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The male curse of 27: why young men are so much more likely to live at home with their parents

Research finds that 27 per cent of men still live at home aged 27, compared to only 13 per cent of women. Is this down to material inequality or a crisis of masculinity?

The idea of the curse of 27 is nothing new – even if, when it comes to musicians, it is actually a myth. But for young men today, the age is cursed in another way: 27 per cent of men still live at home aged 27, compared to only 13 per cent of women.

Let’s call them the stay-at-home sons. Many of those who linger at home have little choice. Men earn an average of £1,100 less than women between the ages of 22 to 29. As women increasingly outperform men at school and university, the gap could get larger still.

Thanks to years of anaemic housebuilding, there are 600,000 more young adults, aged 20-34, living with their parents than 20 years ago. Men and women are both living at home longer. Many men, lagging behind their female contemporaries in the jobs market, just can’t afford to get out.

Men are also less likely to get hitched in their twenties: by the age of 29, women are 50 per cent more likely to be married than men. Although both sexes are marrying later than ever, women still tend to go out with, and marry, men a couple of years older than they are, and are more likely to move in with partners in their twenties.

When marriages go wrong, men are significantly more likely to return to living with their parents. Women still account for 90 per cent of lone parents with dependent children. The ONS finds that men are more likely to return to their parental home after a breakdown in a relationship. 

So women earn more and marry earlier, but not by enough to explain why men are twice as likely to live at home aged 27 and later. This isn’t just about economics or love: it’s also about attitudes to living at home.

Parents do seem more indulgent of their male children lounging around at home while they are on the road to 30 than of their female children doing so, while young female adults seem in more of a hurry to leave the family home.

“I’m a mum and my boy has a very strong bond with me,” says Sue Firth, a psychologist. “If we’re typical then he’ll be reluctant to leave until he feels as loved by someone and she does everything for him the way I have! Not much incentive to leave if you have to cook, clean and wash for yourself.”

She thinks that young women tend to be, “much more independent and keen to start a life on their own”.

If parents expect daughters to leave the family home earlier than their sons, this is also a legacy of women traditionally marrying much earlier: in 1991, the average age for women marrying for the first time was just 25.

Men deep into their twenties are less reluctant to live with their parents than women are. Earlier this year, Aviva Home published a report into attitudes to living at home. It found significant differences in how women feel about staying with their parents compared with men. Women were 8 per cent more concerned about their personal space than men, and 10 per cent less likely to feel that their family home might not feel like their own than men.

Women were also more likely to say they wanted to own a home of their own “as soon as possible” – and men were more likely to describe themselves as “not bothered” about becoming a homeowner.

“Women expect to have children and know that they will have responsibility for them,” says Belinda Brown, from the Male Psychology Network. “Although this may not happen at a level which is consciously articulated, I think the fact that women know they will have children who they have to look after does motivate them to ensure they have a way of earning a living. Boys don’t know that they will have children they will have to look after.”

Pilot studies conducted by Brown suggest that male students who expect to have families tend to do better at school – and later earn more money – than those who do not.

But the male curse of 27 goes beyond basic material realities. “Boys are just doing so much worse psychologically, in school, economically, and in motivation, that parents – especially mums – are likely to feel protective of them and take them in,” says Dr Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power and Father and Child Reunion.

The rise of the stay-at-home son is also a symptom of a much wider crisis in masculinity.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.