Information for the parents of college students
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Book Review: The Accordion Family

From time to time, we like to review some of the books available for parents of college students. There is a wealth of literature available to help parents cope with the transition to college and the changes that occur throughout the college years. We’ve created lists of recommended reading, and there is something for everyone. See our Resources and Tools page for suggestions.

The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition by Katherine S. Newman is an important look at the trend toward a rising number of multigenerational families. Newman’s findings are based on extensive interviews with 300 people in six countries. Half of those interviewed were parents and half were adult children. Many of the interviewees were from the same families.

This book will not be of interest to every college parent – or potential parent of a boomerang child, but many will find it enlightening. Newman states, “We can expect a boom time for the accordion family. . . The trend has been growing in the United States and we expect it to continue as long as the underlying economic conditions contributing to it gather force. Our young people will have few other options.” Many parents may find the information in this book both disconcerting and reassuring. It may be disconcerting to learn that we can look forward to a growing number of millennials who will return home, but it may be reassuring to know that we are not alone.

The Accordion Family presents a rich sociological study that places the phenomenon of multigenerational families in an economic and political context. It does not provide answers, but rather provides background and explanations as Newman examines the causes behind the need for young adults to return or remain at home. Parents who are interested in understanding the larger global issues surrounding their student’s need and/or desire to remain at home, will find in this book insight into these emerging adults.

The content of this book will help many parents view their situation with a more global perspective. Chapter titles in the book include, The Slippery State of Adulthood, In-House Adulthood, When the Nest Doesn’t Empty, and Trouble in Paradise. We recommend the book to those who are not looking for easy answers. As Newman states in her conclusion, “The messy politics of the accordion family remain unresolved, both here and abroad. They are enmeshed in the same inequalities that beset the advanced economies of the Western world . . . And for the millennials, the jury is out. What becomes of them is as much a matter of what the economy provides in the way of opportunity and what we decide we owe them as citizens, future parents, and providers. These are not simply natural outcomes. They are expressions of social solidarity, given shape in the governments we elect and the policies they enact.”

About the author:

Katherine S. Newman has authored ten books on middle-class economic instability, urban poverty, and the sociology of inequality. She has served as professor of sociology and dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. Newman has also taught at the University of California-Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, and Princeton. Newman graduated in 1975 from the University of California, San Diego, where she majored in sociology and philosophy. She earned a doctorate in anthropology in 1979 from the University of California, Berkeley. She currently serves as provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

What others have to say about the book:

“Brilliant and important.”

                        Robert B. Reich, author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future

 “Combining personal interviews with careful analysis of economic trends, and paying close attention to differences in cultural values and political structures, Newman sheds new light on the complex trade-offs that recent changes in intergenerational relationships and residence patterns involve for young adults, their parents, and society as a whole.”

                        Stephanie Coontz, author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

“In this wide-ranging book, Katherine Newman shows that the ages at which young adults leave their parents’ homes are rising in developed countries around the world. She brilliantly demonstrates that the global forces behind this change are everywhere the same but that each nation interprets it in its own cultural way. Newman’s insightful presentation of the stories of accordion families challenges us to re-think what it means to be an adult today.”

Andrew Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today

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