Multi-generational living – defined as two or more adult generations or grandparents and grandchildren living together – has seen steep declines in the Western world – especially the U.S.
Before World War II, American seniors often moved back in with adult children in their later years, or even with adult nieces or nephews. Think Aunt Bee on the Andy Griffith show.
Similarly, single adult children often remained at home until they were married and could get their financial feet on the ground. Researchers say 50 percent of U.S. homes were multi-generational prior to 1900.
But around 1945, American ideals began shifting. The growing Social Security program gave senior citizens more freedom to choose privacy and independence. The suburban lifestyle was more suitable for two married adults and their minor children.
If you weren’t on your own by age 18, you were either a “late bloomer,” or less generously, a “loser.” A “go it alone” mindset developed. You grow up, you move out, you get married and buy a home of your own. Multi-generational living dropped from 21 percent in 1940 to a low of 12 percent by 1980.
But in the late 1990s, economic and cultural factors began shifting the balance back again. Younger people moved back in with parents, driven by unemployment, foreclosures and student debt. With rising health costs and diminishing pensions, more seniors choose to shack up with their children, too.
Though strongest in Hispanic, Asian and African-American households, the change is spreading across all racial groups. Many who came together out of necessity now stay together by choice.
New home builders are fielding many requests from families with multi-generational living part of their long-term plans – including two master bedrooms or multiple private entrances.
Smoothing out the edges between lifestyle differences can disrupt a happy home, but many families find that sharing responsibilities, from babysitting to bills, outweighs the negatives.
An August 2016 Pew Research report says 60.6 million Americans – almost one in five – lived in multi-generational households in 2014, and those numbers are increasing.
In Washington, D.C. a national exhibit concentrates on design solutions for this growing share of non-traditional households, or should we say, “more” traditional? The evolving installation features movable walls and multifunctional furniture.
If these demographic trends continue, the shift toward multi-generational living could re-define the real estate industry.