Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Leaving home

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Leaving home: Why do people stay at home? Why do they leave?

Sending kids off

Introduction[edit | edit source]

As humans we can choose to be proactive and engaged in what we do, or passive and alienated depending on the social conditions surrounding what we do (Ryan & Deci, 2000). This can either be motivation to react in a positive way, in this case move out, or be passive and stay within a safe social setting. No matter the expectations of leaving home, to go off to study, work, for independence or other reasons, nearly every person will encounter challenging experiences or obstacles at the beginning that they did not anticipate (Al-Qaisy, 2010). Even a positive life change such as leaving home, can lead to various emotions including sadness, loneliness and worry (Al-Qaisy, 2010).

Decisions that have an element of risk are made without the advance knowledge of their consequences, and therefore theoretically can yield various outcomes with different probabilities (Rottenstreich & Hsee, 2001). Different theories have been created to understand risk, these include expected-utility theory and prospect theory. Expected-utility theory considers that individuals base their decision on the probabilities themselves (Rottenstreich & Hsee, 2001). Whereas the prospect theory, proposes that decisions are based on a diminishing sensitivity scale, where the impact of a given change is based on a probability of the likelihood of it being impossible or a certainty to happen (Rottenstreich & Hsee, 2001). It is important to understand the mental processes that an individual goes through when assessing the risk when making a decision, as it relates to people’s belief about how well leaving home will go.

It is important to note, that overall levels of combined family income does not seem to influence whether an individual decides to leave home (Hartley, 1993). It is also important to understand that family socio-economic status which takes into account education level, job status as well as income of both parents had little to do with leaving (Hartley, 1993). Although, 45% of all people between the ages of 20 and 24 said that the main reason they have never left home is financial (ABS, 2009). This changed slightly in the 25-29 group, where only 20% staying for financial reasons, with another 20% staying for the convenience or enjoyment from living at home (ABS, 2009). This indicates that sometimes parents hold onto their children for various reasons including feeling irrelevant or trying to support their children to impress others (Salt, 2011).

This chapter will cover, the social trend, appropriate different theories including self-efficacy, attachment theory and self-determination theory. It will also include differences between genders and across cultures both in an Australian and overseas context. It will also address issues and ideas that need to be considered when leaving home. Finally it will delve into the specific motivations for leaving or staying, and what strategies parents can use to facilitate and help the transition between living at home, on their own or into share accommodation.

Definitions[edit | edit source]

  • Dependence - is the state of relying on someone or something for aid or support
  • Independence - can be defined as freedom from the control, influence, support or aid of others.
  • Autonomy - is the ability to initiate in regulating one’s actions and make independent choices that are not diminished by others while allowing for sufficient opportunity for self-expression (Deci & Ryan, 1991)
  • Self-efficacy - is an individual’s belief about their capability to perform a particular task, at a particular level (Bandura, 1994).
  • Attachment - is the emotional bond an individual experiences with another who the individual believes is a source of security and who provides a secure base (Moller, Fouladi, McCarthy & Hatch, 2003).

Social trend in Australia[edit | edit source]

Due to social, cultural and economic developments and circumstances, the timing of young people leaving home has changed throughout the generations (Hartley, 1993). In Australia, leaving home in the 1950s and 1960s was associated closely with marriage, full time employment and education (Hartley, 1993). During the 1970s, although the age of leaving remained about the same, the drop in early marriage rates caused the reasons for leaving to change (Hartley, 1993). More people left to form de facto relationships and a greater percentage of young men left to be independent (Hartley, 1993). This corresponds with the average age for first departure from the family home being 20.2 years for women and 21.5 years for men, for those born around 1950 (ABS, 1994). Dramatic increases in the numbers of young people staying at high school till year 12 and increasingly attending university, and the disappearance of full-time employment for 15-19 year olds, during the 1980s, caused a further shift in demographic of those leaving home (Hartley, 1993). The introduction of Higher Education Contributions Scheme (HECS), in 1987 further increased the tendency for 20-24 year olds to live at home (Salt, 2011). This trend saw the percentage of 20-24 year olds staying at home, increase from 45.5% for males and 24.8% for females in 1979, to 54.9% for males and 39.7% of females by 1992 (ABS, 1994).

