Aging in America

Interesting facts about multigenerational living and its benefits (or drawbacks).

By Leah Felderman  

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Across the Globe

Multigenerational living is commonplace throughout most of the world. Filial piety is at the core of Confucian based East Asian cultures and multigenerational living is the norm throughout most of Asia. Joint family living is the status quo in rural Africa, India, and tribal communities throughout the world. Multigenerational living is still commonplace in much of Europe and the Middle East, and it remains prevalent in Hispanic and Latino communities across the globe.

For many Americans, the migration of our elderly to nursing homes and retirement centers may seem conventional and par for the course. The commonality of retirement homes and senior communities is seemingly an integral part of American society. The creation and flourishing of large scale retirement communities that blossom to need their own zip codes, such as The Villages in Florida and Sun City in Arizona, seems a natural progression for a senior population boom. Yes, the US retirement community subculture has their overseas counterparts: the coast of Spain is blossoming with similar sun-kissed aging communities, elder care facilities are big business in Britain, and even Germany has seen an uptick in assisted living facility expansion and commercialism. Nonetheless, the American abundance of nursing homes and proliferation of retirement communities are statistical anomalies and confounding for most of the rest of the world: how can so many elderly live in one place and where are their families?

By The Numbers

There are plenty of statistics to comb through and digest regarding the pendulum swing (back) towards multigenerational households in America. Analyzing US Census Bureau numbers (2016) and recent Pew Research findings we discover some interesting facts:

Over 60 million people in the US live in multigenerational households.

That breaks down to almost 20% of the US population living in a household where there are two or more adult generations residing, or a household that includes grandparents and grandchildren (with the intermediary parent generation absent). That is almost as high a percentage as multigenerational living of the 1950s!

Wondering when we liked living in close quarters with our families the least? Not surprisingly it is the 1980s when multigenerational cohabitation dipped to a record low of 12%. Baby boomers became adults, suburbs flourished, and nursing homes and retirement communities proliferated. Despite some variations in the numerical breakdowns we find that all populations of society participate in and contribute to the growing trend of multigenerational households. While totals vary the most by ethnicity and income statistics reveal that all incomes, ethnicities, generations, and genders participate in multigenerational living. Households of Asian backgrounds are more likely than other ethnicities to cohabitate in multigenerational households. Women are more likely to live in a multigenerational household than men, and young adults more likely than other age groups. At the end of the day approximately 1 in 5 Americans live in a multigenerational household.

How do these statistics influence aging in America? Whether it is adult children moving back in with their aging parents or seniors moving in with their kids, if the decision arises from medical or financial needs or a sense of filial duty-there are a multitude of benefits for all parties involved.

Benefits of Multigenerational Living:

Supervision of family members, by family members

Child care for the youngest family members and elder care for the oldest members. No more struggling to find care for your loved ones, worrying about just how reliable the hired help may be, or having to take a second job to cover sitter expenses. Many woes associated with hiring outside help are ameliorated with the incorporation of an additional adult in the home.

Cost savings

It always helps to save on bills and have extra cash flow. The possibilities are endless in multigenerational households. Able bodied and willing teens and adults can help Grandma save on her home care costs while Grandma helps her adult children save on child day care costs. Adult children can save for college and a home of their own while undertaking any number of responsibilities. Help with mortgage payments, bills, and shared responsibility on big ticket expenses can help everybody out. The key is balance; making certain one party isn't feeling taking advantage of while other parties contribute accordingly.

Time savings

No more shuttling in between separate residences or coordinating transportation with schedules and traffic. With everybody in close quarters everything from family dinners to family outings are much more easily coordinated.

Filial piety across generations

Aside from families that are truly unhealthy unions and dysfunctional beyond repair, most families will find that living in multigenerational homes cultivates the bonds of filial piety and fosters other important virtues that can't be taught in school. Grandchildren get to bask in the adoration of their grandparents while parents pay homage to those that raised them.

Drawbacks and Hurdles

Supervision of family members, by family members

Some situations still require the hiring of outside assistance whether due to skill level, safety concerns, or just general deficiencies in task management. In addition, some families may find themselves having to hire additional help to accommodate new household needs. Also keep in mind that living with relatives isn't a blank check to baby or elder sit ad infinitum.

Cost savings

Initial costs of blending together generations into the same household can be pricey. From renovations to refurbishment to retrofitting-making certain all family members are safe and comfortable in the home can take some adjustment. There are a growing number of builders and communities offering multigenerational homes to a growing market of consumers. Some government and other supplementary financial support may be at risk when moving in with extended family. In addition, costs can also mushroom with unexpected medical expenses and other unexpected changes in family dynamics.

Time savings

Time savings are often offset by privacy needs and seeking activities outside of the family unit. Whereas Grandma may have been content to read on the porch for hours, the busy and noisy nature of a full house may lead to a growing number of activities away from home when privacy calls.

Filial discord across generations

Let's be honest, some families just aren't meant to live in close quarters. Even with a smartly designed multigenerational home, a private in-law suite, or a granny pod, some families need physical distance to cultivate emotional closeness. Filial piety is not an interminable bargaining chip.


Leah Felderman BA MA

About the Author

Leah Felderman is a proud alumnus of University of Central Florida (BA) and San Diego State University (MA). She has worn many occupational hats including teaching, hospitality management, government contractor and non-profit organizer. She is an intrepid international traveler having visited over 60 countries before happily settling down into her new life chapter of domesticity as a mom and Coast Guard wife.

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