When chickens come home to roost

Has COVID-19 exacerbated the trend towards kids staying home longer? Chief Advocate Ian Henschke investigates.

Image source: The Sunday Times

We  just welcomed two hot young chicks into our household. No I’m not being sexist, they came from an incubator. Our daughter is deeply enamoured with poultry. 

Last month some chook loving friends with a rooster gave us a couple of fertilised eggs and lent us their incubator. Twenty-one days later we awoke to hear muffled cheeping. We lifted the lid to see a fine crack appearing in one eggshell.  

Then we heard pecking.  

After a couple of hours, a beak, then a bird emerged. It fed on what was left in the egg and didn’t need anything else for the first day. The same process happened with the other hatchling.  

By day two they were walking, chirping, eating, drinking, and quite independent. The only extra we’ve had to provide is a 100 W heat bulb. We tried introducing one of our older chickens to see whether she’d foster the new arrivals, but she wasn’t interested. 

Home to roost 

While this was happening, I saw a report from the US that 5% of all 18-29 year olds had returned home because of COVID and so more than half of all 18-29 years olds were back in the nest. I checked the data here and found in 2017, 57% of Australian men under the age of 30 were still living at home and 54% of women. With COVID, it would be now be even higher.  

Melbourne University research shows over the past twenty years this trend has been growing. We’ve extended adolescence well into the late twenties. For my generation it was a different story. 

I finished school and moved out the next month. In the early 1970s teenagers grew up quickly. They were still being sent away to fight in the Vietnam war. The age of adulthood and voting was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1973. 

As young adults, we desperately wanted to make our own way in the world. I lived in share houses then rented a flat, did my own, cooking, cleaning and paid all my bills.  

Many married and had children in their early twenties, most by their mid-twenties. Today, the average age a couple marries is in their early thirties. 

Compared to chickens, and most other animals, humans take a long time to mature. Up until the age of seven we’re almost totally dependent on our parents. But past the age of seven, children can do a vast range of things.  

Watch an episode of Junior MasterChef and you can see their capabilities. By the time a child is 15 they can hold down a full time job but now we want them to stay at school until they are 18 and ideally get further training after that. 

Why didn’t the chicken cross the road? 

My youngest is 15 and works on weekends and in the holidays. She could easily head out into the world. So why don’t more young people “cross the road”, leave home and get independent lives sooner?  

Is it the job situation, the push for more education, or the cost of housing? Is it helicopter parents holding them back? Have we infantilised our children to the point where they now take twice as long to grow up? Is it a combination of all the above?  

If we look back to the generation before mine, most people were working in their teens, and became parents in their 20s. My parents were both working at 15. Mum had five children by the time she was at 36.  Many women today are having their first child at 36. 

What’s the answer? Clearly the cost of housing is a huge part of the problem. Rents are also so high renters find it difficult to save. Perhaps this is why so many adult children are still at home. Then there’s the cost of HECS debts. It’s complicated. 

But I don’t want my children still at home when they’re 30. I want them to get on with their lives. I married late so if I live to be 80, my youngest will be 30. Although, if she’s still at home it makes home-care easier!  

There are still more than 100,000 elderly Australians waiting for a homecare package. Let’s hope the government adopts the latest recommendations of the Royal Commission and fixes the broken system. Meanwhile more and more adult children living at home are becoming carers looking after frail parents.  

I suspect many will soon want a place of their own. Perhaps they’ll put their parents into aged care or in a granny flat out the back so they can take over the nest. Either way, once mum and dad stop looking after them and the roles are reversed, those little chickens will finally have to peck their way out of their shells, and somehow make their own way in the world.