As depicted below, young people are more likely to be living with their parents, with now almost one in four people between the ages of 20-34 living at home compared to only 19% of the same demographic doing so in 1986 (ABS, 2009). Compounded this there was a dramatic increase in women staying at home, 13% in 1986 to 18% in 2006, there was a smaller jump of 3% in the rates of young men living at home (24% to 27%) (ABS, 2009). An astounding statistic that was found in the data, was that 94% had left home by the age of 28, only an extra 3% had left by the age of 34 (ABS, 2009). This can be seen in the table below, sourced and adapted from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009):

People aged 20-34: Moving out of, and back to the parental home — 2006–07[edit | edit source]

Age Group(years)

20-2425-2930-34All 20-34
Total living with parents* 47.2%16.8%8.2%24.5%
Has never left home*34.9%7.8%3.0%15.6%
Left home and has returned12.3%9.0%5.2%8.9%
Total does not live with parents52.8%83.2%91.8%75.5%
Left home and has not returned37.2%49.5%49.5%47.2%
Left home and returned at least once12.4%26.5%27.3%21.9%
Has never left home, but lives separately from parents(a)3.2%7.3%9.1%6.5%
Total persons (per thousand)1 495.3 1 389.61 433.54 318.0
  • Note - This includes those that are carers or require constant care.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2009). Home and Away: The Living Arrangements of Young People. Australian Social Trends, Retrieved from

Gender differences[edit | edit source]

Gender signs

Differences between men and women are indicated above in the social trend, however this section will expand more upon this issue of the differences not only in age that they leave but also the differences in why they leave. Across all generations, young women tend to leave home sooner than their male counterparts (Clark, 2009). This gender difference reflects an inherent fact that women enter long term relationships on average at younger ages than men (Clark, 2009). This idea can be seen in a Canadian study where the rates of men living alone peaks at 13%, remaining at this level between 28 and 34, whereas as with women it peaks at 9% at 27 and then trails off (Clark, 2009). This suggested that even comparing the same data to the past that more young men are developing a single lifestyle that lasts into their thirties (Clark, 2009).

In 2006, younger people between 18 and 24 were less likely to be in a relationship than those in 1986 a 9% difference, although de facto relationships were more common in 2006, the rate of marriage dropped (ABS, 2009). Individuals aged between 25 and 34 years of age had the highest rate of de facto relationships at 18% in 2006 (ABS, 2009). Consistent with this trend is overall marriage rates dropped from 62% in 1986 to 52% in 2006 (ABS, 2009). This change in relationship demographics represent the social norm of men being older than women in a relationship which could be an explanation of why there is an increase in age of both genders, and why in particular men seem to stay at home longer.

Cultural differences in a global context[edit | edit source]

The world

The reason that looking at differences from around the world can be summed up in findings by Buck and Scott (1993) which found that there are significant differences in the different routes and age left, which depended on cultural factors. In particular it was found that recent changes within characteristics of family background (Buck & Scott, 1993). In less developed countries, it is more likely that not only will a person leave home but also leave the country (Chappell & Glennie, 2010). Chappell and Glennie (2010) analysed 11 papers which surveyed skilled individuals that had either already migrated or were considering migrating from in South Asia, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean, between 1997 and 2008. They found although there was a diverse range of motivations five common factors were prevalent:

Professional development
Socioeconomic and political conditions in countries of origin

The importance of each of these factors to the migrant depends on two factors; their skill and profession and how far they have progressed in their career (Chappell & Glennie, 2010). These issues are important to understand, as employment and money are crucial within all societies as an issue when deciding to leave home. It is also important to understand that this is reflective of those who have qualifications in developing countries.

Young people with parents born in Sweden are actually more likely to leave at an earlier age than those of a foreign background in the same environment (Statistics Sweden, 2008). This is shown in the fact that those born 1965 and 1985 outside the country, have increased more over this time period (Statistics Sweden, 2008). This suggests that the culture an individual grows up in has an effect over what age they leave home, even within the same environment. Extending this idea a paper by Holdsworth (2000) found that Spanish youth are more likely to leave home for a relationship, however they are more likely to leave later than those from a British society. This study therefore suggests that it is not just the culture an individual has within their household growing up, but demonstrates the importance of cultural norms surrounding leaving home and their effect (Holdsworth, 2000).

Although in Spain it is not unusual for individuals to stay living with their parents well into their 30s, because of the societal issue of youth unemployment (40.5%), which is the highest throughout the European Union (Goodman, 2011). This means in 2010 that 4.6million residents of Spain were unemployed with 1.3 million homes not having anyone employed. (Goodman, 2011). This increase in age of young people therefore is a societal issue rather than just an individual one. This is important to understand as it demonstrates that it is not always dependent on the wishes of the young person, or an indication they want to stay.

