Does substance use play a role in gender differences in residential independence and returns to the parental home?

Authors: Cody Warner1 and Emily Cady1
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  • 1 Montana State University, , US
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Young adults are co-residing with their parents at higher rates now than in the past, and recent research has explored the correlates of both leaving and subsequently returning to the parental home. Of relevance here, females tend to leave home earlier than their male counterparts, and research finds that drinking and drug use are also linked to residential transitions. This research note explores if substance use during adolescence and young adulthood plays a role in gender differences in home-leaving and home-returning. We find that marijuana use plays a role in both home-leaving and home-returning, with adolescent females who use marijuana the most at risk for early exits from home, and marijuana using males the most at risk for home-returning.

Abstract

Young adults are co-residing with their parents at higher rates now than in the past, and recent research has explored the correlates of both leaving and subsequently returning to the parental home. Of relevance here, females tend to leave home earlier than their male counterparts, and research finds that drinking and drug use are also linked to residential transitions. This research note explores if substance use during adolescence and young adulthood plays a role in gender differences in home-leaving and home-returning. We find that marijuana use plays a role in both home-leaving and home-returning, with adolescent females who use marijuana the most at risk for early exits from home, and marijuana using males the most at risk for home-returning.

Introduction

The contemporary transition from adolescence to adulthood has become more diverse and complex, with a notable increase in parent–child co-residence during the young-adult years. In the US, for instance, more than half of all young adults (ages 18–29) are now living with their parents, up from 29% in the 1960s (Fry et al, 2020). Many of these young adults previously held independent households, and a growing body of research has explored the correlates of exits from and subsequent returns to the parental home in the US (Sandberg-Thoma et al, 2015; South and Lei, 2015) and other contexts (Stone et al, 2013; Berngruber, 2015; Arundel and Lennartz, 2017).

Much of this research has explored the residential transitions of home-leaving and home-returning in relation to the family context, parent–child relationships and other indicators of adulthood such as educational attainment or relationship formation. This research has also produced two conclusions that motivate the current study. First, there is gender variation in residential transitions. Females tend to leave home earlier than their male counterparts, and rates of co-residence in young adulthood are higher among males than among females (Stone et al, 2013; Fry, 2016). Second, substance use is associated with early exits from the parental home and a higher likelihood of returning home while living independently (Sandberg-Thoma et al, 2015; Warner and Remster, 2021). The health and social consequences of adolescent and young-adult substance use have been well documented, with links to outcomes including brain development, emotional distress, risk-taking behaviours, and financial problems (see Bhatt, 2011; Sandberg-Thoma et al, 2015). Recent research suggests that substance use also complicates the transition to adulthood via links to home-leaving and home-returning.

Of course, rates of substance use also vary by gender, and thus the current research note examines the linkages between gender, substance use and residential transitions. Using data on a contemporary cohort of young adults in the US, we find that residential transitions of young-adult males and females are shaped, in part, by their experiences with substance use, and especially marijuana.

Gender, substance use and residential transitions

We argue that exploring gender heterogeneity in residential transitions is important for at least three reasons. First, as noted, there are gender differences in both residential transitions and substance use. Females leave the home earlier than their male counterparts, and the correlates of residential transitions may also vary by gender. For example, union dissolution predicts home-returning for non-resident fathers but not for mothers (Stone et al, 2013). Females are also generally less likely than their male counterparts to use alcohol or marijuana. That said, recent research finds that the gender gap in alcohol may be narrowing, that drinking overall is declining in young adults, while marijuana use is increasing (Schulenberg et al, 2021).

Second, beyond patterns of use, parental response to substance use may also be shaped by gender. Overall, adolescence substance use has been associated with a decline in parental financial transfers to children (Bhatt, 2011). Of particular interest for the present study, Hao and colleagues (2008) found that daughters who had teen births receive fewer transfers from their parents. We further argue that substance-using females may be particularly at risk for early departures from the parental home because of the family context, and especially family conflict. Many have argued that parents are more likely (at least passively) to accept deviant behaviours in their male children, while attempting to enforce conforming behaviours in their female children (Chesney-Lind, 1989; Fagan et al, 2011). Research also finds that that male and female children respond differently to family strain (Hay, 2003), and thus substance use among daughters could be indicative of issues related to parental monitoring or parental attachment (Morris, 1964). Prior research shows that parent–child relationships are predictive of residential transitions, especially for females (Buck and Scott, 1993).

