in 2011; in Hungary, a staggering six in ten young adults lived at home in 2011.

There are also stark contrasts between countries, as the Spiegel points out. Croatia reports the highest number for 2011 with four in five young adults living with their parents, while Denmark has the lowest at one in six.

It is disturbing, and a sign of prosperity-on-hold, when young adults are unable to afford a home of their own. This trend of course correlates with the depressingly high youth unemployment that is plaguging more and more European countries. What’s worse, the outlook is not positive.

One generation Europeans is already growing up to be poorer than their parents. Will the next generation suffer the same fate? In Sweden, this is already happening: college-graduating Swedes have to look to their grandparents to find a generation that rose above the prosperity of their parents.

What happens to a society where decline has replaced advancement as the overall socio-economic trend?

Even more pressing is the question: what can Europe do to break their slide into a perpetuum of industrial poverty?

The first question I will leave to sociologists to answer; as for the second one, come back tomorrow…