From The New York Times:
So these two sociologists go into a bar and the man says to the woman, “What have you been up to?” “I’ve been studying what I call ‘accordion families,’ ” she says. “Right now something like three and a half million American parents are sharing a house with adult kids who’ve either come back home or never left.” “You want to talk about trends?” the man counters. “Did you know that aside from childless couples the most common household type in America is an adult living alone? That’s one out of seven adults, over 30 million people.” Wishing to avoid an argument, the sociologists appeal to the bartender. Which trend seems more significant to him? “Beats me,” he says, “but I liked this place a lot better when the customers were political economists.”
It’s not funny, I know, but it’s not the punch line, either. That comes when the two sociologists I have in mind — Katherine S. Newman of Johns Hopkins University, the author of “The Accordion Family,” and Eric Klinenberg of New York University, the author of “Going Solo” — conclude their fascinating studies with a nod each to the bartender. Except by then they’re no longer in a bar; they’re in Sweden. We’ll get to that. First let’s look at those so-called accordion families, which Newman evaluates both as a transnational phenomenon and in the nuanced particulars of individual households. Like Klinenberg, she devotes a good portion of her book to personal interviews, but where Klinenberg goes deep in his emphasis on the United States, Newman goes wide. At the extreme end of her analysis is a country like Italy, where 37 percent of 30-year-old men live with their parents, and have never lived anywhere else. Less striking but certainly notable is a parallel trend in the United States, where a higher proportion of adult children now live with parents than at any time since the 1950s. Newman states her thesis plainly: “Global competition is the most profound structural force affecting the residential location of young adults in the developed world (or the underdeveloped world, for that matter)” — but one is impressed by her refusal to turn thesis into dogma.