Young Adults Surpass Seniors for Multi-Gen Household Growth

Having grandma or grandpa move into the family house may be less of a possibility today than in recent years, especially as young adults—not seniors—are driving growth in multi-generational households, new research suggests.

A record 57 million Americans, or 18.1% of the population, lived in multi-generational family households in 2012, twice as much as the number who lived in such households in 1980, according to Pew Research’s latest Social & Demographic Trends. 

Historically, while it has been the nation’s oldest population that has been the group most likely to live in multi-generational households, in the years following the Great Recession of 2007-2009 a much younger demographic has propelled growth for this intergenerational living arrangement. 

In 2012, 22.7% of adults ages 85 and older lived in a multi-generational household, just shy of the 23.6% of adults ages 25 to 34 in the same situation, notes Pew. 

“While the share of young adults ages 25 to 34 living in multi-generational households has increased most rapidly, the share increased across all age groups with one exception: Among those ages 65 to 84, the share living in a multi-generational household decreased slightly between 2010 and 2012,” write Pew Researchers Richard Fry and Jeffrey S. Passel.

Among those ages 65 to 84, the share living in a multi-generational household decreased slightly between 2010 and 2012.

Throughout most of the 20th century, the proportion of older adults living in multi-generational housing declined sharply. In 1900, 57% of adults ages 65 and older lived in a multi-generational household, while only 17% did by 1980. 

A number of factors may have contributed significantly to this decline among the elderly, Pew suggests, including marked health improvements and diminished infirmity among this age group, as well as rising incomes and the establishment of Social Security and private pensions, all of which may have boosted the capacity to live independently.

For the younger cohort, factors associated with the Recession such as declining employment and wages of less-educated young adults may have undercut this age group’s capacity to live independently of their parents, Pew notes.

Across gender, young adult men are significantly more likely than women to be living in multi-generational households, whereas for most other age groups, women are more likely than man to be living in these arrangements.

In 2012, 26% of men ages 25 to 43 were living in multi-gen homes, compared with 21% of women in that age group. Alternatively, 22% of women in the age 65 to 84 age group were more likely to live in multi-gen households, compared to 17% of men in that age range.

“In general, women are more likely than men to live in a multi-generational household,” write Fry and Passel. “This partly reflects the likelihood that women, on average, live longer than men.” 

The changing tide that once reflected younger adults were less likely than seniors to live in multi-generational households largely reflects the shifting economic fortunes of the nation’s young compared with older age groups. 

“While the likelihood of residing in a multi-generational household may not be a direct measure of economic well-being (or lack thereof), there is evidence that the changing patterns of multi-generational living parallel ‘the general trends toward the greater economic security of older adults and the increasing financial strain experienced by younger adults,'” Fry and Passel write. 

View the Pew Research.

Written by Jason Oliva

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