‘I’m screwed’: young adults forced by EU housing crisis to live with parents

<span>Tens of thousands protest in Lisbon last year, calling for more measures to fight the housing crisis in the Portuguese capital.</span><span>Photograph: Gonçalo Fonseca/The Observer</span>
Tens of thousands protest in Lisbon last year, calling for more measures to fight the housing crisis in the Portuguese capital.Photograph: Gonçalo Fonseca/The Observer

When he was growing up, Connor, a young man in Ireland, watched as, one by one, his older siblings moved out of the family home in their early 20s. By the time he reached that age, however, the picture had changed dramatically. Now, in his social circle in Dublin, where rents have doubled since 2013, it has become the norm for people to live with their parents until they are in their mid-20s.

“My friends from college all live with their parents or relatives – it’s not for a lack of ambition, it’s just so expensive. It’s kind of been normalised,” said Connor, who did not want his full name to be published.

The 25-year-old did move out briefly last year – a friend had a room for let – but the steep rent meant Connor quickly returned home. While he and some of his friends are saving for a deposit, high property prices meant others had little hope of doing so on their salaries, he said: “Some say, ‘I’m screwed, I’m going to be living with my parents for ever.’”

Ireland has recorded a steep rise in young adults living with their parents over the pandemic and amid its acute housing crisis. Between 2017 and 2022 – the most recent year data is available for – the proportion of working 25- to 34-year-olds living with their parents rose from 27% to 40%, according to analysis by the EU agency Eurofound.

Ireland’s government says it aims to provide an average of 33,000 new homes each year until 2030, although the NGO Housing Europe has argued this falls short of what is needed. Last August, data showed that Airbnbs outnumbered long-term rentals 14 to 1 in Ireland, and long-awaited regulation of short-term rentals is also in the pipeline.

For now, Connor, who works in tech and pays his parents €500 (£427) a month for his keep, is considering his options. He may stay put and attempt to get a mortgage alone, though he acknowledges that as a young and sole buyer, he will be at a disadvantage competing against older couples with larger deposits.

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Despite the high costs, the latest data priced average rent in new tenancies in Dublin at €2,098, he may also give renting another shot for the independence it offers, if that does not work out. “The [situation] is not ideal – you do want to be independent and looking after yourself. If you’re in a relationship it can be challenging too,” Connor said. “Having your own space is really important to grow.”

‘I feel the system failed me’

In a continent grappling with a housing crisis that is becoming increasingly politically explosive, the increase in young employed adults staying at home with their parents is not unique to Ireland. Eurofound’s analysis showed a rise in several EU countries. In Spain, this rose from 35% to 42% between 2017 and 2022.

Unlike Connor, Laura had lived independently for over a decade until recently, and at 30, thought her days of living with her parents were firmly in the past. But when her contract for her flatshare in Barcelona was terminated last year, she found herself moving in with her father. It was meant to be a short-term solution until she found a place to rent on her own – but half a year has now gone by without her finding a flat.

“I’ve been looking for a flat for six months now with no success,” said Laura, who works in a managerial role. “I’m looking to live on my own for a rent of €1,000. The other day I saw an ad for a €990-a-month flat with no windows. In the ad it said, ‘For those who just want a place to sleep and save money.’”

Laura felt the system was stacked against her generation. “I’m in a privileged situation – I have a degree and a good job – but despite this, I feel the system failed me. I’ve done everything I was meant to do but I can’t even have my independence. All my millennial friends have this feeling – we discuss it a lot.”

Barcelona has long been in the spotlight for its backlash against over-tourism, with slogans such as ‘Tourists go home’ daubed on walls, and more recently, rents are reported to have risen in neighbourhoods popular with digital nomads with earning power exceeding local salaries.

Related: Higher costs and cramped conditions: the impact of Europe’s housing crisis

The city has taken steps to address the longstanding housing crisis, including regulating short-term rentals, increasing its tourist tax, while Spain last year introduced legislation aimed at bolstering social housing and offering provisions for rent controls, which Barcelona adopted in March.

While she acknowledged she was fortunate to have a place to stay in Barcelona, Laura had found it a difficult adjustment. The housing crisis had highlighted economic divisions between her peers, she said. “I have friends I haven’t told, because I feel ashamed about the situation, even though it’s out of my control. I’m not going to invite friends over to have dinner here; if I have a date, I’m not going to bring the date back here. I don’t feel at home.”

‘You have to have a salary from a different country’

In Portugal, too, Laura’s living situation has become increasingly common. A liberalisation of the housing market, lucrative short-term rentals and a boom in popularity among remote workers and tourists have priced many local people out of cities like Lisbon. This has led the government to implement a crackdown on holiday lets and restrict its “golden visa” scheme. The proportion of employed Portuguese 25- to 34-year-olds living with their parents rose from 41% in 2017 to 52% in 2022, according to Eurofound’s analysis.

Francisco, 28, has lived with his parents since 2020, after returning from studies abroad. But unlike Laura, he is not looking to rent, instead hoping to save up for a deposit to buy a flat with his partner.

He felt his housing options in the current market were limited: “It’s not possible at the moment – rent is extremely expensive, even for a small one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts. In the centre of Lisbon, it’s simply not possible. So [much] housing is tourist accommodation. If you want to live there, you have to have a salary from a different country.”

The 28-year-old PhD candidate is far from alone in his friend group in this position, even among those in well-paid industries. “It’s not uncommon in Portugal to be 30 and live with your parents – people won’t necessarily judge you. In fact at the moment, the only way you can envision living alone is living with your parents for a few years to save money.”

He said he was lucky to have a good relationship with his parents. “I’m happy staying with them. In some cultures, the whole family is in the same house,” he said. “Of course, there are people whose parents’ house is too small or don’t have a good relationship.”

‘It’s just not possible to rent alone with the wages we get’

Croatia was another country that recorded a rise in young adults living in the parental home. In recent years, Jelena Kalinić, 25, kept an eye on rental sites, considering moving out of her family home on the outskirts of Zagreb. But she said that after Croatia’s entry into the visa-free Schengen zone and the Euro area in January last year, she decided to remain living with her parents and grandmother for the time being, as real estate prices rose by 14% year on year in the first quarter of 2023.

Kalinić, who works full-time in a sales and finance role while also completing her degree, said the rise in costs means that, like Francisco, she is now likely to stay at home until she can save up enough money for a deposit.

“The minimum wage has gone up this year too, but compared with housing, it’s not good. The cost of apartments on the outskirts has also gone up – it’s just not possible to rent alone with the wages we get,” she said, while the cost of shared flats had also increased.

Kalinić said she was grateful for having understanding parents, but spoke frankly about the drawbacks of living at home, which she said she would have to do for at least three more years.

“I can bring people home, but let’s be realistic, I won’t be bringing any boys home or having any parties. Let’s just say my social life is a little creaky. To live with your parents at the age of 25 is a bit depressing,” she said.