Is the United States having a back-to-the-future moment? I certainly hope so.
In 1950, 21% of the U.S. population lived in homes with multiple generations. That percentage fell to a low of 12% in 1980, according to Pew Research. Since then the number and share of Americans living in multigenerational family households has increased. Some 64 million people — 20% of the U.S. population — lived in multigenerational households in 2016.
These are striking numbers. Sad to say, much of the popular discussion of the trend is conducted in a dismissive tone. The catchphrase Boomerang Generation — young adults living with parents and grandparents — is considered as one more sign that young people can’t make it on their own in the current economy. They have no choice but to move back in with their parents.
The resurgence in multigenerational living predates the downturn. Thing is, the trend is worth celebrating and it’s an option that more aging parents and their adult children should to think about. Policymakers should focus greater efforts on encouraging multigenerational living, too.
The housing market became age segregated in the early decades following the Second World War. The rise in multigenerational living signals that the age silos are coming down — with good reasons.
For one thing, the resurgence partly reflectsthe United States’ ethnic diversity. Early generation immigrant families are more likely to live in multigenerational family households. For another, the economic benefits from the generations living together are considerable. Pooling financial resources is a smart way to lower the overall cost of homeownership.
The generations can live together more comfortably than before. For example, homes are larger, on average. The median completed home in 2018 was 2,386 square feet, the Census Bureau said. That compares to 1,525 square feet in 1973. It’s easier to design for privacy in today’s home market.
Living under one roof is one option. Other arrangements that keep the generations close include accessory dwelling units (previously known as mother-in-law apartments) and detached cottage houses. Alternative living arrangements that keep the generations close should become a routine part of the retirement planning checklist.
The lifestyle choice isn’t for everyone, of course. Still, it’s intriguing to imagine that in the not too distant future grandchildren may think growing up in a multigenerational home is normal.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.