Third, the social and health consequences of substance use in adolescence and young adulthood may be linked with unstable residential transitions, and there is evidence of gender variation in these consequences. Substance use overall is associated with premature transitions to adult social roles such as dropping out of school or teenage parenthood (Krohn et al, 1997). Substance users go on to struggle in these roles, with problematic drinking linked to lower quality of life in domains such as relationships and employment (see Sandberg-Thoma et al, 2015). Marijuana use specifically during adolescence and young adulthood is associated with declines in educational attainment (Maggs et al, 2015), increased job instability (Newcomb and Bentler, 1988) and poorer mental and physical health outcomes (Guttmannova et al, 2017; Korn et al, 2018). Further, some of these consequences vary by gender, with reduced odds of marriage and parenthood for male substance users, but not their female counterparts (Jang et al, 2018). Thus, if males who engage in substance use are less likely to transition into adult roles that would contribute to housing stability, we might expect this group to be most likely to return to the parental home. This may be particularly the case since females are more likely to exit the parental home to reside with a romantic partner in the first place (Buck and Scott, 1993).

In sum, this research note examines if substance use patterns play a role in male and female pathways out of and (for many) back into the parental home. Based on prior research, we explore two expectations. First, due in part to differential response by parents to the deviance of their male and female children, we anticipate that female substance users will be the most likely to leave the parental home. Second, given that the consequences of substance use (and especially marijuana) may be different for males than for females, we expect that substance-using males will be the most likely to return to the parental home. We test these expectations using longitudinal data from the US.

Data

Data for this research note are drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 Cohort (NLSY97; more information at https://www.nlsinfo.org/). The NLSY97 is a nationally representative sample of 8,894 respondents born in the US between 1980 and 1984. Interviews were first conducted in 1997 when respondents were 12–16 years old. Interviews were conducted annually until 2011 when the interview schedule was shifted to every other year. The present study utilises up to 17 observations per respondent covering 1997–2015, and respondents were 30–36 years old at the 2015 interview. The data have been used extensively to explore the correlates of home-leaving and home-returning among a contemporary cohort of American youth (Sandberg-Thoma et al, 2015; Houle and Warner, 2017; Gillespie, 2020).

Measures

Residential transitions

We follow prior research by measuring the residential transitions of home-leaving and home-returning using self-reported residential histories. Starting with the 2003 round of data collection, NLSY97 respondents were asked retrospective questions about the month and year in which they first exited and the month and year they returned back to the parental home (if applicable). After 2003, respondents were asked about these transitions at every subsequent interview. Respondents are asked if they have established their own household for at least three months (home-leaving), and then if they returned to the parental household for at least three months (home-returning). They are first prompted with the definitions of a ‘household head’ and ‘permanent residence’ to ensure that temporary living quarters (such as dorms) are excluded (see Dey and Pierret, 2014: 10). The measures are thus meant to capture the experiences of residential independence and subsequent boomeranging back to the parental home. We use the self-reported residential history questions to capture, if applicable, the year of first reported home-leaving and the year of first reported home-returning.

Gender and substance use

To explore gender differences in residential transitions we use a baseline indicator of respondent gender (female = referent). To capture substance use we use detailed questions taken at every wave about alcohol and marijuana use. Following prior research (Sandberg-Thoma et al, 2015), we construct a measure of problem drinking at each wave coded 1 if respondents reported binge drinking the past 30 days (five or more drinks in one sitting) or reported drinking before school or work. Marijuana use is also a dichotomous variable, coded 1 if a respondent reported any marijuana use in the 30 days before the most recent interview.

