Professor Rhetta Bajczyk
29, November 2017
and Cons of the Return of the Multigenerational Household
television favorites like The Walton’s, Mayberry RFD, All in the Family, and
even The Adams Family are sure reminders the dynamics of multigenerational
families are entertaining. The story lines of these shows were often built upon
struggles within the households, but also portrayed a happy time when families
came together to support each other.
Households consisting of two or more adult generations and possibly
children were once quite common in our country. Recent statistics indicate
multigenerational households are making a comeback. This type of household does
present challenges, but with community support and clear communication on the
part of families this growing trend can provide a source of care for the
elderly and children, help create stronger family bonds, and positively impact
personal finances while also helping the nation’s economy.
are varying definitions of a multigenerational household. “The Census Bureau defines
it as “one that contains three or more parent-child generations” (Generations
3). The Pew Research Center includes households that consist of at least two
generations of adults and also includes “skipped generation” households (3). Skipped
generation households are commonly referred to as ‘grandfamilies’.
to Pew Research, in the 1940’s 25% of the population of the United States lived
in multigenerational households. After 1950 there was an increase in nuclear
families consisting of parents with their non-adult children. And the percent
of multigenerational households continually declined until 1980 when only 12% of
the population lived in multigenerational households. This was due to the decline
in agriculture, less reliance on inheritance of family owned businesses, and
the introduction of social security. There was a sharp increase in
multigenerational households after the great recession of 2007-2009. In 2012
the share was 18% and is continuing to rise by 1% per year. It reflects a
turning back to what used to be normal (Donaldson 38). In fact, President
Obama’s family is even part of this trend.
When the first family moved into the White House in 2009 their household
included the president’s mother-in-law. There had not been a mother-in-law
living in the Whitehouse since Dwight Eisenhower was president in 1953.
are a variety of reasons for the increase of multigenerational households. The
third great wave of immigration brought with it an increase since immigrants
are more likely than U.S-born Americans to live with multiple generations in
the home. People are marrying later and continuing to live with their parents
longer. Financially secure baby boomers are able to help their parents and
children with a place to live. In a stressful economy, it can be comforting to
move back in with family while getting your feet back on the ground. Family is helping
to care for children, elderly parents, grandparents, and family members with
increasing health and disability issues. The situations make it possible for
some adult children to continue their education or pay off student debt. There
are also retirees who simply want to stay close to their families. As in a
Robert Frost poem: “Home is a place
where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in” (Generations 1).
demographics indicate the emerging multigenerational household is being
re-invented. Historically, those 85 and older were the most likely to live in a
multigenerational household and young adults (back to 1980) were the least
likely. But now young adults age 25-34 are more likely to live in a
multigenerational household. Also, within all age groups, women have always
been more likely to live in multigenerational households. But now there is an
exception. Young men age 25-34 are significantly more likely than women to be
living in a multigenerational household (Fry 2).
changes are challenging feelings brought on by social norms in our society. Young
adults who left and are now returning to their baby boomer parent’s homes, often
referred to as ‘boomerangs’, may experience a stigma associated with the
feeling they are not successful because they appear to lack independence. Parents
are sometimes portrayed as guilty of not encouraging their children to grow up
and be responsible. Seniors may feel they are a burden or feel they are giving
up their freedom and being controlled.
potential struggles which may need to be worked through, strengthened family
bonds are a lasting benefit of multigenerational households. Parents and
children benefit from forming a new adult-to-adult relationship. Grandchildren
have immediate access to their grandparents. Seniors enjoy a lively household
where they feel useful and connected. According to a Pew Research Center survey,
adults age 65 and older who live alone report they are not in as good health
and are more likely to feel sad, depressed or lonely than are older adults who
live with another person (Pew 6). There is more opportunity for family meals,
companionship, and family culture and traditions are shared. Parents are
setting a clear example for the next generation of how family is to be treated
and cared for. “The boomerang kids’ experience is spring training for the long
season of baby boomer retirement . . . They’re learning how to live together . .
