Leavers, planners and dwellers : the decision to leave the parental home

A.N. Baanders

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


<p>Leaving the parental home is one of the most common events in the life course of individuals. It is a normal and natural thing to happen to virtually everyone at some time. However, despite the generality of the event, the transition is not the same for all. Furthermore, the generality of the event says nothing about changes in the patterns in home-leaving behaviour over time. During the past several decades, interesting shifts in the timing and arrangements of the transition have occurred. The question, central to this study, runs: What are the factors that influence the transition from living at home to living independently?</p><p>In the literature, there are mainly two perspectives dominating theoretical thinking about the determinants affecting departure from the parental home: an economic and a cultural one. First, in many previous demographic and economic studies, the search for an explanation of the changes in leaving home focused on the impact of the situational context on the individual's behaviour, i.e. the financial situation and the situation on the housing market, which constitute the young adult's opportunity structure. A second research tradition that has addressed the event of leaving home typically emphasises the normative context and the role of social norms which are believed to regulate the timing and arrangement of important life course transitions. This study aimed to determine more precisely the relative impact of each of these two factors. Furthermore, this study tried to find out whether, beside economic, housing and normative factors, additional aspects play a role in the decision to leave home, thus providing a more complete picture of the variety of factors that should be taken into account. An explorative analysis of written material collected among 300 students provided the necessary data to discover young adults' additional considerations in the matter of leaving home. These considerations appeared to deal with more practical and social-emotional aspects, and were briefly denoted as the Hotel-Mama factor. Apart from that, the qualitative material was used to obtain quantifiable information about the kind of normative expectations that are related to leaving home.</p><p>It is well known that since the 1950s remarkable social and economic changes have taken place in Dutch society, which undoubtedly have also affected the circumstances and opportunities of young adults. As one of our hypotheses emphasises the role of the opportunity structure in the decision to leave home, we start this study with a description of the relevant social and cultural changes, and a sociological assessment of the profound impact of these transformations on the social and economic position of young adults in general and on their opportunities to leave the parental home in particular (see chapter 2). This gives a solid base to our hypothesis that changes in home-leaving behaviour are related to economic and housing market opportunities. The presumed effect of the normative context is addressed in chapter 2 as well. Also, the temporal changes in leaving home that took place in the period between 1950 and 1980 and during the 1980s are reflected upon. The discussion results in the further elaboration and formulation of the research questions.</p><p>To illustrate how fluctuations in the situational context may be reflected in patterns of leaving home, chapter 4 examines at the aggregate level the shifts in behavioral patterns that occurred in the Netherlands during the 1980s, and relates them to the changing circumstances of this period. Three successive national Housing Demand Surveys (WBOs), conducted at the end of 1981, 1985 and 1989, provided the necessary data. It was concluded that although fluctuations in the situational context were indeed reflected in behavioral patterns, it was also evident that not all young adults react to a specific set of opportunities in the same way. Limited opportunities do not necessarily lead to a postponement of the transition, but in many instances rather to an adjustment of behavioral choices instead.</p><p>Both the discussion in chapter 2 and the results of chapter 4 made it clear that, nothwithstanding the useful insights a macro-level approach generates, it may sometimes be difficult or hazardous to draw firm conclusions regarding the effect of specific factors when analysing them on the aggregate level. It was therefore argued that a micro-level should be adopted, in which the decision to leave the parental home and its determinants are studied at the individual level.</p><p>In chapter 3, the Theory of Reasoned Action and its modifications are discussed and the theoretical model underlying this study, which is a modified version of the Theory of Planned Behaviour is presented. In order to use this theoretical model, it was necessary to specify the relevant consequences and the normative expectations that are related to leaving home. The qualitative method employed to identify prevailing perceptions on this subject is discussed in chapter 5.</p><p>Chapter 6 describes the process of setting up a cross-sectional survey among 1012 young adults of 18-26 years old, and the measurement and construction of relevant variables. The results of the analyses of the survey data are reported in chapters 7 and 8. By comparing the personal situation and subjective considerations of leavers, planners and dwellers, we tried to find evidence that the defined variables affect the decision to leave home as hypothesised (chapter 7). Chapter 8 aims to detect the most important determinants in this decision, either in the first stage (the stage of intention-formation), or in the second stage (in which the intention is effectuated into actual behaviour). The analyses revealed that the normative expectations of the parents play a decisive role in the first stage. Financial considerations are most important in the second stage. Particularly the subjective assessment of one's income situation appeared to be a crucial element. The type of housing young adults aimed at further affected their probability of leaving, with cheap 2 and 3 room accommodation clearly reducing a person's opportunities of finding a place to live and of leaving the parental home, and a quest for a single room or four room housing facilitating the transition. There is no convincing evidence that Hotel-Mama considerations affect the decision to leave home or to stay home.</p><p>Chapter 9 concludes this study with a summary overview of the research design and an evaluation of the main findings, followed by a discussion of their implications for policy, theory and research.</p>
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Niehof, Anke, Promotor
  • Pennartz, P.J.J., Co-promotor, External person
Award date30 Oct 1998
Place of PublicationS.l.
Print ISBNs9789054859024
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • families
  • composition
  • sociology
  • housing
  • parents
  • children
  • daughters
  • sons
  • young adults
  • basic needs
  • motivation
  • decision making
  • removal

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