Covariates

We include an array of time-stable and time-varying covariates that may confound, suppress or mediate the gender-specific associations between substance use and residential transitions. We focus on established covariates related to the family context and contemporaneous social and economic characteristics. Measures of family context include family structure, parental educational attainment, parental attachment and financial support from parents. Our measures of contemporaneous social and economic characteristics include employment status, relationship status, parenthood, educational attainment and emotional distress. We also include background controls of race/ethnicity and region of origin. Finally, we control for age of residential independence in models predicting home-returning.

Analytic strategy

To explore residential transitions in the context of gender and substance use, we follow prior research by separately predicting home-leaving and home-returning using discrete time proportional hazard models (Houle and Warner, 2017; Gillespie, 2020). Respondents are at risk for home-leaving in the survey wave corresponding to their 16th birthday, and remain in the risk set until the year they report first leaving the parental home or the time series ends with the 2015 interview. For those respondents who establish independent households, the time series for home-returning begins in the year they indicate first leaving the parental home. Respondents remain at risk until they return home or the time series ends in 2015. We conducted exploratory analyses to determine the proper functional form of the baseline hazard. Among the various options, including linear and non-linear measures for time at risk, a fully nonparametric model (with dummy variables for time) was the best fit for the data. We use listwise deletion on all covariates to arrive at sample sizes of 23,234 person-years (4,926 persons) for home-leaving, and 19,110 person-years (4,327 persons) for home-returning.

Results

Descriptive patterns in the data confirm prior research on home-leaving and home-returning. While most NLYS97 respondents report leaving home at least once (87%), females are more likely than males to leave home (88.7% for females, 85.5% for males). Home-returning is also common among NLSY97 respondents, with nearly 60% of those residentially independent respondents reporting a return to the parental home. Here, gender differences are smaller and switched, with 60.8% of residentially independent females and 58.6% of residentially independent males reporting a return to the parental home. Males are more likely than females to report both alcohol and marijuana use. While at risk for home-leaving (that is, living with parents), males reported alcohol use in 36.5% of all observations and marijuana use in 18.8% of all observations. Females reported alcohol use in 23.4% of observations and marijuana use in 12.6% of observations. This pattern holds once respondents are at risk to return home, with males more likely to both drink (46.9% compared to 29.0%) and use marijuana (19.1% compared to 13.2%) in any given observation.

To examine if substance use impacts pathways out of or back into the parental home in different ways for males and females, we turn to multivariate models in Table 1. We start with baseline models showing how gender and substance use are associated with home-leaving (Panel A) and home-returning (Panel B). We then estimated a series of interactions between gender and our two substance use measures. All models are summarised in Panels A and B of Table 1.

Table 1:

Discrete time hazard models predicting household residential transitions

Model 1Model 2Model 3
PANEL A (HOME-LEAVING)
Gender (male=1)−0.296***−0.268***−0.128*
(0.037)(0.047)(0.052)
Problem drinking (yes=1)0.204***0.245***0.189**
(0.049)(0.061)(0.067)
Marijuana use (yes=1)0.269***0.338***0.312***
(0.041)(0.075)(0.079)
Male X Problem drinking0.0380.038
(0.082)(0.088)
Male X Marijuana use−0.231*−0.223*
(0.098)(0.104)
Constant−3.315***−3.969***
(0.283)(0.313)
PANEL B (HOME-RETURNING)
Gender (male=1)0.0590.0240.001
(0.046)(0.061)(0.064)
Problem drinking (yes=1)0.0990.1060.001
(0.049)(0.070)(0.073)
Marijuana use (yes=1)0.249***0.1340.016
(0.060)(0.089)(0.094)
Male X Problem drinking−0.0120.050
(0.098)(0.100)
Male X Marijuana use0.205+ 0.196
(0.121)(0.125)
Constant−2.055−0.774
(0.059)(0.286)
All controls not shown
HazardYesYesYes
DemographicNoNoYes
Young adultNoNoYes
Family connectivityNoNoYes

Notes: + p < .10,

p < .05,

p < .01,

p < .001; Source: NLSY97; Panel A sample size: 23,324 person-years (4,926 persons); Panel B sample size: 19,110 person-years (4,327 persons); multivariate results are unweighted

Briefly, our results are consistent with prior research indicating that males are less likely than females to leave the parental home (Panel A, Model 1), while there is no gender difference in home-returning (Panel B, Model 1). Both problem drinking and marijuana use increase the likelihood of home-leaving, while only marijuana use is associated with home-returning.