. because in the next 10 years, boomers will start moving in with their
children” (Donaldson 40). “You’re modeling what the next generation
will do with their grandchildren and how they’ll treat you – the parent – when
you’re older” (Laise 3).
of the main reasons for deciding to live in a multigenerational household is
finances, either by choice or necessity. It may be a better use of resources
for parents with large homes, which are paid for to open their homes up to
their adult children who are struggling to make ends meet or to their parents
who have limited incomes and rising health care costs. Student debt can be paid
off faster if a young adult chooses to live with their parents until they are
financially established. The rising cost of child and senior care can also be
an incentive to share households if there is family available to help out. In
times of unemployment, it can keep a roof over one’s head and prevent poverty. Members
of the household may be able to share a vehicle. Something as simple as
reducing travel costs to visit relatives may be a driving financial reason. Although
there are a number of financial benefits, beware of some possible negative
consequences, such as disagreements about how to equally divide financial
responsibility. Those who pay more may feel entitled to make more of the
household decisions. There can also be problems if not everyone contributes
their share to the household expenses or if parents feel the need to cover the cost
of other family members and therefore delay saving for their retirement.
households are not only a better financial choice for caring for children and
elderly family members, it is often preferred to have the family be the
caregiver. It is convenient to have a loved one in the home, making it easier
to check on their needs. Research has shown it is important for children to
live in a household with additional adult caregivers, especially for a child of
a single parent. “Having grandparents around provides a richness and a deeper
dimension to children’s lives” (Donaldson 42). If a grandparent is willing to
watch the children, it can make it possible for parents to have occasional date
nights. But its important potential caregivers are agreeable to these
responsibilities to ensure they do not resent being considered a built-in
babysitter or chauffeur. And even with good intentions, the family may
underestimate the attention an older family member requires and not be able to
give the care needed. It is important to discuss who will be caregivers and if
they will be compensated. ‘If so, you’ll need a “personal care agreement” – a
written contract outlining the services to be provided and the amount of
compensation the caregiver will receive (Laise 4).
is a considered a basic human right. It provides not only shelter, safety and
comfort, but also creates a positive sense of self and well-being (Easthope et al
151). “Home is where people feel in control of the environment, free from
surveillance, free to be themselves and at ease” (153). But feelings of home vary among individuals
sharing the same household. This can be attributed to things such as adults
belonging to different generations and the level of ownership in the home. Those
who have a legal right to the house have a stronger sense of control. Power
struggles which pivot on ownership can arise when making changes or compromises
in routines, decorations and maintenance. When it is not possible for all adult
members of the household to share equal ownership, it helps if everyone is at
least involved in decision making. This helps provide a sense of responsibility
and control over the environment; creating feelings of belonging even if not ownership.
Everyone wants to feel they are at home.
households can provide a source of companionship; but along with this comes the
potential lack of privacy and space. Privacy is probably the most challenging
consideration. It is quite possible to encounter territorial struggles so it is
important to be able to accommodate everyone’s physical needs. There needs to
be compromise on how you like to live and how to adapt the space to the needs
of others. It can sometimes have a negative impact on social lives if guest are
not invited into the home due to lack of privacy or if it is discouraged by
other members of the household. On the positive side, shared space can help
reduce alone time and feelings of isolation older family members often experience.
living space is a key factor in a multigenerational living arrangement. Some
families only require an additional bedroom, while others desire an in-law
suite or small apartment. In fact, the multigenerational housing market is the
one area of growth in an otherwise slump housing market. Capitalizing on this,
home builders are coming up with unique floor plans which showcase functional
space for a variety of family members. These include separate entrances with
first floor suites including bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchenettes and living
space, which offer direct access to the main home (Glidden 42). Many areas have building and zoning codes restricting
these types of dwellings, but fortunately municipalities are beginning to see
the need to relax restrictions to allow for functional multigenerational living
the household does decide to buy or remodel a house, discuss whose name will be
on the deed. It may seem fair for an aging family member’s name to be on the
deed if they have contributed most of the money. But that can be a bad idea. If
that person later goes into a nursing home and relies on Medicaid to pay the
bills, Medicaid could put a lien on the house. A better idea is for that person
to purchase a “life estate” in the adult child’s home, which gives them the
legal right to live in the house for the rest of their life (Laise 4).
