The "empty nest" of past generations, in which the kids are grown up and middle-aged adults have more time to themselves, has been replaced in the United States by a nest that's full - kids who can't leave, can't find a job and aging parents who need more help than ever before.
According to a new study
by researchers at Oregon State University, what was once a life stage of new freedoms, options and opportunities has largely disappeared.
An economic recession and tough job market has made it hard on young adults to start their careers and families. At the same time, many older people are living longer, which adds new and unanticipated needs that their children often must step up to assist with.
The end result, researchers suggest, are "empty nest" plans that often have to be put on hold, and a mixed bag of emotions, ranging from joy and "happy-to-help" to uncertainty, frustration and exhaustion.
"We mostly found very positive feelings about adults helping their children in the emerging adulthood stage of life, from around ages 18 to 30," said Karen Hooker, director of the OSU Center for Healthy Aging Research.
"Feelings about helping parents weren't so much negative as just filled with more angst and uncertainty," Hooker said. "As a society we still don't socialize people to expect to be taking on a parent-caring role, even though most of us will at some point in our lives. The average middle-aged couple has more parents than children."