There is a significant social, cultural and economic change happening so quietly in America that you may not even be aware of it: Multi-generational family living is back.
Multi-generational family living. It is defined as at least three generations living under a single roof. In most cases, that would be grandparents, parents and grandchildren sharing the same house, same utility bill, same grocery bill and maybe even the same car.
The most recent estimate is that more than 57 million Americans (one in seven) are living in multi-generation housing. That is the largest number in modern history, more than double the total in 1980.
“It surprises me that more people haven’t noticed this trend, but maybe that’s because there are still some cultural stigmas attached to it,” said John Graham, business professor at the University of California-Irvine and co-author, with his sister Sharon, of the book “All In The Family: A Practical Guide to Successful Multigenerational Family Living.”
“A lot of us were brought up to go out and ‘Make It On Our Own’, but it’s going the other way now.”
Family Helps Solve Problems
Like most things, money, or rather the lack of it, is the driving force behind this rediscovery of family. Dividing rent, utilities and food cost is an obvious way to relieve financial distress, but more often it is a collision of unexpected economic circumstances that prompts people to reach out to their extended family for help.
Dealing with economic barriers like affordable housing, long-term unemployment, care for an aging population, college graduates saddled with student loan debt, and childcare for working parents is a whole lot easier when you have an extended family helping out.
“Living and working with your extended family is the way mankind has lived since the beginning of time,” Graham said. “Then in the 1900s, we began a 50-year experiment with life centered on the nuclear family. That made sense for a while, but ultimately it didn’t work out and you’re seeing families stay together longer now.”
Boomers Feeling The Heat
Baby Boomers, which includes adults between 51-and-69-years old, are feeling the effects of this change on both sides. They have just retired or are considering retirement and now they’ve got to make room in their budgets for parents and adult children.
Their parents are living longer – since 1950, life expectancy has increased by 11 years – and the cost of housing the aging population is soaring. The average cost of assisted living facilities in the U.S. at the low end is $42,600 a year and $90,520 at the high end, or about the average cost of an 800-square foot addition to a home, which could mean re-financing.
That is why more people are choosing to add on to their homes and builders are coming up with designs that include “mother-in-law” quarters. Lennar and Pulte Homes have more than 50 floor plans in places like Florida, Texas, California, Arizona, North and South Carolina that include extra space for an extra generation.
The extra room might go to adult children, who are coming home after college or divorce and settling into their old rooms while they figure out how to get their lives back on track. They could be bringing student loan debt or credit card debt with them, not to mention needing help with the basics of food, clothing and transportation.
“We are slowly working back to inter-dependence among extended families,” Graham said. “We recognize that grandparents can play an important social and economic role. We realize that kids may need a little extra time and support to get on their feet. Some people can’t live that way and we have to recognize that, but generally speaking most people don’t want to live alone. Grandmas need to be needed and so does everyone else.”