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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 problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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