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More young women moving back home

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Andrea Politano (left) moved back home to live with her parents, Janet and Stephen, and the family dog, Zoey.

By Linda Matchan Globe Staff 

ABINGTON — Andrea Politano, 27, considers herself very lucky. She’s got a good job as a computer programmer for a medical software company. She has paid off her college and car loans. More than half her paycheck goes into retirement savings. And she lives in a lovely house.

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Andrea Politano in her childhood room.

How does she manage it? By living with Mom and Dad.

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“I don’t have to worry about maintaining a house, I don’t have to throw money out the window by paying rent, and what’s the fun of living by myself?” said Politano, who moved back into her childhood bedroom in 2012 after she finished graduate school.

It turns out that Andrea is in good company. According to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center, more than a third of American women ages 18-34 — 36.4 percent — reside with their parents or other relatives. This is the largest share since the 1940s, according to Richard Fry, a senior economist at Pew.

“You’d have to go back 74 years to observe similar living arrangements among young American women,” Fry wrote in his study, based on an analysis of 2014 US Census Bureau data. In 1940, 36.2 percent of young women were living with family members, defined as relatives other than a spouse. That percentage dropped over the following decades as marriage rates increased and women joined the workforce, making it financially possible for them to live on their own.

“[Women] were most likely to live independently of family around 1960 when just 24 percent were home,” Fry said in an interview. “It modestly increased from 1960 to 2000 and then sharply increased, especially with the onset of the [2008] recession.”

Today, however, women who reside with family are more likely to be college-educated than they were in the 1940s, when fewer women went to college and typically lived with their parents until they married.

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Young men, too, are cohabiting with family these days. According to Fry, 42.8 percent of young men lived with their parents or other family members last year — a higher share than women but not one that surpasses the 1940 level for men. That year, 47.5 percent of men ages 18-34 lived in the home of parents or relatives.

Fry sees several reasons why women, in particular, are flocking back to the nest (or never leaving in the first place). There’s been a five-fold increase in the number of women enrolled in college since 1960. According to 2014 US census data, 27 percent of young women were enrolled in college, as compared to just 5 percent in 1960 — “and they’re not all going off and living in dorms,” Fry said. “Many of them are commuter students, living at home.”

Women are also marrying later, and “marriage is a spur to independent living,” he said. “That incentive to get out of the nest is not there anymore.” And with a wave of Asian and Latin American immigration to the United States, having multiple generations under one roof has become more prevalent.

“I don’t think there is that much of a stigma [about living with parents] anymore. It seems like normal to me,” said Sarah Lynch, 26, who lives in Danvers with her parents and is library director of the Georgetown Peabody Library.

This trend also seems to imply a sense of closeness between parents and offspring that wasn’t typical a generation or two ago. “When I was a young woman, the saying was, ‘You can’t trust anyone over 30,’ ” said Shula Reinharz, director of the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. “People aren’t saying that anymore.”

“I always joke that my parents are great roommates,” said Meghan Brisson, 24, who works at Northeastern University and attends graduate school. She moved home with her parents for more than a year to save money after she finished college in 2013; she now lives in Jamaica Plain with three roommates.

The trend has ripple effects in the wider economy. Young people are not setting up their own households, which is one reason why the nation’s recovery has been so muted. “This matters not just for landlords and realtors but for home improvement stores [and] furniture stores,” said Fry. “The nation’s housing economists are very aware of this.”

Meanwhile, higher real estate prices can keep young women out of the market.

“It’s harder to launch now, because real estate is more expensive, and it takes longer to build equity” — especially for young women, who tend to earn less than men, said Caroline Daniels, a senior lecturer in entrepreneurship at Babson College.

“These people have become very risk-averse in terms of their use of their own money,” she said. “There aren’t jobs available for them to build up their financial resources. A lot of their parents . . . have seen the value of their retirement [savings] go down, and haven’t been able to help their kids as much with college expenses.”

But from a developmental point of view, at least one family psychologist believes living with family into adulthood is not a good idea.

“What it suggests to me is that these are young folks who have not really learned to be independent and are very reliant on their parents for emotional support, and economic support,” said Alan Entin, past president of the division of family psychology of the American Psychological Association and a clinician in Richmond, Va.

In Abington, Andrea Politano maintains she is taking care of herself. She works full time as a software programmer and part time during the evenings as a math tutor.

“I’m so busy it doesn’t really hit me that I’m not independent,” she said. She mows the lawn, shovels the snow, and helps with the cooking. When her friends or boyfriend come over, “we try to disappear a bit,” said her mother, Janet.

Still, Andrea says she intends to be out of her parents’ house by the time she turns 30.

Until then, she won’t get an argument from her dad, who enjoys her company and goes to hockey games with her.

“I told her she might as well stay in her room,” said Stephen Politano. “It’s not like I’ll get a refund for it.”


Linda Matchan can be reached at linda.matchan@globe.com.