Case Study: Italy[edit | edit source]

Italian Flag

In 2011, all eyes have turned to Italy as an Italian couple have sought legal measures in an attempt to make their 41 year old son leave the family home (BBC, 2011). They say their son has a job, however he refuses to leave home, expects his meals prepared and his clothes washed for him (BBC, 2011).

This is sadly not an isolated case, millions of adult Italians are refusing to give up the comfort and security of their parents’ home (Kington, 2010). Known in Italian as 'bambocciona', or roughly a big baby in English, they actually have been encouraged by a 2010 court case, to continue to stay at home (Kington, 2010). A judge ordered a father at 60, to resume paying €350 (AUD$465.12) a month as a living allowance to his 32year old daughter, with a back payment of €12000, after the father decided back in 2007, that his child was old enough to pay her own way (Kington, 2010). The reasoning behind the court’s decision was contentious, although it was because the allowance was fixed when her parents divorced back in 1997 (Kington, 2010). However with 59% of Italians under 34 years of age still living at home, is this really the message that the Italian legal system wants to send? (Kington, 2010).

The answer is no, this is an isolated case of the allowance being forced to be maintained. In 2009 a court in Milan, dismissed a bid by a 36 year old in an attempt to force his father to pay him an allowance of €2,000 a month (Kington, 2010). Also, the Italian minister for public administration suggested that young adults should be forced out of home at 18, if need be by law (Kington, 2010). Although this idea has been dismissed as a step too far, it has highlighted the need for a policy or law to address the increasing trend of grown children remaining at home (Kington, 2010).

Self-efficacy[edit | edit source]

Perceived self-efficacy determines how people feel, think and behave in given situations (Bandura, 1994). People with a high self-efficacy approach difficult tasks as challenges and believe they have control over these situations (Bandura, 1994). In contrast, there are those who doubt their abilities and therefore avoid difficult tasks (Bandura, 1994). When they are faced with complicated or difficult tasks they dwell on personal deficiencies on obstacles they encounter (Bandura, 1994). When faced with difficulties they give up quickly and are slow to recover following failure or setbacks (Bandura, 1994).

Perceptions of economic self-efficacy are crucial in fostering achievement within this area (Mortimer, & Lee, 2009). In Grabowski, Call, & Mortimer (2001) it was found that family background, including parental income was found to be positively related to self –efficacy of youth about their economic futures. From these findings it can be suggested that individuals may develop their efficacy from observation of their parents’ achievement (Mortimer, & Lee, 2009). It is important to understand self-efficacy, as it plays a role in how an individual will face and cope with challenges, such as leaving home.

Attachment theory[edit | edit source]

Significant life changes or transitions, such as moving out of home, can activate the attachment system and trigger attachment insecurity (Wei, Russell, & Zakalik, 2005). Those who have a secure attachment in relationships with significant others, hold the unconscious belief that if they are in trouble someone will be there to help them (Moller, Fouladi, McCarthy, & Hatch. 2003). To put it simply, attachment is the perception of available social support (Moller, Fouladi, McCarthy, & Hatch. 2003). Therefore, those who are insecure in their attachments are more likely to fear a loss of social support, especially in situations when they are moving away from that support (Moller, Fouladi, McCarthy, & Hatch. 2003). The opposite of this is attachment avoidance, which is when an individual withdraws from their parents and others to subconsciously minimise attachment-related feelings and behaviour (Wei, Russell, & Zakalik, 2005).

Those who have a secure base at home, will seek them out in situations of stress and view their parents as a source of support, and if this support is gained from a secure connection then the transition will cause a lower amount of distress and the feeling of social competence (Wei, Russell, & Zakalik, 2005). Those who have high attachment anxiety or attachment avoidance may have deficits in social competencies which leads to a lower level of self-efficacy and increases anxiety (Wei, Russell & Zakalik). Wei, Russell, and Zakalik (2005) found that high levels of attachment anxiety was related to feelings of loneliness and depression. These feelings were mainly through the belief the students had about themselves (Wei, Russell, & Zakalik, 2005). Alternatively those who had high levels of attachment avoidance exhibited the same feelings but this was due to discomfort with disclosing problems and issues that they may be having (Wei, Russell, & Zakalik, 2005).

So what can be done to overcome this attachment anxiety and avoidance?

