Written by Martin at 10th July 2020

Back Home, for Better or Worse?

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To say that the global coronavirus pandemic has upended nearly every facet of our lives would likely be an understatement. Cases continue to rise in many parts of the U.S.; skyrocketing unemployment and the recession have inflicted financial hardship on many; and the creation of a vaccine remains far off.

This crisis, like any other, has forced people to reevaluate and make new plans, to readjust expectations, and potentially make lifestyle changes. One common change has been people moving in with family members to ride out the pandemic. We surveyed over 1,000 people, including many who reported hunkering down with family over the past few months, about their living situation and how it has impacted their stress and well-being. Read on to find out how people fared.

Where to Ride Out a Pandemic

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While Americans had heard about how COVID-19 was plaguing the Wuhan region of China since December 2019, cases didn’t surge in the U.S. until March 2020. In the following months, the virus affected different parts of the U.S. inconsistently, posing major problems and straining the health care system in New York City but leaving much of the West relatively unharmed.

Nearly 52% of the people we surveyed said their living situation had changed since March due to the pandemic, with 29.4% of people specifying they’d moved in with family. The average duration of people’s stays was 3.2 months, and nearly 90% said they are still currently living with family.

Interestingly, financial hardship might not have been the major driver for people heading home. The median salary of people who moved in with family members was $45,000 – $3,500 more than those who didn’t move in with family.

Homeward Bound

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When choosing family members to ride out the COVID-19 storm with, parents were the overwhelming choice, with 77.6% of people who moved in with family saying they cohabitated with Mom and Dad. Nearly 35% said they lived with siblings, which would make sense if they all traveled back to the family home.

Surprisingly, 9.3% of people said they moved in with at least one grandparent during the pandemic. Given that people above the age of 50 are classified as particularly vulnerable to serious cases of the virus, many have recommended that families keep their distance from older relatives to lower the risk of transmission. However, this age group is also one that typically relies heavily on support from family, presenting a dilemma for many.

In fact, 40.6% of people said they moved in with family to help them weather the pandemic. Other top reasons involved finances, with 57.2% of people saying they stayed with family to save money themselves, and 47.9% saying they moved in to help their family members financially. Additionally, 38.7% of people said they wanted to have company while riding out stay-at-home orders. With travel becoming restricted in many places, the chances of seeing remote relatives has shrunk for many, likely leading to a rise in homesickness.

Family Ties

Once you’ve transitioned to adulthood, moving in with Mom and Dad – or any family member, for that matter – can be a difficult adjustment. Some people have reported feeling like they’ve regressed to their teenage years, while others enjoyed the added time together.

Sixty-two percent of people said they helped their family member(s) do chores while they lived together, which is a good step in making cohabitating harmonious. Perhaps it was also to assuage some guilt: 56.5% of people reported feeling like a burden on their family while staying with them.

Overall, though, moving in with family seemed to help people’s well-being. Just over 54% said that living with family during the crisis has had a positive effect on their mental health, and an additional 18.8% reported it having a neutral impact. And the positivity didn’t stop there: 51.9% of people said living with their family through the pandemic has strengthened the relationships.

Measuring Mental Health Impacts

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While a majority of people living with family reported positive effects of that decision, pandemic life has been far from easy. Many people have been living under near-constant anxiety about catching the virus themselves, a loved one becoming infected, or the myriad financial impacts the virus has wrought.

We noticed some interesting findings when specifically looking at people’s experiences of stress and anxiety based on whether they chose to move in with family members during the pandemic or not. Both groups reported relatively similar frequencies of stress, but people who didn’t move in with family were most likely to report feeling stressed most of the time. There are many potential reasons for this. One could be that the lack of direct familial support led to more instances of stress.

The story changed a bit, though, when we examined self-reported levels of anxiety across the groups. The people who didn’t move in with family were most likely to report experiencing no anxiety or mild anxiety, whereas people who did move in with family were 2X more likely to experience extreme stress. This, too, can be looked at through multiple angles. For example, it’s possible that if people were living with older relatives who fell into the most at-risk populations, that could’ve fueled anxiety about those family members getting infected and falling seriously ill. Another possibility could be that people prone to higher levels of stress moved in with family because they desired that additional support.

Doing What’s Right for You

Ultimately, we wanted to know whether people were satisfied with their choice in living situations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With the situation continually evolving, many people likely needed to make quick decisions.

Surprisingly, we found fairly consistent satisfaction levels in both groups. Just over 92% of people who chose not to move in with family were happy with that choice, compared to 88.8% of people who did hunker down with family members. This seems to indicate that there is no one right choice but right choices for each individual.

Finding a Way Through

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of discomfort for people: health concerns, job insecurity, financial woes – the list goes on. However, the people who chose to weather the pandemic with family also reported strengthened relationships and some positive mental health impacts.

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Methodology

We surveyed 1,065 people about their living situation during the COVID-19 pandemic and how that has impacted their mental health and personal relationships.

Respondents were 47.3% women and 52.2% men. An additional 0.3% identified as nonbinary. One respondent identified as genderfluid, and one respondent chose not to disclose their gender identity. The average age of respondents was 36.9 with a standard deviation of 11.8.

When asked whether they had moved in with family members during the COVID-19 pandemic, 313 people reported that they had. Parts of this project examine data specific to just this group.

When asked about the type of impact staying with family members had on their mental health, respondents were given the following scale of options:

  • Extremely negative
  • Negative
  • Slightly negative
  • Neither negative nor positive
  • Slightly positive
  • Positive
  • Extremely positive

In our final visualization of the data, these were combined into the following groups: negative, neither negative nor positive, and positive.

Data about which family members people moved in with and people’s reasons for moving in with family members were gathered as check-all-that-apply questions. Therefore, percentages may not add to 100.

Limitations

The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

Fair Use Statement

Deciding where and how to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic is difficult for anyone, regardless of whether you choose to stay with family. If someone you know would benefit from the information in this project, you can share for any noncommercial reuse. Please link back here so the project can be read in its entirety and the methodology reviewed. Additionally, this gives credit to the contributors who make this work possible.