Recession Pushes Families to 'Double Up' in Multigenerational Homes

Around the dinner table when I was a kid growing up in southwest Georgia, there were usually 14 people from four generations: great-grandparents, grandparents, my mother, one aunt, two uncles, five cousins and me. The motivation was partly familial and cultural, but it was also financial. Money was in short supply, and our little clan could manage better under one dilapidated roof than scattered around. There were other benefits; for example, always having an adult to get comfort from and hearing some astonishing life stories from my elders. The overall experience made communal living in the '60s and '70s that others saw as experimental adventures perfectly natural to me. But that counter-cultural communalism wasn't multigenerational and kinship related.

Multigenerational arrangements are not the way most Americans live today, not the way most have lived for a very long time. For three decades, however, there's been a steady rise in multigenerational kin living together, as reported earlier this year by a Pew Research Center survey. This showed a 33 percent increase since 1980 in the proportion of Americans living in such households, "a sharp trend reversal. From 1940 to 1980, the share of Americans living in such households had declined by more than half."

Part of the trend is a consequence of a rise in immigrant families used to traditional multigenerational households. Part has been driven by the aging of the population, with baby boomers choosing to have their parents move in with them. The boomers can take care of their parents, and their parents can watch the kids. Between 2000 and 2007, there was a 67 percent rise in seniors living multigenerationally.

But the biggest impact, the one most familiar to us, has come from a trend among young adults - especially singles and those without children - moving back in with their parents out of economic necessity. As of 2007, one of five children age 24 to 35 had moved back home, double the number in 1980. A Census report in October found the poverty rate for the 5.5 million young adults now living with their parents to be 8.5 percent. Had they not lived at home, it would have been 42.8 percent.

In addition to these changes, more adult siblings have moved in together, and young adults hammered by student loans and a grim job market have moved in with grandparents.

Altogether, these trends have put 49 million Americans into homes with at least two adult generations. In 1980, there were only 28 million living in such arrangements. That's a 75 percent increase in a period when the population grew 36 percent. The steady move toward multigenerational households has surged even more in the past few years.

According to an analysis of Census data by The New York Times, the Great Recession has boosted the number of Americans living in multifamily, multigenerational arrangements. And much of it is not voluntary. Michael Luo writes:

Census Bureau data released in September showed that the number of multifamily households jumped 11.7 percent from 2008 to 2010, reaching 15.5 million, or 13.2 percent of all households. It is the highest proportion since at least 1968, accounting for 54 million people.

Even that figure, however, is undoubtedly an undercount of the phenomenon social service providers call “doubling up,” which has ballooned in the recession and anemic recovery. The census’ multifamily household figures, for example, do not include such situations as when a single brother and a single sister move in together, or when a childless adult goes to live with his or her parents.

For many, the arrangements represent their last best option, the only way to stave off entering a homeless shelter or sleeping in their cars. In fact, nearly half of the people in shelters in 2009 who had not previously been homeless had been staying with family members or friends, according to a recent report, making clear that the arrangements are frequently a final way station on the way to homelessness.

A New York Times analysis of census “microdata,” prepared by the University of Minnesota’s state population center, found that the average income of multifamily households in the records fell by more than 5 percent from 2009 to 2010, twice as much as households over all, suggesting that many who are living in such arrangements are under financial siege.

Whatever the advantages of these arrangements of necessity, they can be tough for all concerned. Loss of independence and privacy, "meddling," differences of opinion about child-rearing between parents and grandparents, as well as added financial stresses brought on by families who take in the unemployed or elders whose savings no longer contribute much income thanks to low interest rates. And the arrangements will no doubt have economic effects of their own, including a reduction in the demand for new housing and an increase in demand for certain types of housing.

Among the questions posed by the growth in multigenerational arrangements is whether the underlying trend will continue its current direction or reverse as the fractured economy improves, however much that happens. Pretty much anybody's guess.

Daily Kos / By Meteor Blades | Sourced from

Posted at December 29, 2010, 10:30am

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