Debra LaackGEN 112.D1Professor Rhetta Bajczyk29, November 2017Prosand Cons of the Return of the Multigenerational HouseholdFamilytelevision favorites like The Walton’s, Mayberry RFD, All in the Family, andeven The Adams Family are sure reminders the dynamics of multigenerationalfamilies are entertaining. The story lines of these shows were often built uponstruggles within the households, but also portrayed a happy time when familiescame together to support each other. Households consisting of two or more adult generations and possiblychildren were once quite common in our country. Recent statistics indicatemultigenerational households are making a comeback. This type of household doespresent challenges, but with community support and clear communication on thepart of families this growing trend can provide a source of care for theelderly and children, help create stronger family bonds, and positively impactpersonal finances while also helping the nation’s economy.Thereare varying definitions of a multigenerational household.
“The Census Bureau definesit as “one that contains three or more parent-child generations” (Generations3). The Pew Research Center includes households that consist of at least twogenerations of adults and also includes “skipped generation” households (3). Skippedgeneration households are commonly referred to as ‘grandfamilies’.Accordingto Pew Research, in the 1940’s 25% of the population of the United States livedin multigenerational households. After 1950 there was an increase in nuclearfamilies consisting of parents with their non-adult children. And the percentof multigenerational households continually declined until 1980 when only 12% ofthe population lived in multigenerational households.
This was due to the declinein agriculture, less reliance on inheritance of family owned businesses, andthe introduction of social security. There was a sharp increase inmultigenerational households after the great recession of 2007-2009. In 2012the share was 18% and is continuing to rise by 1% per year. It reflects aturning back to what used to be normal (Donaldson 38). In fact, PresidentObama’s family is even part of this trend. When the first family moved into the White House in 2009 their householdincluded the president’s mother-in-law. There had not been a mother-in-lawliving in the Whitehouse since Dwight Eisenhower was president in 1953. Thereare a variety of reasons for the increase of multigenerational households.
Thethird great wave of immigration brought with it an increase since immigrantsare more likely than U.S-born Americans to live with multiple generations inthe home. People are marrying later and continuing to live with their parentslonger. Financially secure baby boomers are able to help their parents andchildren with a place to live. In a stressful economy, it can be comforting tomove back in with family while getting your feet back on the ground. Family is helpingto care for children, elderly parents, grandparents, and family members withincreasing health and disability issues. The situations make it possible forsome adult children to continue their education or pay off student debt. Thereare also retirees who simply want to stay close to their families.
As in aRobert Frost poem: “Home is a placewhere, when you have to go there, they have to take you in” (Generations 1).Butdemographics indicate the emerging multigenerational household is beingre-invented. Historically, those 85 and older were the most likely to live in amultigenerational household and young adults (back to 1980) were the leastlikely. But now young adults age 25-34 are more likely to live in amultigenerational household. Also, within all age groups, women have alwaysbeen more likely to live in multigenerational households.
But now there is anexception. Young men age 25-34 are significantly more likely than women to beliving in a multigenerational household (Fry 2).Thesechanges are challenging feelings brought on by social norms in our society. Youngadults who left and are now returning to their baby boomer parent’s homes, oftenreferred to as ‘boomerangs’, may experience a stigma associated with thefeeling they are not successful because they appear to lack independence. Parentsare sometimes portrayed as guilty of not encouraging their children to grow upand be responsible. Seniors may feel they are a burden or feel they are givingup their freedom and being controlled. Despitepotential struggles which may need to be worked through, strengthened familybonds are a lasting benefit of multigenerational households.
Parents andchildren benefit from forming a new adult-to-adult relationship. Grandchildrenhave immediate access to their grandparents. Seniors enjoy a lively householdwhere they feel useful and connected. According to a Pew Research Center survey,adults age 65 and older who live alone report they are not in as good healthand are more likely to feel sad, depressed or lonely than are older adults wholive with another person (Pew 6). There is more opportunity for family meals,companionship, and family culture and traditions are shared. Parents aresetting a clear example for the next generation of how family is to be treatedand cared for. “The boomerang kids’ experience is spring training for the longseason of baby boomer retirement .
. . They’re learning how to live together .
.. because in the next 10 years, boomers will start moving in with theirchildren” (Donaldson 40).
“You’re modeling what the next generationwill do with their grandchildren and how they’ll treat you – the parent – whenyou’re older” (Laise 3).Oneof the main reasons for deciding to live in a multigenerational household isfinances, either by choice or necessity. It may be a better use of resourcesfor parents with large homes, which are paid for to open their homes up totheir adult children who are struggling to make ends meet or to their parentswho have limited incomes and rising health care costs. Student debt can be paidoff faster if a young adult chooses to live with their parents until they arefinancially established. The rising cost of child and senior care can also bean incentive to share households if there is family available to help out. Intimes of unemployment, it can keep a roof over one’s head and prevent poverty. Membersof the household may be able to share a vehicle. Something as simple asreducing travel costs to visit relatives may be a driving financial reason.
Althoughthere are a number of financial benefits, beware of some possible negativeconsequences, such as disagreements about how to equally divide financialresponsibility. Those who pay more may feel entitled to make more of thehousehold decisions. There can also be problems if not everyone contributestheir share to the household expenses or if parents feel the need to cover the costof other family members and therefore delay saving for their retirement. Multigenerationalhouseholds are not only a better financial choice for caring for children andelderly family members, it is often preferred to have the family be thecaregiver. It is convenient to have a loved one in the home, making it easierto check on their needs. Research has shown it is important for children tolive in a household with additional adult caregivers, especially for a child ofa single parent. “Having grandparents around provides a richness and a deeperdimension to children’s lives” (Donaldson 42).