are a variety of reasons for the community to provide assistance for
multigenerational families. In addition to promoting stronger family values in
our community, multigenerational households are cost effective. Households can
provide care for seniors and children less expensively than government funded
programs. It is estimated replacing family caregivers would have a $450 billion
negative impact on society (Generations 22). By sharing living expenses, there
are less homeless and the level of poverty in our country is lowered. Grandfamilies save the government on the cost
of foster parents, which are being paid $600 – $800 a month (29). Multigenerational
households also help protect children from abuse. “When unemployment rises in
times of economic stress, so do incidents of child abuse . . .” Grandfamilies
offer shelter from this dysfunction (Generations 22).
ways to support the multigenerational community could include more and better
affordable housing options, altering lending requirements for multigenerational
borrowers, coming up with creative ways to share home equity, and removing
unnecessary building regulations (Generations 5). There is a need to increase
funding to programs supporting caregivers, respite care, and home assessments.
Providing even a modest tax credit for those caring for a dependent family
members can ease financial burden. The longer a family member can care for an
elderly family member at home, the less Medicaid would need to spend on
expensive nursing home care (31).
communication is key to the success of a multigenerational household, before
making the decision to try this arrangement, a family meeting is suggested to
decide if it is a good option. Items to discuss include bathroom schedules,
which rooms are off limits, what items are shared/not shared, sharing of food,
will there be a family meal, and invited guests; can grandma have a boyfriend
over without raising eyebrows (Laise 3). A suggested way to divide household
chores is to make a list and pass it around asking everyone to choose what they
want to do (Laise 3). This gives people a choice. One important thing to
discuss is how to divide expenses. If someone cannot contribute their financial
share, they may be able to help out by doing additional chores. There are also
lifestyle changes associated with living in a multigenerational household. It
can be an adjustment to find a comfortable level of involvement family members
have with each other. “Don’t expect someone to change just because they’re
moving in with you” (3).
setting up a multigenerational household periodic family meetings, possibly
over dinner at a restaurant, can be a good way to keep the lines of
communication open and discuss issues which may arise. This can prevent the
build-up of tension in the household, and by having the conversations in a
public place tempers are less likely to flare.
households make sense for many people for a variety of reasons. There are
surely obstacles to overcome, but in times of economic uncertainty where young
adults are faced with substantial student debt, the elderly population is
growing, and there is a generation with resources, it makes sense. Multigenerational
households benefit our society and families gain in ways that are immeasurable.
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Easthope, Hazel, et al. “Feeling at Home in a
Multigenerational Household: The Importance
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in Muli-Generational Living. The Growth in Multi-generational Family
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http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/07/17/in-post-recession-era-young-adults-drive-continuing-rise-in-multi-generational-living/. Accessed 28 Nov 2017.
Generations United. Family Matters: Multigenerational Families
in a Volatile Economy. 2011,
http://www.faithformationlearningexchange.net/uploads/5/2/4/6/5246709/family_matters_-_multigenerational_families.pdf. Accessed 8 Oct. 2017.
Gittelsohn, John. “Making Life with the In-Laws Bearable.”
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Glidden, Stephanie, R. “If These Walls Could Talk, They
Would Say. ‘Welcome Home’.”
San Diego Business Journal, 2015, Vol.
36, Issue 18, p42-42.
Groc, Isabelle. “Overextended?.” Planning, 2008, Vol. 74
Issue 7, p7-9.
Laise, Eleanor, K. “Piece Two Homes Together Into One.”
Kiplinger’s Retirement Report,
Vol. 23 Issue 12, p 2-5.
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Return of the Multi-Generational Family Household. 2010,
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