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Multigenerational Living Is Back and That’s a Good Thing

A renewed interdependence can be healthy for children and older adults


“Good night, Momma.”

“Good night, Daddy.”

“Good night, Grandpa.”

“Good night, Grandma.”

“Good night, John-Boy.”

For many boomers, those words evoke memories of the 1970s CBS TV classic, The Waltons, about a Great Depression and World War II­-era family with three generations living under one roof in rural Virginia. While the series gained a loyal and large TV audience through its nine-year run, its theme of a multi-generational family living situation ran contrary to the times.

In 1940, about one-quarter of the U.S. population lived with three or more generations in one home. After WWII, American families largely became two-generational, with parents and minor-age children under one roof. Returning war veterans built suburbs and a new American family lifestyle through the 1950s. The percentage of households with multiple generations started declining to 21 percent, reaching a low of 12 percent by 1980.

Numbers Heading Back Up

However, an August 2016 Pew Research report shows that a reboot of The Waltons living situation is trending. According to Pew, a record 60.6 million Americans — almost one in five – lived in multigenerational households in 2014, defined by Pew as a having two or more adult generations or grandparents and grandchildren. This is about a 30 percent increase in just seven years; in 2007 there were 46.5 million people living in multigen households.

The downturn in 2007 to 2009 may have driven families to come together under one roof out of need, but today this increasing multigen living is by choice.

— Donna Butts, Generations United

The Pew data shows this increase is largely based on adult children (defined by Pew as 25 years or older) living at home with mom and dad. In fact, for the first time in 130 years, living with parents surpassed other living arrangements for those 18 to 34.

And the trend is increasing across all racial groups. The Pew data shows that among this multigen population: 28 percent are Asians; both Hispanics and blacks account for 25 percent each and whites are at the tail end with 15 percent. However, across these various racial groups, each has seen an increase of two percentage points since Pew’s 2009 data.

And while Millennials are about one-third of the driving force behind the “stay at home” multigenerational trend, 23 percent of those aged 55 to 64 are living in multigenerational homes and 21 percent of those in such homes are over 65.

Two Homes, One Price

Lorraine and Dale Hansen, 43 and 38, respectively, just had twins two years ago when they decided to make a move into a more “family-friendly” home and community. At the same time, Lorraine’s parents were still living in their family home but suffering from increasing health issues. Her retired father, 72, had a stroke after triple bypass surgery and this was after years as a polio survivor. Her mother, self-employed and 68, had spent 25 years living with the pain of fibromyalgia.

As the Hansens were househunting in San Bernardino County, Calif., they saw a sign, “Two homes, one price” that caught their eye. It was a new housing development by Lennar Homes featuring the company’s new multigenerational floor plans in its Nex Gen communities.

LennarFloorPlanAll the floor plans include two homes — a main home area starting at 1,800 to 2,200 square feet with a private apartment starting at around 700 to 800 square feet. There are also several larger plans with the additional home at about one-fifth the size of the main home. Both “homes” have private entrances and parking, but with a connected door for convenience and safety.

This true “full house” of new multigen family living was offered at a price in the range the Hansens had been looking. The choice seemed easy.

“My husband was completely behind the decision to ask my parents to move literally next door,” said Lorraine. She added that her parents, who had downsized to a mobile home for livable convenience based on their health, found the idea of privacy with proximity to family irresistible.

Both generations gained something unplanned: The Hansens, who work full-time, now had built-in day care for their young twins and meals prepared when they arrived home. That gives them more time with their children at night. Lorraine’s parents, who helped with the down payment (which has been paid back by the younger couple), now have more flexibility in their fixed-income decisions. Lorraine said that given their multiple health issues, her parents were sometimes deciding between filling a prescription or not. Now, those financial choices are no longer a worry.

All in the Family

Lennar Homes launched its first Nex Gen community in Phoenix five years ago and became an early leader in the multigen phenomenon. (See an example of a Nex Gen floor plan on this page.) Other developers, such as Toll Brothers and Pardee Homes, have followed. Today, Nex Gen has mushroomed to more than 300 multigenerational communities surrounding large metropolitan areas in several states — triple the number just over a year ago. They include California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Florida, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina and the most recent community outside Nashville.

“The economic downturn in 2007 to 2009 may have driven families to come together under one roof out of need, but today this increasing multigen living is by choice,” says Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a group dedicated to improving lives of children and older adults through intergenerational programs and services.

While financial need may have driven the growth spurt in multigen homes, Butts feels this trend is positive for our country and for our communities. While she says there has been societal pushback — we’ve been taught we’re not successful unless we’re independent — there is a growing evolution towards interdependence that is becoming more important among family members.

She says some studies have shown that children of single mothers with at least one grandparent in the home have done better in school than those in households with both parents but no grandparent.

The U.S. Census Bureau says 10 percent of children under 18 are growing up with a grandparent in the house. This may be a good thing. A 2008 University of Oxford study among 1,500 teens in England and Wales found that those with a high level of involvement with their grandparents had fewer emotional and behavioral problems.

Both Ashbaugh and Butts advise the key to successful multgen living is having the family conversation early and planning ahead rather than reacting to a crisis in the family.

There’s No Place Like Home

Entertainment has often reflected our societal values and situations. Movies such as the 2006 flick Failure to Launch (where Matthew McConaughey plays a grown-up Peter Pan-type whose parents secure Sarah Jessica Parker’s help to get him out of their house), or Bridesmaids (where a down and out Kristen Wiig feels like a loser for her failed business that forces her to return home to live with her mom), presented these adult child-plus-parent living situations as shameful and scornful.

However, a return to the boomer TV classic days of Mayberry R.F.D. (where Aunt Bee cared for both Andy and his son Opie), The Beverly Hillbillies (where the Clampetts — Jed, Granny, Elly May and Jethro — managed new digs and a new lifestyle) or the three generations of The Waltons, may just be what we aging boomers need.

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