Pew Research Center reported that in 2016, 64 million Americans lived in multigenerational households. This record number equals roughly 20% of the entire country’s population. Put in perspective, the last time this percentage of multigenerational Americans lived under the same roof was all the way back in the 1950s during the heady days that followed World War II.
The statistic begs the question, why? Why are grandparents, parents, and children feeling the need to bundle their lives into the same four walls? Is this a reaction to negative events like the Great Recession or simply a modern trend set by the dramatically different taste of millennials and Gen Zers? While a definitive answer can’t be given, it doesn’t take much digging to realize that there are several potent forces behind the facts and figures.
Dragging Generations Down
While it’s always important to look at the silver lining in any situation, the plain fact of the matter is, 21st-century life is fraught with economic peril. Recent reports put millennial affluence at a paltry 3% of the total U.S. wealth. In comparison, at the same age, Baby Boomers possessed 21% of the national wealth. Is there a bit of a disparity in the numbers? You bet.
This has led to a number of challenging situations. For instance, at this point, tens of millions of individuals are living under the poverty level. While the demographic specifics can vary from one place to the next, this isn’t all localized in urban centers, either. In fact, the rise of suburban poverty has been so poignant that, at this point, there are more people living below the poverty level in suburbs than in cities.
This nation-wide struggle with poverty has helped feed into chronic homelessness and a general struggle to financially survive, with many of the most vulnerable populations, according to the OAS, coming from afro-descendants and indigenous people.
Exacerbating the situation, the U.S. economy has been slowing down throughout 2019 and the Bloomberg recession tracker even put the threat of a recession at an intimidating 29% as the year closed out. This rampant financial instability has caused many adults in the millennial and Gen Z generations, in particular, to delay the purchase of an autonomous home, as it simply doesn’t make economic sense.
Looking on the Bright Side
While the financial factors behind the rise in multigenerational living may seem reason enough, there are actually a few other more positive elements that seem to be at play as well.
For instance, while homeownership may be challenging, that doesn’t automatically mean moving back in with your parents has to be an option. Many have opted, instead, to continue renting apartments as they get their financial act in order. However, many, many others have proactively chosen to join forces with the generations before or after them in order to reap the benefits that multigenerational living offers. These benefits include:
- Sharing expenses: When two or more adult generations move into a single home they are effectively getting two or more homes for the price of one. The shared expense of a mortgage and utilities allows everyone to breathe a bit easier.
- Spreading out risk: In addition to the shared expenses, a multigenerational home is more likely to weather a loss of income, as there are typically other sources of income that can help pay the bills.
- Caring for one’s elders: While most multigenerational living is often stereotyped as young adults “mooching” off of older generations, there are a few distinct benefits that go the opposite way. In particular, when everyone lives under one roof, it allows the younger generation to provide free care for their elders. This can include everything from taking out the garbage to literally bathing, dressing, and feeding them as they age more significantly. This can also help avoid a lot of expenses that can be redirected into the shared household income.
- Estate planning: A continually aging population along with the increasing complications of blended families has made estate planning complex. However, the proximity of living together provides an ideal setting to properly plan out the future of a united household, no matter how complex each individual situation may be.
In addition to obvious benefits like these, there’s also the plain fact that the predominance of the single generation household (that is, one adult generation and possibly a minor generation) was, in many ways, a post-World War anomaly. Historically, the idea of multiple generations living together under one roof isn’t just an age-old concept, it’s a positively embraced one.
The idea of patriarchs and matriarchs overseeing generations upon generations of family stretches back into antiquity, and the modern trend towards multigenerational living can, in many ways, be seen as a return to the long-held status quo.
Keeping It in the Family
Only time will tell if the uptick in multigenerational living is a trend or is here to stay for a while. However, if one had to make a guess, the unnervingly bleak outlook for the U.S. economy, along with stubbornly stagnant wages and the enormous wealth disparity between millennials and previous generations seems to indicate that we’ll only see more extended families moving in together, for better or for worse, as the future unfolds.