COVID, cost of living impacting young people hard

Content type

September 2023

Dr Lisa Mundy is program lead for The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. 

This article was first published by Australian Community Media.

Imagine you’re a 21-year-old who just made the big leap to moving out of home. Perhaps you’re in the city for the first time, you’re in the midst of your degree and that dream job you’ve wanted since year 12 is starting to feel within reach.  

Then, suddenly, you find yourself back home. Your parents are cooking dinner again. You start to lean on them for support again. You feel that your dreams for independence and your new ‘adult life’ are moving beyond your grasp.  

This was the story for countless young people during the pandemic. Who, for reasons outside their control, had to move back home as lockdowns struck and financial pressures hit.

Those financial pressures are still very present – albeit this time in the form of soaring rent, food and utility bills.

With a background in psychology and parent of two young children, I can’t help but wonder how impacts of the pandemic, and this current crisis, will shape their lives.

In many ways, the 20s is an ‘age of opportunity’; a chance to acquire greater assets and capabilities. It’s when many people develop their social-emotional skills, build peer relationships and explore their sense of self.

Given COVID disrupted this in such an impactful way – and many young adults are now struggling to find a rental or afford their electricity bills – we need to consider what extra support they will need to navigate these critical transition points.

Earlier this year, our Growing Up in Australia study Young adults returning to live with parents during COVID-19 revealed some important truths – but also raised many questions.

We found that young women experienced far greater social isolation and loneliness, including struggling to concentrate or finding motivation to study.  

What does this mean for their wellbeing now? Have they been able to reconnect with friends now and re-engage with study? Has it affected their employment prospects? What do universities and workplaces need to be doing to help young people not only acquire the required academic and practical skills, but also to build emotional intelligence and resilience?

Our findings showed that parents, guardians and family members became the key support pillar for so many of these young people, having to provide emotional, financial and even career advice. Many are likely playing that role again as cost of living pressures bite.

This begs the question; how should we be helping parents and families to support young people in their 20s?  

While there isn’t a simple solution, rebuilding the support scaffolds that were ripped away during the pandemic will be important. It's about how policy can support the sectors and people interacting with them the most: tertiary education providers, employers and families.  

Most importantly, the study shows that experiences were so incredibly varied. While some young people found refuge and support in moving back home, others struggled – showing that responses need to be as individual and nuanced as young people themselves are.