Almost 60 million adults in the U.S. are living in multigenerational family households, according to data from The Pew Research Center. It’s four times the number that did so in 1971. The percentage share also more than doubled, to 18% of the U.S. population.
Disclosure: I live in one of these multigenerational family households. Both of our young adult employed college graduates are living in the family home.
The top two reasons cited in the research for multigenerational living are financial and caregiving.
Financial: the social security check isn’t enough to live on and there’s no pension and/or not enough savings to supplement it; the student loans are due; it’s almost impossible to forge any independence on entry-level salaries.
Caregiving: the grandparent provides childcare while the parent works; the adult child helps care for the elderly parent.
Another reason for the rise of the multigenerational household is the significant increases in Black, Asian, and Latino populations in the U.S. Each of those cohorts is traditionally more likely to live in multigenerational households.
Finances, caregiving, or tradition are not primary drivers for our multigenerational household. There are no young children to care for, and Harriet and I aren’t so old or infirm yet that we need physical caregiving. Financially, sure, there are benefits for the young adults, but if we tossed them out tomorrow, they’re both in a position to manage financially. Not that we would toss them out. Ever.
As for tradition, no. I left home for college at age seventeen and only lived at home again for a few summers and a couple of months here and there. I couldn’t wait to get away—but it was a different era and I didn’t have a close relationship with my parents.
When the younger generation of adults in our household are ready, they can leave. Until then, I’m a fortunate man.
The best thing is that I can discover so much about the essence of these other people, the amazing adults they have become. I can experience their moods—the joys as well as the frustrations. We can engage in deep and compelling conversations. We can learn from each other, help each other, and offer companionship to each other.
Not all multigenerational family households have it as good as we do. Lack of privacy, conflicts and disagreements, limited independence, space constraints—communal living can have its drawbacks.
Ours isn’t a perfect situation, although it’s damn good. But nothing lasts forever, and I’ll savor this multigenerational gig while I have it. We’re a team and we make it work. We do this by respecting the autonomy of the other (We’re all adults here). We have few household rules (Clean up after yourself is one). We do for the other (Is there anything I can do to help? Would you like to talk about it?).
Somewhere along the line, young adults who still lived with their parents were said to be suffering from “failure to launch” syndrome, and parents and children both might be ashamed of the situation. In my case, I consider our multigenerational family household a smashing success. And why not? I’m with the people I love the most.