Striking the balance : the social dynamics of shared household living among young adults in New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
Shared housing or flatting is an affordable, popular housing pathway for young adults
in New Zealand and the Western world. The current protracted transition period
between adolescence and traditional markers of adulthood status, such as stable
employment and marriage has extended flatting tenure into early thirties and beyond.
Whereas the dominant motivation is economic, the lifestyle is also socially attractive.
Literature on peer co-residence is limited, particularly with regard to how interpersonal
relationships are managed in the domestic intimacy of shared living. The rationale for
this research was to expand on what is currently known about sharing by contributing a
more comprehensive understanding of the social dynamics of young households. With
an ontological commitment to social constructionism, discourse analysis was employed
to analyse talk of the a posteriori knowledge of experienced flatters between the ages of
20 and 35. The approach is inductive and data driven. In total 37 people were
interviewed, 14 in individual interviews, and 23 in flat groups. Participants were
Pākehā apart from 2 Māori and 2 who identify as mixed Māori/ Pākehā. Twenty-two
were female and fifteen were male. Analysis considers the construction of ideal
flatmates; preferences for flatting with friends or strangers, couples or singles; whether
the social advantages of flatting are compromised by household chores; the efficacy of
rosters; conflict and how participants conceive the concept of the household dynamic.
Discourses are extensively interrelated and overlapping with a number of competing
tensions evident. For example, desirable housemates were constructed as being
cognisant of the need to be sociable but also independent. A requisite fine balance
across a number of spheres to sustain a functional household was a dominant, pervasive
discourse. Talk was driven by the fundamental value associated with having a working
living arrangement. In an unregulated environment with no cultural blue prints, young
New Zealanders are acutely conscious of the need to carefully navigate domestic
relationships and avoid potential complications that impact on quality of life. While this
study provides rich insight into the complexity of house sharing it also sheds valuable
light on small group dynamics and the extended transition to adulthood.