The extended family home is making a comeback. A recent U.S. Census Bureau report found that delayed marriage, immigration, recession-induced job losses, and house foreclosures have compelled family generations to join together under one roof.
The nation’s 78 million baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 each day. Many saw their life savings and home equity depleted by the combination one-two punch of the banking crisis and the long economic downturn. Consequently, the percentage of boomers who may need to depend on their adult children and grandchildren in the future for sustainability seems certain to increase for many years to come.
After 1940, the decline of extended families living together coincided with the rapid growth of the nuclear family-centered suburbs, where many young adults preferred to raise their children. This, plus other factors, including better health care and the enactment of Social Security and Medicare, made older adults healthier and more financially stable, enabling more of them to live independently.
According to the recent U.S. Census Bureau report, in 1900, 57 percent of the population lived in multi-generational family homes, dropping to 25 percent in 1940, down further to only 12 percent in 1980; and then rising to 16 percent in 2008.
The report also found that the percentages of people 65 and older who now live alone, which had been rising steeply for nearly a century, from nearly 6 percent in 1900 to 29 percent in 1990, has declined slightly to 27 percent in 2008. At the same time, the percentage of older people living in multi-generational family homes, which plummeted to 17 percent in 1980 down from 57 percent in 1900, rose to 20 percent in recent years.
Similarly, the number of, “grand-families” is now on the rise. Grand-families, or grandparent-led households, form for many reasons. These include parental death with surviving minor children, parental incapacity because of mental illness or substance abuse, or parental incarceration. In some cases, such as parental military deployment, the grandparent or extended family child-rearing arrangement is temporary, but may be extended.
Today, more than 6.7 million children live in households maintained by their grandparents or other relatives. The majority of those – more than 4.8 million children – live only with their grandparents. Some grand-families are “multi-generational”, meaning one or both of the child’s parents share the household with their parents or grandparents. Other families live in, “skipped generation” households, in which the child’s parents are not present in the home maintained by their children’s grandparents.
The growth of extended families living together today is facilitated by another phenomenon: the average single-family household is about twice as big as it was several decades ago. Nearly half of the 49 million Americans living with their extended families today do so in households comprised of two adult generations, with the youngest adult at least 25 years old. Almost as many live in households with three or more generations.
Given these recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics, it seems clear that multi-generational living patterns from our nation’s past are coming full circle for many of today’s families, allowing more opportunities to connect and strengthen family bonds.