Over all, the median distance Americans live from their mother is 18 miles, and only 20 percent live more than a couple hours’ drive from their parents. (Researchers often study the distance from mothers because they are more likely to be caregivers and to live longer than men.)The difference may also reflect a class divide in parental expectations. Upper-class parents may support career and educational aspirations that involve living far from home. Working-class parents may encourage children to stay close to the nest. Even when the children do go to college, the parents may urge them to pick a local institution rather than a better one farther away.
To some extent, people’s proximity to their parents is a reflection of opportunity: The biggest determinants of how far people venture from home are education and income. Those with college and professional degrees are much more likely to live farther from their parents than those with a high school education, in part because they have more job opportunities in big cities, and especially if spouses are juggling the career aspirations of two professionals.
Wealthier people can afford to pay for services like child and elder care, while low-income families are more likely to rely on nearby relatives. It seems likely that the more education someone has, the farther from home they go, said Robert A. Pollak, an economist at Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis, who studies the economics of family. Middle-class, educated two-income couples — say, a schoolteacher and a nurse — seem to be more likely to live near parents
than those with higher-earning careers.
“It speaks to a class divide in the population,” Mr. Pollak said. “Particularly as you go further down the socioeconomic scale, people are living pretty close to their parents, and this means they’re able to provide help.”