“The paycheck is not enough for more.” They are 30 or older, but still live with their parents. From birth rates to mental health, how this affects the Portuguese

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Marisa is 38 and Joana is 30. Both want to leave their parents’ house, but don’t see how. The two are part of a group of thousands of Portuguese who place the country at the top of a statistic that nobody wants to be in. But it’s not only the young who may be affected by the situation.

“It is unthinkable to buy a house in Lisbon”. Marisa Patuleia’s thought assaults thousands of other young people, some of them outside the capital. At 38 years old, and working three different jobs, this woman is one of the thousands of Portuguese over 30 who can’t leave their parents’ house.

In fact, the Portuguese situation is the worst in the entire European Union. The average age at which people leave home in Portugal is around 33.6 years, a number that is largely explained by the difficulty in accessing housing, and that may have other consequences in the future, namely on the birth rate and mental health.

In Marisa’s case, she even has a boyfriend, which means she can share the bills with someone, but the two of them can’t raise enough money to make a down payment on a house, while rent prices are simply prohibitive to consider. The only alternative is to stay with her parents in Olivais.

“The paycheck can’t be enough. Either you’re rich or you’re broke. The bank doesn’t finance just anyone, you have to be accompanied by someone, and even then they ask for a guarantor and a lot of money for the down payment,” says the woman who still has another reason to stay at home: to help her parents financially. In fact, this is one of the reasons she doesn’t feel pressured. “If I leave them alone they get very tight,” she adds, mentioning that her parents have health problems and that it always works as another help at a time of rising prices caused by inflation.

With her boyfriend she is looking for a house around 180 thousand or 200 thousand euros with a two bedroom typology, something difficult to get in Lisbon or even in the outskirts. Her boyfriend lives alone, but joining him is out of the question. “We would be uncomfortable” in that studio apartment. “We are fine like this”, she concludes.

Marisa Patuleia has lived for 38 years in her parents' house (DR)
Marisa Patuleia has lived for 38 years in her parents’ house (DR)

It’s like Joana Ribeiro, who at 30 doesn’t want to move to “the first hole I find”. This graduate in Leisure Management and Tourism Animation at Estoril’s Escola Superior de Hotelaria e Turismo has always lived with her parents, and doesn’t envision a different scenario any time soon.

She didn’t need to leave home to study, since her parents lived in Lisbon and she was able to get there by transport. The situation went on and on, and not even when he got a stable job in the area, in 2017, was he able to leave.

“Tourism is quite precarious. Most of the time we get the minimum wage and most of the money comes from tips or commissions,” he explains, indicating that this is not enough to try to get a loan from a bank for a home loan. “The only thing that counts is what’s shown on the pay stubs or IRS, often close to the minimum wage. This is not enough to buy or rent a house in Lisbon.

“I really couldn’t afford to move, the prices in Lisbon are incompatible with a minimum wage,” he adds.

She worked in tourism from 2014 to 2020, alternating between unemployment when she needed to focus more seriously on her studies. After graduating in 2017, she started working as an interpreter guide in the Lisbon area and its surroundings. The arrival of the covid-19 pandemic cost her her job and she was unemployed for six months.

In the meantime, she moved with her parents to Samora Correia, on the south bank of the Tagus River, where six months after losing her job she found work as a clerk in a bank. That is where she still works and plans to continue, even if it is outside her area of training.

Today, and even about 40 kilometers from the capital, she still can’t afford to own a house on her own. Even in Samora Correia, where the houses are new, large and for sale. “There isn’t the typical 1-bedroom in Lisbon”.

“My conditions have improved significantly, but prices have gone up. It gets really hard, I don’t want to give things up.” That’s the key point: Joana has a standard of living she wants to maintain, and she knows that would be impossible to maintain while paying for a house, either on credit or rent.

The ambition of having her own house is still there, but, for now, she doesn’t want to give up “higher priority things” like traveling, going out to dinner with friends, or doing her life without having to “count the change”. “It’s a priority to maintain that lifestyle because I feel that if I didn’t have that component my mental health would be affected,” she says.