In Model 2, we find that alcohol use is not tied to either residential transition in different ways for males or females. Marijuana use, on the other hand, does appear to structure residential transitions by gender, especially home-leaving. In Panel A (home-leaving) we find a negative main effect for gender, a positive main effect for marijuana use, and a negative interaction term between gender and marijuana use. This pattern is robust to the inclusion of all control measures in Model 2. To explore these associations in greater detail, we plotted the predicted likelihood of home-leaving and home-returning by gender and marijuana use in Panels A and B of Figure 1.

Figure 1:
Figure 1:

Gender, marijuana use and residential transitions

Citation: Longitudinal and Life Course Studies 2022; 10.1332/175795921X16385639148370

In Panel A, displaying predicted likelihood of exiting the parental home between ages 16 and 25, we find that females who use marijuana are more likely than all other groups to leave the parental home across the observation period. For all groups, the likelihood of leaving peaks between ages 18 and 21, but there are differences based on marijuana use. The predicted likelihood of leaving is nearly identical for males who use marijuana and females who do not, while male marijuana users are slightly less likely than their peers to leave home. An exploration of the 95% confidence intervals shows that, compared to females who do not use marijuana and males who do, females who use marijuana are significantly more likely to leave between the ages of 18 and 22 (the confidence intervals overlap at other ages). Female marijuana users are more likely than male non-users to leave home at all ages under consideration except age 16 (see Appendix Tables A1 and A2 for confidence intervals).

Panel B shifts the focus to home-returning, and here the pattern of results is almost flipped. While the likelihood of returning home following residential independence is similar among females who do and do not use marijuana, as well as male non-users, males who use marijuana are at an elevated likelihood of returning home across time. However, the differences across gender and marijuana use are smaller for home-returning than for home-leaving. Based on the 95% confidence intervals, the only significant difference in home-returning is in the second year after leaving home between males who report marijuana use and females who do not (the group least likely to return at any given time point).

Conclusion

Prior research demonstrates that there are gender differences in the pathways out of and back into the parental home. At the same time, research finds that substance use is associated with residential transitions. Our findings are consistent with this research, demonstrating that males are less likely to leave the parental home than females, and that substance use (especially marijuana use) is linked to both home-leaving and home-returning. In addition, given differences in substance use by gender, as well as parental response to this use and potential consequences of use, this research note explored if substance use patterns impact residential transitions differently for males and females. Aligned with our expectations, we find that female marijuana users are the most likely to leave the parental home, and especially for use that occurs when home-leaving peaks between ages 18 and 22. For home-returning, we find that male marijuana users are the most likely to return home, but differences across both gender and substance use are smaller for home-returning.

Of particular interest are the findings regarding marijuana use. Any use is associated with an increased likelihood of home-leaving and home-returning, but the results also demonstrate that these patterns may vary by gender. While alcohol use is linked to home-leaving, it is not associated with home-returning and does not interact with gender. Findings related to alcohol use may be tied to changing patterns of use between male and females. For example, the sources of young-adult binge drinking appear to be similar for males and females (Schulenberg et al, 1996) and some studies have found that gender gaps in alcohol use are decreasing (O’Brien et al, 2008). Regarding marijuana use, we speculated that use may result in different transitions out of the home for males and females because of parental response to this behaviour. Parents are said to be more accepting of male deviance than female deviance, and tend to react differently to the behaviours of their children (Fagan et al, 2011). Thus, parents may react more negatively to the marijuana use of their female children, setting the stage for an earlier exit from the parental home. These transitions out of the home may also be tied to parental attachment, and future research should explore how marijuana and other substances impacts relationships with parents, and the implications for residential transitions.