If a grandparent is willing towatch the children, it can make it possible for parents to have occasional datenights. But its important potential caregivers are agreeable to theseresponsibilities to ensure they do not resent being considered a built-inbabysitter or chauffeur. And even with good intentions, the family mayunderestimate the attention an older family member requires and not be able togive the care needed.
It is important to discuss who will be caregivers and ifthey will be compensated. ‘If so, you’ll need a “personal care agreement” – awritten contract outlining the services to be provided and the amount ofcompensation the caregiver will receive (Laise 4). Housingis a considered a basic human right. It provides not only shelter, safety andcomfort, but also creates a positive sense of self and well-being (Easthope et al151). “Home is where people feel in control of the environment, free fromsurveillance, free to be themselves and at ease” (153). But feelings of home vary among individualssharing the same household.
This can be attributed to things such as adultsbelonging to different generations and the level of ownership in the home. Thosewho have a legal right to the house have a stronger sense of control. Powerstruggles which pivot on ownership can arise when making changes or compromisesin routines, decorations and maintenance. When it is not possible for all adultmembers of the household to share equal ownership, it helps if everyone is atleast involved in decision making.
This helps provide a sense of responsibilityand control over the environment; creating feelings of belonging even if not ownership.Everyone wants to feel they are at home.Multigenerationalhouseholds can provide a source of companionship; but along with this comes thepotential lack of privacy and space. Privacy is probably the most challengingconsideration.
It is quite possible to encounter territorial struggles so it isimportant to be able to accommodate everyone’s physical needs. There needs tobe compromise on how you like to live and how to adapt the space to the needsof others. It can sometimes have a negative impact on social lives if guest arenot invited into the home due to lack of privacy or if it is discouraged byother members of the household. On the positive side, shared space can helpreduce alone time and feelings of isolation older family members often experience. Adequateliving space is a key factor in a multigenerational living arrangement. Somefamilies only require an additional bedroom, while others desire an in-lawsuite or small apartment. In fact, the multigenerational housing market is theone area of growth in an otherwise slump housing market. Capitalizing on this,home builders are coming up with unique floor plans which showcase functionalspace for a variety of family members.
These include separate entrances withfirst floor suites including bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchenettes and livingspace, which offer direct access to the main home (Glidden 42). Many areas have building and zoning codes restrictingthese types of dwellings, but fortunately municipalities are beginning to seethe need to relax restrictions to allow for functional multigenerational livingspaces. Ifthe household does decide to buy or remodel a house, discuss whose name will beon the deed. It may seem fair for an aging family member’s name to be on thedeed if they have contributed most of the money. But that can be a bad idea. Ifthat person later goes into a nursing home and relies on Medicaid to pay thebills, Medicaid could put a lien on the house.
A better idea is for that personto purchase a “life estate” in the adult child’s home, which gives them thelegal right to live in the house for the rest of their life (Laise 4). Thereare a variety of reasons for the community to provide assistance formultigenerational families. In addition to promoting stronger family values inour community, multigenerational households are cost effective. Households canprovide care for seniors and children less expensively than government fundedprograms. It is estimated replacing family caregivers would have a $450 billionnegative impact on society (Generations 22). By sharing living expenses, thereare less homeless and the level of poverty in our country is lowered. Grandfamilies save the government on the costof foster parents, which are being paid $600 – $800 a month (29). Multigenerationalhouseholds also help protect children from abuse.
“When unemployment rises intimes of economic stress, so do incidents of child abuse . . .” Grandfamiliesoffer shelter from this dysfunction (Generations 22). Possibleways to support the multigenerational community could include more and betteraffordable housing options, altering lending requirements for multigenerationalborrowers, coming up with creative ways to share home equity, and removingunnecessary building regulations (Generations 5).
There is a need to increasefunding to programs supporting caregivers, respite care, and home assessments.Providing even a modest tax credit for those caring for a dependent familymembers can ease financial burden. The longer a family member can care for anelderly family member at home, the less Medicaid would need to spend onexpensive nursing home care (31). Becausecommunication is key to the success of a multigenerational household, beforemaking the decision to try this arrangement, a family meeting is suggested todecide if it is a good option. Items to discuss include bathroom schedules,which rooms are off limits, what items are shared/not shared, sharing of food,will there be a family meal, and invited guests; can grandma have a boyfriendover without raising eyebrows (Laise 3).
A suggested way to divide householdchores is to make a list and pass it around asking everyone to choose what theywant to do (Laise 3). This gives people a choice. One important thing todiscuss is how to divide expenses.
If someone cannot contribute their financialshare, they may be able to help out by doing additional chores. There are alsolifestyle changes associated with living in a multigenerational household. Itcan be an adjustment to find a comfortable level of involvement family membershave with each other. “Don’t expect someone to change just because they’removing in with you” (3).
Aftersetting up a multigenerational household periodic family meetings, possiblyover dinner at a restaurant, can be a good way to keep the lines ofcommunication open and discuss issues which may arise. This can prevent thebuild-up of tension in the household, and by having the conversations in apublic place tempers are less likely to flare. Multigenerationalhouseholds make sense for many people for a variety of reasons. There aresurely obstacles to overcome, but in times of economic uncertainty where youngadults are faced with substantial student debt, the elderly population isgrowing, and there is a generation with resources, it makes sense. Multigenerationalhouseholds benefit our society and families gain in ways that are immeasurable. Works Cited Donaldson, Doug. “The New American Super-Family.” Saturday Evening Post, 2012, Easthope, Hazel, et al.
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