Joana Ribeiro is 30 years old and wants to leave her parents' house, but she doesn't think about it in order not to get frustrated (DR)
Joana Ribeiro is 30 years old and wants to leave her parents’ house, but she doesn’t think about it in order not to get frustrated (DR)

Natality, a consequence

Marisa Patuleia thinks about starting a family, about having children. But this is simply “impossible”, assuming that living at home with her parents is a “conditioning factor”. At this point, the woman criticizes the government: “They talk about the low birth rate, but are not concerned with understanding why it happens.

This is not, for the moment, a concern for Joana either, because she no longer “stipulates deadlines”. “If something doesn’t happen, it creates more frustration and sadness. Joana’s goal is to “really manage to be well” and to give herself the “luxury of some things”.

Margarida Mesquita has no doubts. Parents leaving home later is a clear contribution to a drop in the birth rate. The professor, who has published several studies in the field of family sociology, highlights that there are “two interconnected spheres”, clarifying that having fewer births is clearly linked to greater precariousness among Portuguese youth.

“Having your own home and starting a family have to be two things seen as a whole,” he points out, noting that, more than birth rate policies, it’s essential that the government invest in family policies, giving people who wish to have children the ability to have them. In practice, one thing leads to another: providing more conditions for the Portuguese to have a home will also help bring them closer to having a family. And creating these conditions is something that “is up to the State”.

And even if you manage to find a house, it will hardly be something that corresponds to your idealized project. If the sacrifice to look for a housing that will fit a family of three, imagine for four or five. “The project of having a child is outlined with characteristics that require basic conditions, and housing is a critical factor,” says Margarida Mesquita.

And that means making sure that people don’t have to give up a lot of things to achieve it.

A social change

It’s just that giving up some of the things we like was normal a few years, a few decades ago. The natural behavior was for young people to leave home early to get married and start a family, in a family logic in which the woman was often a person totally dedicated to that context. This, too, has changed.

Margarida Mesquita underlines that “today the creation of a new family is no longer always the reason to leave home”, even pointing out that there is a decrease in marriages in Portugal, which, in 2020, was the second country with the lowest rate of marriage, according to Eurostat data. Moreover, the same data showed that our country was one of the few in which the number of children outside marriage was higher than the number of children between married people.

On the one hand, according to the university professor, there is a “perception that the conjugality is more precarious”, at the same time that men and women start to value things that were not a topic before. “These are the new dimensions of life that today are more valued than in the past,” says Margarida Mesquita, pointing out differences in the social behavior of women: “Today they don’t want to give up the professional sphere, even because it brings them economic autonomy.

And then there is another dimension common to both genders: a greater appreciation of professional and personal investment. “There’s a more open market, young people are more of the world, more educated and they travel,” says the specialist. Deep down, as Joana says, there are “luxuries” that overlap with leaving home and starting a family.

These are the “new aspirations of young people”, a population that is “more educated” and has different life projects. “Today there is no longer the path of the past of marrying young to have children”, emphasizes Margarida Mesquita, pointing out the fundamental dimension of life today as work, which also ends up being the Achilles’ heel in these situations.

“Most young people lack the financial conditions to become autonomous. Wages are low and there is job insecurity, which ends up being crucial to outline a life project,” he concludes, also speaking of the housing market as something very “vulnerable” for those looking to become autonomous.

What about mental health?

Joana spoke of frustration, and this can be an easy feeling for someone who, like her, has been looking for years and years for a place to live. The same thought assails Marisa, who from time to time still imagines herself wondering when she will finally have her own space.

The ambition of having a house of her own is still there, but, for now, Joana doesn’t want to give up “higher priority things” like traveling, dining out with friends, or doing her life without having to “count the change”. “It is a priority to maintain this lifestyle because I feel that if I didn’t have this component my mental health would be affected,” she says.

“How is having my own space going to help more than being with friends or being able to take a trip?” she questions.