Once living independently, it appears that marijuana use may be a risk factor for home-returning, especially among males. Prior research finds that male marijuana use, but not female, is tied to reduced odds of marriage and parenthood (Jang et al, 2018). To the extent that marijuana compromises those life-course transitions that contribute to independent living, especially for males, then use in young adulthood may contribute to gendered patterns of returns back to the parental home.

Some limitations should be kept in mind. First, data come from a single cohort in the US, and additional research should explore how gender and substance use impact residential transitions across cohorts and contexts. Second, measures of substance use are taken at the yearly level, and so we cannot ensure that the substance use preceded the residential transitions of home-leaving and -returning. Our measure of marijuana use also only targets the 30 days prior to each interview. Finally, it is unclear if the legal status of marijuana in the state of residence plays a role in these relationships. The first American states to legalise recreational marijuana did so in 2012, resulting in very few observations post-legalisation in the current data. Future research should explore how changing laws related to marijuana impact outcomes related to use among adolescents and young adults. Keeping these limitations in mind, however, our findings provide additional context to research documenting the correlates of residential independence and boomeranging during an era of high parent–child co-residence.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

References

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Appendix

Table A1:

95% confidence intervals for predicted likelihood of home-leaving

Female 95% confidence intervalsMale 95% confidence intervals
Yes marijuanaNo marijuanaYes marijuanaNo marijuana
LowerUpperLowerUpperLowerUpperLowerUpper
Age
160.03930.12560.02710.08750.02670.08740.02270.0740
170.0611c0.09230.04390.06250.04250.06350.03680.0529
180.2212abc0.27600.16930.19650.16300.20150.14520.1699
190.2246abc0.28350.17210.20240.16620.20690.14780.1750
200.2262abc0.28890.17290.20730.16730.21150.14890.1790
210.2419abc0.31160.18540.22590.17990.23000.16020.1954
220.1847abc0.25050.13870.17810.13500.18060.11890.1528
230.1725ac0.24180.12800.17240.12530.17400.10980.1476
240.1138c0.17420.08290.12150.08130.12230.07050.1031
250.0974c0.15680.07040.10900.06910.10960.05980.0923

Notes:

a = lower bound of estimate for ‘female, yes marijuana’ does not cross upper bound of ‘female, no marijuana’.

b = lower bound of estimate for ‘female, yes marijuana’ does not cross upper bound of ‘male, yes marijuana’.

c = lower bound of estimate for ‘female, yes marijuana’ does not cross upper bound of ‘male, no marijuana’.

Table A2:

95% confidence intervals for predicted likelihood of home-returning

Male 95% confidence intervalsFemale 95% confidence intervals
Yes marijuanaNo marijuanaYes marijuanaNo marijuana
LowerUpperLowerUpperLowerUpperLowerUpper
Time
10.09640.13110.08190.10240.07280.10470.07650.0956
20.2458a0.30780.21470.25030.19390.25650.20260.2359
30.11700.16040.09940.12670.08940.12850.09290.1185
40.10420.14650.08770.11610.07920.11710.08200.1083
50.07740.11560.06470.09120.05850.09160.06030.0851
60.07770.11860.06490.09370.05890.09370.06050.0874
70.05880.09760.04830.07750.04430.07680.04510.0721
80.04980.08930.04080.07090.03730.07010.03810.0659
90.04790.09390.03910.07480.03630.07320.03660.0695
100.02770.07680.02250.06110.02070.05970.02100.0567

Notes:

a = lower bound of estimate for ‘male, yes marijuana’ does not cross upper bound of ‘female, no marijuana’.

  • Arundel, R. and Lennartz, C. (2017) Returning to the parental home: boomerang moves of younger adults and the welfare regime context, Journal of European Social Policy, 27(3): 27694. doi: 10.1177/0958928716684315

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Berngruber, A. (2015) ‘Generation boomerang’ in Germany? Returning to the parental home in young adulthood, Journal of Youth Studies, 18(10): 127490. doi: 10.1080/13676261.2015.1039969

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bhatt, V. (2011) Adolescent alcohol use and intergenerational transfers: evidence from micro data, Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32(2): 296307. doi: 10.1007/s10834-010-9243-y

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