When Marc Malé comes home at around 9pm after a hard day's work, he sits down at the table with his family and enjoys the dinner his mother has prepared for him. Afterwards, they jointly put the tableware in the dishwasher and maybe retreat to the large living room to watch TV together. During the day, his mother washes the family's clothes and once a week a cleaning lady comes round to help keep the flat tidy.
Malé is a 26-year-old Catalan and earns over €2,000 per month as an auditor. Despite his age and income, he still lives at home; together with his parents, grandparents and his younger sister.
When asked why he did not move out, he looked surprised. "Why should I?" he asked in return. "I am comfortable at home, and I don't feel my freedom is being compromised at all by living with my parents."
Marc is not an isolated case. In 2004, the Instituto de la Juventud reported that 63 percent of all Spanish 25 to 29-year-olds and nearly one-third of 30 to 35-year-olds were still living with their parents. The statistical body of the EU, Eurostat, reports that in Britain, France and Germany over half of 24-year-olds are living on their own, the same percentage is reached only when Spaniards reach 30.
Northern Europeans may be tempted to feel superior for becoming 'independent' at a much younger age. But, it is true that in Britain or Germany, parents often support their children financially when they move out to go to university, something less common in Spain.
"Like most of my friends, I went to university here in Barcelona, and I never asked my parents for money to move out," Malé said. "I mean, that´s not right either. You move out to become more independent, but you haven't earned it yourself. It's much better for parents if you come home for lunch, because where two eat, three can eat as well."
The tendency to stay at home for longer is, in part, a cultural phenomenon. Just like in Italy, Greece or Portugal, Spanish families tend to stick together and often act as a social safety net. But, Julio Camacho from the Instituto de la Juventud believes the economic situation is a much more important factor. "There are three main points young people have to consider before moving out: their income has to be sufficient, it has to be stable and they need to have access to housing."
Since 2000, the economy has been getting stronger and the number of people living with their parents has decreased, according to Camacho. He maintained that demographic trends also played a role. Despite a lack of state-funded housing projects in many parts of the country, falling birth rates have made property available to young people. "Generally, people move out earlier in the Levant area - the Balearic islands, Catalunya or Valencia. That's because property is more easily available there and young people have higher incomes." He did, however, admit that cultural preferences are important and are reflected here, for example, in a reluctance to rent.
Malé confirmed that. "Among my friends, the general mentality is that paying rent is a waste of money." Moreover, flatshares are rather unpopular among Spanish youths. Alain Angueano, a Catalan, is 32-years- old and living with his mother. He was living with a friend for a few months but moved out after they had problems and is now waiting for his cousin to find a cheap flat for him. "Right now, if you want to live on your own, you easily pay about €700 for a flat. On my salary, that's impossible to afford. And I don't want to live with others, because I don't think you can trust people. People steal your stuff. I guess I'd probably trust my flatmate. But my flatmate's friends, no."
Malé does not believe he would benefit from sharing a flat with friends either. "Why should I make that additional expense, unless I had a girlfriend? I wouldn't gain any liberties. And if you live with friends and don't clean when it's your turn, your friends will get angry just as much as parents."
Camacho confirmed that, as long as they are single, Spanish youths have few incentives to move out of their parents' house. "They're better off at home, the quality of life is higher. That only changes when you have a partner."
At that point, most Spanish join the property ladder and buy a flat with a mortgage - if their parents don't provide one for them, as is also often the case. Daniel Parra and Fran Delgado run a language school in Montcada i Reixac, near Barcelona. Both are 26, but while Delgado was lucky enough to inherit a flat for himself and his girlfriend, Parra is still living at home. "At today's property prices, how am I supposed to be able to buy a flat? I would have to take out a mortgage that my children would end up paying off," Parra complained.
Indeed, despite Camacho's assertions that the situation is improving, El País depicted the rise of a new social class in an article in October 2005, called the ´mileuristas´ because it consists of young people, usually in possession of a degree and various additional qualifications, who only earn about €1,000 a month. Thus, if they want to move out, they either have to spend about a third of their salary on rent if they live in a flatshare, or get a mortgage of 30 or 40 years' duration. Angueano can relate to that. "If I moved out, after paying for my car and various expenses, I would have nothing left," he said.
The Guardian's Madrid correspondent, Giles Tremlett, sees another side to the phenomena. In his book, Ghosts of Spain, he writes: "...there is an upside to this endless Spanish childhood. Young Spaniards also stay at home because they either love or tolerate their parents. A recent poll, in which even Spanish researchers defined ´young people´as being anything between 15 and 29 years old, saw 96 percent state that they were happy with their families. The feelings are obviously reciprocated."
Camacho said that in a recent study undertaken by the Instituto de la Juventud, over half of the respondents said they would like to move out ´"if they had the opportunity". The question is, how long can they wait for that opportunity to arise? Certainly as long as their parents tolerate them at home. And, sometimes even longer. Parents have had to go to court to force their offspring out of the parental abode.
Still, even in the cases of parents for whom it does not become such a drastic problem, living with adult children can generate anxiety. For instance, despite Marc Malé's assertion that his mother would suffer if he moved out, she said she would rather see him leave sooner rather than later. "I keep encouraging him, but I think he got used to a certain comfort and he wants to leave home with the same comfort he's enjoying now. For example, after having lived in the Eixample, he doesn't want to move to Sant Cugat. But the Eixample costs money. I tell him one has to fight for that, but then I'm also tolerant and let him wait for the right moment."
Moreover, she worries about her children's personal development. "Moving out would be good for them. It would make them see the world with different eyes, help them advance and become more responsible." However, this personal advancement comes at a price many Spanish youngsters do not see themselves able to pay.