Memo to kids: Please stay home (Editor’s notes)

Youth staying in the nest could be a good thing

It was a pretty surprising stat: Almost one-half (43.5 per cent) of Canadians age 20 to 29 are still living at home, according to data from Statistics Canada’s 2006 Census. That’s up significantly from two decades ago, when only about one-third (32.1 per cent) of that age group were still hanging out with the parental units.

That translates into about two million young Canadians who haven’t stretched their wings and flown the nest. On the surface, that sounds bad and makes it look like today’s 20-somethings are a pretty immature bunch. Most people don’t really grow up until they’ve gone out and got that first apartment and stopped relying on mom and dad to pay the bills. Immaturity is a symptom that’s pretty visible in the workplace too — employees have a very different view of work when their paycheque stops paying for fun and toys and starts paying for the mortgage and groceries.

Data from another Statistics Canada survey released last month, crunching numbers from 2001, showed that, on average, a 25-year-old in 2001 had gone through the same number of transitions as a 22-year-old in 1971. In 2001, one-half of all 22-year-olds were still in school, only one in five was in a “conjugal union” (usually common law) and one in 11 had children. That’s a marked difference from 1971 when three-quarters of 22-year-olds had left school, nearly one-half were married and one in four had children.

So it would be pretty easy to sit back, look at today’s 20-somethings and critically say, “Wow. They’re immature. They’re irresponsible. They’re not living in the ‘real world.’”

But it’s much more accurate and honest to simply look at them and say, “Wow. They’re smart, and they’re doing employers and the economy a favour.” That’s because, in addition to staying at home, they’re also staying in school. And if Canada wants to have — and keep — a knowledge economy, it’s going to need its workforce to be very well educated.

According to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), the number of jobs for degree-holders doubled from 1.9 million in 1990 to 3.8 million in 2006. And there’s no reason to believe this number won’t continue to rise.

Young Canadians seem to be responding to the reality of a knowledge economy and the need for a post-secondary education. In 2006, there were about 700,000 undergraduate students and 115,000 graduate students toiling away at Canadian universities. The AUCC expects university enrolment to grow nationally by between 70,000 and 150,000 full-time students over the next decade despite some challenging demographics.

But staying at home for so long does have its downsides. As employers have been reading about for years, the demographics in this country aren’t pretty. As young Canadians put off entering the labour market in favour of school, they’re also putting off starting families. The birth rate is withering and it doesn’t look like immigration will be able to keep pace.

Nevertheless, to all you kids still living at home and going to college or university, pull up a comfy chair, help yourself to whatever is in the fridge and keep on studying. We’re really going to need your well-trained brains in a couple of years.

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