Mikulincer, Shaver & Pereg (2003) proposed a two-stage development model which uses attachment-related regulation strategies to deal with the distress exhibited by the child. The first stage is co-regulation, which involves the attachment figures to collaborate and provide support when the child feels distressed. The second stage is self-regulation, which is the self-confidence to handle the anxiety alone. The first stage is expected to influence the self-confidence of the child as it, may help to build a stronger sense of self-worth and self-efficacy as well as increase the normality of self-disclosure and asking for help when it is needed (Mikulincer, Shaver & Pereg. 2003).

Self-determination theory[edit | edit source]

Self determination theory focuses on the social context that facilitates either the progress of self motivation or hinders it (Ryan & Deci, 2000). It specifically investigates the factors that effect intrinsic motivation, self-regulation and well-being in a detrimental way (Ryan & Deci, 2000). The level of self determination is from amotivation, which is wholly lacking in self determination, to the other end which is intrinsic motivation (Gagne & Deci, 2005). Along this continuum there are four types of extrinsic motivations, external, introjected, identified and integrated (Gagne & Deci, 2005). Therefore the optimal point of this theory is at the intrinsic motivation end with being autonomous, which the theory infers is a psychological need that is crucial for personal development as it motivates a wide variety of adaptive behaviours and psychological processes (Philippe, & Vallerand, 2008).

As with attachment theory parental support to be autonomous is encouraged, however this support is through encouragement to pursue personal interests and values (Gagne & Deci, 2005). However, despite this encouragement there are no stages in this theory that people pass through, but rather explains types of regulation and extent this in integrated into their behaviour (Gagne & Deci, 2005). Despite not being a staged theory, it is still important to understand this aspect of a young individual to understand how, and why they react to certain motivations over others, thereby being able to identify options to encourage them to be autonomous.

Practical applications[edit | edit source]

Child - What to consider?[edit | edit source]

So now through the theory, What is actually needed once you decide or before you consider leaving home?

Increased responsibility – Increase in personal freedom also means an increase responsibility for their daily schedule (Al-Qaisy, 2010). It means choosing how to study, socialise, exercise, what to eat and when to sleep (Al-Qaisy, 2010).

Managing time – Putting all those options above, that our now your responsibility can be a challenge. Multiple obligations take time and energy to do and therefore priorities must be set to accommodate more pressures on your time (Al-Qaisy, 2010).

Changing relationships with family and friends from home – As discussed above in the attachment theory section, aspects of the relationship will change as you leave home. Discuss this situation with your parents before you leave and make sure you have a grounding so that frequent calls home are not an issue if needed (Al-Qaisy, 2010).

Income – In Australia youth allowance, has replaced most forms of government support for young people under the age of 25 (Cobb-Clark, 2008). This should be looked into as a source of support, however note that it is based on family circumstances unless you meet one of the criteria to be considered ‘independent’ (Cobb-Clark, 2008). A part time or casual job would help to support yourself.

Renting – Creating a budget is important to manage this new expense (ASIC, 2011). Renting in a share house is an easy way to save money when first moving out as household bills are split (ASIC). Remember to understand all documents before you sign them, and take somebody along who has been through it before, to help you understand what is required (ASIC, 2011). A helpful calculator and for more information about renting, follow the link provided below:

Seek Help – If you do not have support from your parents or do not feel like you can call them for assistance for whatever reason, help is available from a range of community and government organisations (State Government of Victoria (2), 2011). These services can include emergency accommodation and food vouchers if necessary (State Government of Victoria (2), 2011). Below is a list of places you can get help from:

Your doctor – for stress, sadness, loneliness etc.
Kids Helpline Tel. 1800 551 800
Lifeline Tel. 13 11 44
Home Ground Services Tel. 1800 048 325
Relationships Australia Tel. 1300 363 277
Centrelink Crisis or Special Help Tel. 13 28 50

Parents – How to help[edit | edit source]

So now that the theory is out of the way, How can you help your child if they decide to move out?

Be Supportive – Talk to your child about this and encourage them, as discussed above in the attachment theory section, provide a base for your child to build upon. Expect frequent calls, and be supportive (Al-Qaisy, 2010).

Be Open - Results in a study by Winter and Yaffe (2000) indicate that discussing mutual fundamental intentions have a direct link to adjustment to living away from home, especially on university campuses.

Offer practical help – This could be assisting with drawing up a budget, helping them find and/or move household items (State Government of Victoria, 2011). Also teaching your child how to cook a few meals and do washing is helpful as well.