Psychologist André Tavares Rodrigues, who is used to dealing with young people, points out that “the effect of young people leaving their parents’ home late in life on mental health is a worldwide phenomenon” that is part of a “new socioeconomic reality.

“The way individuals feel these changes is visible, both in the intensity and emotional activation of their routines. In this sense we may have cases in which certain individuals don’t have positive and adequate resilience and social adaptability skills, and then we enter the field of psychological intervention and mental health problems,” adds the psychologist, highlighting that this reality suffers even worse consequences after we’ve gone through a pandemic that brought “unpredictability and uncertainty,” but also physical distancing and loss of purchasing power in several cases.

Problems at home

“As long as you live in this house do you do what I say?”. We’ve all heard this phrase, or something similar, at some point in our lives, right? Now, this happening in your 30s or older can become embarrassing and cause for conflict.

Margarida Mesquita highlights this as one of the major problems that may arise if young people continue to have difficulties leaving their parents’ home, since both parties are faced with an antagonistic situation. “The young person feels that he or she is autonomous and the parents have an opposing view”, points out the university professor.

This is what happens, for example, when a 30-year-old comes home after a night out and has his parents question this behavior, even if the young person is already financially autonomous. This shock can create a family conflict and wear down the daily relationship.

“By living together it is easier for parents to want to intervene in the lives of young people, even if, although they are not housing autonomous, they are financially autonomous,” explains Margarida Mesquita, speaking of a potential for conflict that is “not desirable.”

André Tavares Rodrigues doesn’t see a clear relationship between a longer stay at home and the deterioration of the relationship between family members. For the psychologist this “depends on the quality of the relationships established”, admitting that, in case they are negative, everything can evolve to worse scenarios: depression, anxiety, insomnia, denial, lack of attention and concentration or even memory loss can manifest themselves in these cases, which also increase the probability of violence between parents and children, as well as the appearance of risk behaviors.

On the other hand, if these relationships are positive, the stay can serve to bind and foster the relationship, “and can often be reproduced when children become parents.”

“Here the important thing is that both parties are aware that this is a stage of autonomy and see it as a process of learning and overcoming difficulties. Generally speaking, we have to pay attention to the emotional signs presented, such as feelings of stress and anger, hysteria, anguish, loss of control, irritability, frustration or emotional exhaustion, before they take over the family dynamics”, says the specialist.

Is it possible to buy a house in Lisbon?

The price of the square meter in Lisbon is very close to four thousand euros when buying and almost 20 euros when renting. This means that a 50 square meter house, for example, will cost 200 thousand euros to purchase or a monthly rent of 800 euros.

But there is a state program, created in 2007, which aims to help young people move out of their parents’ house. Porta 65 has already helped 140,115 young people to find a home in Portugal, according to data provided by the Ministry of Housing to CNN Portugal.

The year 2022 has not yet closed (December is still to be accounted for), but it will be the year with the most subsidies granted by the Government, which executed 26.5 million euros in these 12 months, which the ministry highlights as “the largest amount ever”, and which is part of a total of 235 million euros.

Ano

Número de jovens / período de candidatura

2022

16393*

2021

16910

2020

16861

2019

14924

2018

13121

2017

11890

2016

10638

2015

11657

2014

11523

2013

11161

2012

10527

2011

11923

2010

17600

2009

17520

2008

12772

2007

2348

*Theyear 2022 is not yet complete, as applications submitted from December 2022 are still under review

Young people between the ages of 18 and 35 are eligible for this program, and in the case of a couple, one of the elements can be a maximum of 36 years old, as long as the other is not older than 34. These young people must also meet the following conditions: have a rental contract for permanent housing; not receive any subsidies or housing support; not be the owner of another building or dwelling; not be a relative of the landlord.

Once the requirements are met, young people can submit an application for Porta 65, which has three distinct phases every year (April, September and December). If eligible, they may be assigned a rent that varies depending on the type of housing and municipality. In Lisbon, for example, in 2023 a studio apartment will have a maximum cost of 600 euros, while a one-bedroom apartment will rise to 900 euros and the remaining typologies will stay above a thousand.

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