Not so long ago, "living with the folks" made you a target for mother-in-law jokes. Now it makes you a trendsetter.
You're not just crashing with your parents or in-laws, you're choosing a multigenerational lifestyle -- and you have lots of company.
Between 2000 and 2007, there was a sharp increase, 67 percent, in the nationwide number of parents living with an adult head of household, according to a U.S. Census Bureau spokesman. (In Minnesota, the increase was 65 percent.)
Some of that may be attributable to immigrants who have brought their traditions with them to the United States, said Stephanie Coontz, a family history professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and research director at the Council on Contemporary Families. But the American norm does appear to be shifting, she said.
"It's a real trend that's part of a larger trend: the closeness of intergenerations. Over the past 30 years, more democratic methods of child-rearing and delay of marriage have resulted in deeper friendships between parents and children."
Recent economic events may be accelerating the trend, but it was already gaining momentum, according to William Doherty, professor of social family science at the University of Minnesota and author of "The Intentional Family."
"This has been going on for some time," he said, "even when the economy was good." Instead of moving out permanently at age 18 or 22, as their parents typically did, "many young people today are not becoming fully functioning adults until their 30s. They're more likely to live at home or rotate in and out."
And they're less likely to view that as a negative. "This generation is closer to their parents," he said. "They like being at home."
Modern demographic and lifestyle trends increase the likelihood of sharing space with a relative at some point, he added. "People get divorced, break up, lose a job, and are living longer. There's more opportunity to live with others."
The country's current economic woes will spur more families to combine households, predicted Clifford Clark, professor of history and American studies at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.
"Living with family members definitely correlates with economic downturn," he said. "As the middle class gets more financially stressed, the connection between family members becomes more important. There are going to be all sorts of pressures on families to be creative about living arrangements."
The silver lining is that closer family bonds can be good for everyone, according to Coontz. For decades, we've had a cultural emphasis on independence from parents and siblings and an intense reliance on the marital relationship. "We're beginning to reject that," she said. "It's healthy. People are rediscovering intergenerational ties and sibling ties. There's increased opportunity for conflict but also for building emotionally fulfilling relationships. Having another adult in the household can be good for kids and their parents, and grandparents get the pleasure of being with their grandchildren. There are a lot of win-win situations in this."
Read about how builders and architects are preparing for a multigenerational future in the Homes section this Saturday.