Avoid Arguments – If you do not approve of the partner or the reason why your child is leaving, try to accept their decision and help in any way you can (State Government of Victoria (1), 2011). This is important as it will help start the new relationship with them in a positive way (State Government of Victoria (1), 2011).

Seek Help – If you need help with coping with your child leaving, or information on how to help the child, you can seek advice from resources below (State Government of Victoria (1), 2011):

Your doctor – for stress, sadness, loneliness etc.
Parentline Tel. 13 22 89
Home Ground Services Tel. 1800 048 325
Relationships Australia Tel. 1300 363 277
Centrelink Crisis or Special Help Tel. 13 28 50

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Al-Qaisy, L. (2010). Adjustment of College Freshmen: the Importance of Gender and the Place of Residence, International Journal of Psychological Studies, 2(1), 142-150.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (1994). Household and Family Trends Australia. Year Book Australia, Retrieved from

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2009). Home and Away: The Living Arrangements of Young People. Australian Social Trends, Retrieved from

Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) (2011) Money Smart: Leaving Home. Retrieved from

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behaviour, 4, 71-81. New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H.Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).

BBC (2011, 20 September) Italian parents turn to law to evict adult son. BBC News. Retrieved from

Buck, N., & Scott, J. (1993). She's Leaving Home: But Why? An Analysis of Young People Leaving the Parental Home. Journal of Marriage and Family, 55(4), 863-874.

Chappell, L., & Glennie, A. (2010).Show Me the Money (and Opportunity): Why Skilled People Leave Home — and Why They Sometimes Return, Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from

Clark, W. (2009) Delayed transitions of young adults. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from

Cobb-Clark, D. (2008). Leaving Home: What Economics Has to Say about the Living Arrangements of Young Australians. IZA Discussion Paper No. 3309

Gagne, M., & Deci, E. (2005). Self-determination theory and work motivation . Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26, 331–362. doi: 10.1002/job.322

Grabowski, L., Call, K., & Mortimer, J. (2001). Global and Economic Self-Efficacy in the Educational Attainment Process. Social Psychology Quarterly, 64, 164-179

Goodman, A. (2011, April 27). Judge orders 25-year-old man to leave home and find job. CNN

Hartley, R. (1993). Young Adults Living at Home, Family Matters, 36, 35-37.

Holdsworth, C. (2000) Leaving Home in Britain and Spain. Europe Sociology Review, 16(2), 201-222. doi: 10.1093/esr/16.2.201

Kington, T. (2010, 17 January).Italian father ordered to pay allowance to 32-year-old 'big baby'. The Guardian.

Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., & Pereg, D. (2003). Attachment theory and affect regulation: The dynamic development and cognitive consequences of attachment-related strategies. Motivation and Emotion, 27, 77–102. doi=

Moller, N., Fouladi, R., McCarthy, C., & Hatch, K. (2003). Relationship of attachment and social support to college students' adjustment following a relationship breakup. Journal of Counseling and Development, 81(3), 354-369.

Mortimer, J., & Lee, J. (2009). Family Socialization, Economic Self-Efficacy, and the Attainment of Financial Independence in Early Adulthood. Longitudinal Life Course Studies, 1(1), 45-62.

Philippe, F., & Vallerand, R. (2008) Actual environments do affect motivation and psychological adjustment: A test of self-determination theory in a natural setting. Motivation and Emotion, 32(2), 81-89, doi: 10.1007/s11031-008-9087-z

Rottenstreich, Y., & Hsee, C. (2001). Money, Kisses, and Electric Shocks: On the Affective Psychology of Risk. Psychological Science, 12(3), 185-190

Ryan, R., & Deci, E. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78

Salt, B., (2011). The Big Tilt: What Happens when the Boomers Bust and Xers and Ys Inherit the Earth, Hardy Grant Books: Victoria, Australia

State Government of Victoria (1) (2011) Moving out of home - tips for parents. Retrieved from

State Government of Victoria (2) (2011) Moving out of home - tips for young people. Retrieved from

Statistics Sweden (2008).Leaving home: Young people in metropolitan areas are leaving home later. Retrieved from

Wei, M., Russell, D., & Zakalik, R. (2005). Adult Attachment, Social Self-Efficacy, Self-Disclosure, Loneliness, and Subsequent Depression for Freshman College Students: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(4), 602–614. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.52.4.602

Winter, M. G., & Yaffe, M. (2000). First-year students’ adjustment to university life as a function of relationships with parents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 15, 9–37.