Multigenerational living, defined as a household that includes two or more adult generations, has become more common in recent years. According to the most recent Pew Research Center analysis of census data
, a record 64 million people (20 percent of the U.S. population) lived in multigenerational homes in 2016—up from 60.6 million Americans (19 percent of the U.S. population) in 2014 and 51.5 million Americans (17 percent of the U.S. population) in 2009.
Why multigenerational living is on the rise
Shifting economic circumstances, an increase in cultural diversity, and evolving lifestyles of older Americans are just a few reasons why families are embracing this type of living arrangement, but perhaps the biggest reason that’s causing this shift is the lack of affordable housing and housing availability in this country.
The housing market
As we all know, the housing market is a giant migraine right now. In March, home prices rose 8.9 percent over the same time a year ago while housing inventory dropped 13.6 percent over the past year. Throw in the lack of new-construction homes and you have a buyer-crowded market where supply just isn’t meeting demand. Multigenerational living is a solution to this problem, providing a more affordable option for those who can’t buy a home in this current real estate climate.
Kevin Mejia has lived in a multigenerational home his entire life. “My mom is a single mom and living with extended kin was the best from a financial perspective,” says Mejia. Though Mejia doesn’t get much privacy, a common drawback of multigenerational homes, he avoids paying exorbitant rental costs. In New York City, where Mejia lives, and other places around the country, rent prices continue to rise faster than wages, making it extremely difficult to live comfortably on your own. In fact, Mejia says that many of his friends still live with parents and grandparents for this very reason.
Growing racial and ethnic diversity among the US population also helps explain why multigenerational living is on the rise, according to the Pew Research Center. Though multigenerational living is growing among nearly all US racial groups, Asian and Hispanic populations are growing more rapidly than the white population, and those groups are more likely than whites to live in multigenerational family households. From 2009–2016, 26 percent–29 percent of Asian populations and 23 percent–27 percent of Hispanic populations in the States lived in multigenerational households. Only 13–16% of whites lived in a multigenerational home from 2009–2016.
Social implications of multigenerational housing
Previously, the primary demographic living in multigenerational households were adults aged 85 and older, but in recent years, young adults have more and more opted for this living arrangement: As of 2016, 15 percent of 25- to 35-year-old Millennials were living in their parents’ home. This figure is five percentage points higher than the share of Generation Xers who lived in their parents’ home in 2000 when they were the same age (10 percent).
This shift could be caused by the dramatic drop in young Americans who are choosing to settle down romantically before the age of 35. Or we can factor in the Great Recession that led to weak employment opportunities, high unemployment rates, and college enrollment expansion (that led to massive student loan debt) that pushed young adults to live with their parents during this period. The numbers show that even if Millennials are able to get out of their parents’ homes, student loan debt, low housing inventory, and housing costs that continue to double year over year are a barrier to homeownership.
Another reason why some families opt for multigenerational living is because aging family members require more care, and nursing homes are becoming more difficult to afford. In 2017, the median cost of a private nursing home room in the United States was $97,455 a year, up 5.5 percent from 2016, according to Genworth’s 2017 Cost of Care survey. Considering the medians savings account balance of Americans over 65 is just $10,000, it’s not surprising that families step in to help. To counteract these costs, families are buying homes with multiple living areas or remodeling their current homes to make space for their parents.
“I think as home prices continue to skyrocket alongside healthcare costs, we will see more pre-planning along these lines as middle-aged people think about their next housing move,” says Misty Weaver, realtor at the Dream Weaver Team. “Even my clients that initially want to downsize end up in a home that can somehow accommodate older family members.”
There’s also the issue of single parents working or dual parents working, which can be problematic when caring for kids and getting them to and from different activities. “With a multigenerational household, this stress is relieved and everyone can thrive,” says Lisa Cini, ASID, IIDA, who has more than 25 years of experience developing interiors that improve the quality of life for seniors, and who lives in a multigenerational home herself.
Companionship and family bonding
Another reason some families choose to live intergenerationally is for the companionship. Cini reflects on how her multigenerational home fosters companionship between her parents and children. “My parents say they love it because the kids have so much energy and are so fun, that they actually have more energy being around them!” says Cini. She recalls how her own children love the wisdom imparted from their grandparents and great-grandmother and love hearing them tell stories about when they grew up.
“The kids also love being able to be the ‘tech experts,’ teaching [my parents] all about their smart phones, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat,” says Cini. And the learning goes both ways. “There’s something special about having your grandmother teach you her recipes or take care of you when you are ill.”
Restrictions on multigenerational housing
Some cities have introduced permits and zoning laws that make it harder for families to live in a multigenerational home. For example, some municipalities, like Raleigh, North Carolina, and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, have banned accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as granny flats, mother-in-law suites, and garage apartments, on properties. ADUs are small, self-contained residential structures that share a lot with an existing house and are often used as rental properties or private living spaces for family members.
But in Los Angeles, California, and Austin, Texas, ADUs have proven to be a popular means of expanding housing options, providing independent living quarters for aging family members, and granting property owners an additional source of income.
California, home to some of the country’s most in-demand and expensive real estate markets, recently passed laws that would ease restrictions on building a second unit on a piece of land. According to the LA Times, “In Oakland, the planning department approved 266 so-called accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in 2017, up from 126 a year earlier. In Long Beach, 96 applications are pending and the city has approved 15 this year, compared with 21 approved in all of 2017 and none a year earlier. The largest growth is in Los Angeles, where 2,342 secondary units were permitted in 2017, up from 120 in 2016.”
In Austin, Texas, the Alley Flat Initiative aims to increase the city’s affordable housing stock and make it easier for families to add new units to their property. The Initiative helps families plan, design, and build an additional flat on their properties to accommodate extended family members. Through this process, an adaptive and self-perpetuating delivery system is created that promotes efficient housing designs and innovative methods of financing and homeownership that benefit all neighborhoods in Austin.
How real estate is responding to multigenerational living
According to Jason Biddle, a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), the growing trend of multigenerational living has changed the types of homes that single-family volume builders are developing. Not only are builders constructing homes with more square footage, they’re including a separate wing for extended family members. “Many national home builders have introduced new products marketed to multigenerational homebuyers with features like a first-floor master, larger square footage, and even a separate-but-connected apartment suite to help maintain privacy,” says Biddle.
According to Weaver, most homes in Virginia are built with a basement and bath roughed in. “Builders understand that families are increasingly taking in older family members or expanding living space for themselves as they age and families grow. It’s almost unheard of in new developments to not have these features in the designs,” says Weaver.
In an interview with the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, James Timberlake, partner at award-winning architecture firm KieranTimberlake, says, “In urban situations, where space is more precious, decisions have to be made about the value of the lot, and what you can build, and how many units you can build in that particular area, and whether or not there’s a market for that kind of multigenerational experience. I think what you’re seeing is that developers see this niche, and it’s a niche that more and more people desire.”