I want to move out, but I don't see how. I have never considered that option," says Paula in resigned tones. At age 28, she is an elementary school teacher who has always lived with her parents. Since graduation she has only worked three times as a substitute teacher, always for short periods.
"The longest I ever worked is four months," she explains. Now she has a one-month contract to work as a summer camp monitor for four- and five-year-olds. In August she will be back in the unemployment line, and is contemplating moving to another country to find more regular work.
Paula is a case study for an entire generation: like 67.4 percent of Spaniards aged between 20 and 29, she still lives with her parents; like 68 percent of people in the 15-to-35 age bracket, she would be willing to change countries to find a job. The statistics have been published in a new sociological report by the foundation of La Caixa savings bank called La transición de los jóvenes a la vida adulta: crisis económica y emancipación tardía (or, Young people's transition to adult life: economic crisis and late emancipation).
"Juvenile emancipation has returned to 2000 levels," says Almudena Moreno, who holds a PhD in sociology from Barcelona's Autónoma University and coordinated the report.
Figures show that the number of people between 16 and 34 years of age who need financial support from their parents to make ends meet grew from 40.7 percent in 2005 to 44.1 percent in 2011. The report lays the blame on job instability and unemployment levels.
While children leave their parents' home at age 29 on average, in other European countries such as Finland it is more like 23. Does this say more about Scandinavian family relationships or Spain's dire economic climate? "Our difference with the Finns is not just a result of cultural factors: young people enjoy very different institutional support in both countries," explains Moreno. Public investment in Spain's youth is 2.9 percent of total social expenditures, while in Britain - the European leader in this respect - it is 6.6 percent.
Ever since 2008, when the crisis began, the proportion of people up to 34 years old who still live at home has increased in a statistical curve that conceals a host of failed personal projects.
A case in point is David García, a 27-year-old pharmacist who would like to move in with his girlfriend, a 27-year-old pharmacist like himself. Although he has been making "a little over 1,000 euros" a month for the last four months in exchange for giving talks to doctors about the active ingredients in drugs at the clinical trial stage, the temporary nature of his job makes it impossible for him to move out. His contract ends in October, but he no longer seems to care about job stability anyway. "They can kick you out for a couple of bucks," García says about the latest labor reform that makes firing easier and cheaper.
And there is another trend that continues to escape scholars and the National Statistics Institute (INE) alike: the number of youngsters who move back in with their parents after doing a stint on their own. They are what the sociologist Alessandro Gentile, a professor at Madrid's Complutense University, calls the "boomerang kids" - youths who move in and out of their parents' place depending on the ups and downs of the labor market.
The scholar believes that studies should distinguish between individuals who would rather not move out because of their personal situation (unemployment or a precarious work situation) and those who move out but are forced to move back in.
Gentile explains that scholars should also differentiate between young people who move out thanks to financial support from their family - either in the form of real estate or allowances - and those who do so through their own work.
Daniel Garcés, 29, knows all about the boomerang effect. He is a psychologist who had to move back in with his parents despite a job that earns him around 1,300 euros a month coordinating a program that finds accommodation for people with disabilities. When his father died two years ago, he left his shared apartment and moved back in with his mother, who still had to make monthly mortgage payments of 900 euros.
"My mother was left with a widow's pension that was not enough to repay the loan she took out with my father when we could still count on his salary. I came back with her and we pay the mortgage together," he explains.
Even though the crisis has hit young people especially hard, this age cohort hardly ever resorts to social services for help. In 2009, only 1.2 percent of social service users were young people. This can be explained by their lack of trust in the political class and the institutions, says Antonio López, a professor of social work at the distance university UNED and one of the authors of the report for La Caixa foundation.
"Youths do not go to the social services because there is a mutual invisibility between them and the public administration; there is a mutual delegitimization. The truth is, social programs for young people do not enjoy actual participation by young people themselves, and that's a big problem. Until when are families going to keep supporting their sons and daughters?"
The family is acting like a social buffer for Spanish youth, contributing resources and accommodating frustrations. José Manuel Martínez, a PhD in social psychology, a professor at Madrid's Autónoma University and a scholar of reference on issues affecting youth, says that "there are two support points: on one hand their friends, who are a group of peers with the same problems, which thus become socialized; on the other hand there is the family, which is a social cushion to fall back on."
Rather than tackle one's problems individually, this reality allows for their socialization, because they affect thousands of people. One person's problems are the same as another person's problems. This way, one's self-esteem suffers less of a blow.
Laura Nuño, a 27-year-old psychologist, has always lived with her parents in the Madrid district of Villaverde, where they moved in the 1970s. She has a part-time contract as a community psychologist that brings in a little over 600 euros a month and which ends at the end of this month. There are no alternatives on the horizon. "I'll stay at home, like so many others," she concludes.