The Full Time Child Trend: A Strange New Career Path for Millennials & Gen Z

The job market, like so many things nowadays, is total chaos. But some young people have found a surprising solution: getting paid to be… stay at home children. That might sound crazy (or like a ‘young people are killing the economy with avocado toast’ clickbait article lede,) but in reality it’s a rather effective fix to the seemingly endless hurdles young people are facing today.

So… what does it even mean to be a “full time child,” really? And what larger changes are happening societally as the goal posts for “adulthood” continue to shift? Here’s our Take!

The Crushing Pressures of Modern Young Adulthood

Adulthood has never really looked exactly one way – there have always been variations based on factors like class and culture – but there have been pretty steady markers of being a grown up: have an important job, own a home, 2.5 kids, have a paid off car, retirement savings, etc. Regardless of what you wanted out of life, it’s been seen as a given that you’ll strive to bear all of the burdens of adulthood without complaint. Because we’ve long had such strict criteria on what it means to be a “real adult”, it’s seen as strange when people can’t, or won’t, meet those standards. And so the “eternal child” has often been played for laughs in popular culture. But the fact is that nowadays, fewer and fewer young people are able to meet those criteria. In the US, for example, Gen Z is disproportionately affected by the rise in unemployment. And with a difficult job market, dwindling pay and rising mortgage rates, young people are staying home with their families for much longer than they have in any previous generation. In fact a 2022 study puts the number of Gen Z folk living at home at 54%. But before we dig into the ‘full time child’ trend, let’s quickly unpack the many issues that have led us to this moment:

Across the board, the generational divide can feel enormous. It seems to irritate older generations when young people can’t seem to achieve the same things that they did – though, of course, they always seem to forget the legs up they had when securing said achievements, like university being dirt cheap and credit scores not even existing. Over the past few years, there have been many notorious gaffes by wealthy older generations who accuse millennials and Gen Z of simply not working hard enough, or wanting certain things enough.

They perceive it as laziness or regression when actually younger generations are having to adapt to the world they live in and the possibilities they have. In the UK and US, where inflation has rocketed, headlines claim that it’s still not as bad as people had it back in the 70s and 80s. But that’s not strictly true. Actually, while interest rates might’ve been higher back then, the amount of money young people have to borrow to buy homes now is far, far bigger – so it’s much more difficult to buy a home these days. Younger generations are giving up on other things that their elders took for granted, too, with more disturbing trends emerging. Millennials and Gen Z are way less likely to pay in to pensions, meaning they’re more likely to face poverty in old age. And it’s often nothing to do with living beyond their means – their spending power is so low that many of them can’t afford to have their pay reduced by a monthly withdrawal into their pension. Rather than being wasteful and overspending, Gen Z and millennials are digging into their own futures to make ends meet – the squeeze on finances means that, even if they do save, they’re regularly taking money from their own retirement funds in order to pay their bills.

As people have been finding ways to survive through all of these struggles, they’ve come up with some very interesting solutions. In China, for example, unemployment among young people is at a record high – up to 21.3% in urban areas. And so a new trend has emerged: full time children – some Chinese parents are paying their kids a salary to stay home and help out around the house, taking care of sick relatives or picking up groceries. And while this may sound like a good deal, it’s causing panic in China, because of the knock-on effects. If you can’t get a job, it’s less and less likely you’ll reach society’s other accepted markers of adulthood, like home ownership, or having a family. But the young people themselves are welcoming this chance to slow down the pace of life and free themselves from the crush of hustle culture. And across the world, as the seemingly relentless pressures on young adults continue to compound, people have started envisioning a new version of adulthood.

The New Adulthood

Young adults – and even not-so-young-any-more adults (elder millennials are hitting 40 and still getting hit with belittling headlines blaming them for the downfall of the economy because of their ‘childish’ spending habits) – have long had to hear about how they aren’t becoming adults in the correct way and are too attached to their ‘child-like’ dreams and desires. They’re not moving out early enough, not spending fast enough, not saving enough – the list never ends. And so, since it seems impossible to change this cage of adulthood, many young people are deciding to break out altogether. So, what does this new adulthood look like?

Well, marriage is out – 73% of Gen Z and millennials surveyed by the Thriving Center of Psychology said they think it’s too expensive to get married right now. While there are crazy weddings among rich and famous Gen Z-ers like Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz, many regular people see that the average cost of a wedding tallies up to a lot more in the real world. The average US wedding costs $29,000 – so about the same amount students borrow for a bachelor’s degree. And it’s not just the cost of the wedding that puts young people off – due to the rest of their lives feeling like they’re on hold, many just don’t feel ready to make the commitment yet. And actually, according to Jill Filipovic, the author of OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind, that might not be such a bad thing. Millennials are getting married much later than their Boomer counterparts – but when they do tie the knot, their marriages result in far lower rates of divorce.

Another clear impact is that the birth rate in the US is dropping – with many theories as to why . But just because they’re not giving birth to children doesn’t mean young people are necessarily giving up on family – they’re just considering different ways of achieving it, like adoption or expanding their found families. Others are choosing to have pets instead of having kids.This trend even led Pope Francis to give a speech about ‘selfishness’ among young people. But realistically, in choosing an alternatively shaped family, these people are finding a different kind of joy – and it often means extending the net wider than the nuclear family, bringing in even more loved ones. Young people are finding clever new ways to get on the property ladder, too – like by taking out mortgages with their friends. While many of these societal systems, from marriages to mortgages, had in the past seemed written in stone, as young people have found themselves stuck between this rock and a hard place, they’ve become less afraid of questioning the basic principles of these systems.

Some aspects of this “new” adulthood have actually been long accepted parts of life in many cultures – for example, living with your parents well into adulthood until you marry and then move out. So some of the embrace of modern versions of growing up is actually just young people going back to their roots and making it work in this new world.

The truth is, with the old school markers of adulthood now inaccessible to so many people, there is no clearly defined route to take – so it makes sense that people are creating a new version of adulthood – one that better reflects their finances and lifestyles, and therefore their possibilities. Take Ruthie from Shrill. She was at the front of the full-time child parade before it was a thing – and far from it being infantilising, there’s a power to her decision to live with her boss and his partner as though she’s their daughter. In Broad City, Abbi and Ilana’s best friendship is allowed to flourish beyond the parameters it might have done in previous generations, in part because of all the factors preventing them from reaching the hallmarks of ‘traditional’ adulthood. And as a result, they have their truest, most open relationship with each other.


Even young adults who aren’t becoming ‘full time children’ are breaking free from the constraints of stereotypical, old-school adulthood to find new ways to live. Traditional adulthood may be dying – or only really available to the very, very rich – but a new type of grown up is emerging, and they’re making it work for them. Instead of being crushed by the systems that defined previous generations, young adults are hacking them and making them work in our modern world. The myriad of obstacles facing young adults on the road ahead – from stagnant wages to climate change to political upheaval – mean that we have to remake society if we have any hope of surviving. Out of the ashes of what older generations aspired to, there’s interesting new growth – based in friendship, trust and working together.


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