There’s nothing cozier than a furnished womb.
Sent out into the world with nothing more than Ivy League degrees and their big jobs on Wall Street, a brave new school of young investment bankers has forsaken personal freedom, their sense of self and hard-won existential ideals. The exchange: free rent. Plus Mama, Papa and a permanently stocked refrigerator.
“I just didn’t really see the point of spending money on an apartment when my parents had a pretty well-sized apartment where I had my own room and plenty of other space,” said Sebastian Boulan, 26, who lived with his parents on Central Park West while earning more than $110,000 a year as a mergers and acquisitions analyst before rebelling and making the break to freedom at Columbia Business School.
Back in the early 1990’s, when the Dow was at 3,000, the kids clinging to their childhood nests were labeled by sociologists as “ILYA’s” (Incompletely Launched Young Adults). They were labeled slackers, they were working on Bret Easton Ellis knock-off novels, they fought for their independence on the stools at Starbucks.
But a new variation on incomeless, artistic ILYA’s has arisen: highly paid nest-clingers, lounging around their childhood bedrooms, letting the dried cups of Dannon yogurt stack up next to Snuffy the Bear and their old stuffed animals on the bed as they cram their bonus checks in the rumpled suits they’re waiting for mom to send out for cleaning.
In 1999, any kid from a good school willing to put in 80 hours a week or more at an investment bank can expect to earn around $65,000 in their first year. By their third year out of school, that figure can often reach $90,000. That kind of income puts young investment bankers within the top 12 percent of all American workers and the top 5 percent of people under 34 years old. Surely, you’d think most rich young New Yorkers would leap into studios in SoHo once they were floated by their own paychecks.
They would, if their parents didn’t run such nice rent-free furnished-suite hotels, breakfast included.
“I’ve just become more comfortable,” said one 24-year-old equity research analyst who made around $80,000 last year, but nevertheless returned to her parents’ Upper East Side apartment as soon as she graduated from college. “There are a lot of amenities that my parents have,” she said. “There’s the housekeeper, a cook, you know, like the whole nine yards.”
Checkout time may be coming soon for her, though. Her father, who emigrated from Europe as a young man, has begun gently prodding her to consider moving out. She said he tells her, “I moved out when I was 18 and came 3,000 miles, and you can’t even go 20 blocks!”
“It’s a phenomenon I am personally seeing more in my office,” said Dr. Gary Ahlskog, the president of the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis who also practices in midtown. He said that people in their mid-20’s he sees who are making plenty of money but living at home are putting off the task of achieving personal independence while immersing themselves in their jobs.
“I am seeing it in two forms,” said Dr. Ahlskog. “Persons in their mid-20’s to whom the question hasn’t even occurred of what they mean by fun and what they mean by relationships.” The second group, he said, is made of “people in their mid-30’s who know they lost something.”
“A lot of my friends at school put a high premium on keeping the independence they had in college,” Mr. Boulan said. But if the premium on independence costs $2,000 a month in rent, he said, he was ready to forgo it. So, as his pals from Dartmouth College were signing leases for overpriced studios, Mr. Boulan was having Proustian recollections in his childhood bedroom at his parents’ welcoming Central Park West apartment.
“The room I would have had in an apartment would have been smaller than the room I had in my parents’ place,” he said. Mr. Boulan’s training in economics taught him to see rent as wasted money. “If I was going to put money towards a place, I want it to be towards equity and not towards rent,” he said.
During his first two years as an analyst, Mr. Boulan saved the money he would have paid on rent, invested it in stocks and was able to go out and buy a black BMW 325IS, virtually all in cash. It was enough to irk the vice president he worked under. “When I would go to important meetings with clients, the v.p. would be like, ‘Yeah, the guy’s richer than all of us because he’s staying home.'”
“He gave me shit about the BMW,” Mr. Boulan remembered ruefully. “I don’t know what he drove, but I think it was a Volvo or something.”
After three years at home, at 26, Mr. Boulan finally moved out, sold the BMW, and bought his own apartment on 57th Street and Sixth Avenue–two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a 30-person building staff. He now attends Columbia Business School.
Gregory Manuel is a 24-year-old Stanford graduate who works as a technology equities analyst, earns about $60,000 a year and lives on Park Avenue with his father, stepmother, 13-year-old brother and 24-year-old stepbrother, who also works in banking. He said that living at home after college was simply the path of least resistance.
“I had no idea that I was supposed to be working 100 hours a week,” he said, “so I’m like, ‘I’m just going to live at home for a while and figure it out later,’ and all of a sudden it’s two years later.” Why hadn’t he moved out? “I’ve always kept it in the back of my mind that I was going to move out pretty soon, whatever, but, you know, complacency hits and you see that it’s so much easier than going out and finding your own place.”
Mr. Manuel said he’s sometimes bugged by the question of whether he is regressing from the relatively independent life in college. “When you’re living with your parents, you’re like, Well, what am I doing?” he said. “Am I really taking a step backwards? Who am I? You don’t want to think that you’re compromising yourself. I thought about it and I decided that, you know, if progress is defined by where I live after college, well maybe I’m just really smart to live at home.”
What saving each month on not paying rent, cable, electricity or groceries means, said Mr. Manuel, is that he can pick up the tab for friends from college and high school who aren’t in his income bracket. He can fly to Boston to visit his girlfriend in law school or pay for her plane ticket to New York. When his girlfriend visits, she stays at his childhood home with him; his father is French. “There’s no decorum issue, you know,” he said.
But not all parents are French: One 24-year-old investment banker, commuting from her parents’ home in Forest Hills, Queens, took a man home one night. “I actually invited him in, just to take a look at my room, you know,” she said. Her father had dozed off, but her mother’s maternal surveillance equipment was on high. “The next morning, my dad gave me a little lecture on how you shouldn’t ask guys into your room because they might get the wrong idea,” she said. Her current boyfriend has his own apartment in Manhattan.
But her parents still ask that she be home by midnight and continue to lecture her when she’s late. “I try to stick to it as much as I can, but I mean, if I get home at 12:01, they’re not going to put me in the corner or shut me in the bathroom,” she said. The analyst, who expects to make close to $60,000 this year, plans to stay at home until she marries.
Daniel Jean-Baptiste, an investment analyst who said he may earn $65,000 to $70,000 this year, depending on his bonus, lives with his mother in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. “There was this chick and it turned out that she was sharing this apartment where you would have to walk through her room to get to her roommate’s, so it wasn’t private,” said the 22-year old analyst. So, Mr. Jean-Baptiste offered to take the young lady to a hotel.
“Well, you know, the first time,” he said, “the hotel has to be nice because, you know, banker , whatever, but then after that, you can go down a few stars.”
While Mr. Jean-Baptiste said that he only plans to stay at home temporarily, he also said he didn’t have any plans to move out.
“I’m very comfortable with this situation. If I weren’t, I would just move out,” he said. But then he thinks of all the things he would have to do in order to get his own apartment.
“Like,” he said, “I would actually have to buy a bed and stuff. It’s, like, a hassle.”
He added, “If you’re going to mention that part about the hotels, you have to add: ‘A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.'”