Research Programme

Single Young Adults and their Housing Pathways

Sue Heath, Emma Calvert

Project summary


This research set out to explore the extent to which younger generations being able to live independently is underpinned by financial and material support from parents and other relatives, as well as between friends, and considered the impact of ongoing support on young adults’ relationships with family members and friends. It also considered young people’s housing aspirations, the different strategies adopted by them in seeking to satisfy their housing needs, and how their own experiences compared with those of their siblings and friends.


Fieldwork consisted of 37 qualitative interviews, each beginning with the completion of a housing history grid to track participants’ housing pathways since first leaving home. Participants, consisting of 22 women and 15 men aged 25 to 34 (mean age of 29), then narrated their housing histories in their own terms before more focused questions were asked. Three quarters of interviewees were graduates. The nature of the sample allowed the research to focus in particular on the changing nature of graduate housing pathways: specifically, to explore whether the relatively privileged nature of graduate housing pathways revealed by research conducted by Heath in the late 1990s still applied.


One of the key findings was that it is common for parents and older relatives to help out financially in enabling young adults to live independently. The vast majority of participants had received financial and material support from family members since leaving home. Examples included both ad hoc and regular monetary assistance towards offsetting general living expenses. These ranged from modest contributions towards household bills through to substantial one-off sums on first leaving home.

A second key finding was that the parental home provides an important fallback option for many single young adults. The majority of participants had returned to theparental home at least once since first leaving, with rent often either subsidised or waived to facilitate saving. Return was usually linked toconstrained circumstances, such as unemployment,illness, relationship breakdown or following completion of periods of study.

In addition, young adults experience considerable ambivalence about their ongoing dependency on parents, with reliance on parents for varying degrees of material and financial support long after leaving home being a common experience. Whilst grateful, they also felt that their autonomy as young adults was compromised by their dependency and that they should really be able to make their own way in life at their age.

Meanwhile, financial exchanges involving friends are generally avoided at all costs, including in the form of joint mortgage arrangements. There was a widespread reluctance to lend money to friends or to borrow from them, except for very small sums. Friends and debt were largely regarded as a toxic mix with the potential to harm friendships.


Project activities

Date Activity Description
25-26 May 2016 Housing Wealth and Welfare Conference held at the University of Amsterdam. Sue Heath gave the key note speech: "Negotiating Parental Support for Housing in the UK" at this event.





Heath, S. (2017) Siblings, fairness and parental support for housing. Housing Studies, (Online first view).

Heath, S., Brooks, R., Cleaver, E. and Ireland, E. (2009) Researching Young People’s Lives, London: Sage.

Heath, S.(2009) 'Young, free and single: alternative living arrangements' In Furlong, A. (ed.)Handbook of Youth and Young Adulthood: New Perspectives and Agendas. London: Routledge.


Media activities

Does the Bank of Mum and Dad compromise independence? Sue Heath interviewed on Radio 4 Money Box programme, 19 May 2016. 

You can also browse all of our CPC media outputs and population-related articles from CPC members on our! page.