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Multigeneration Households Are Growing

Increasing longevity and strained finances bring families together in multigener


Before there was Social Security, welfare or other social safety nets, there was family. When times got hard or life went off the rails, people went home.

Multigeneration Households Increased During the Recession
Since the start of the recession in 2007, people have been turning to their families again, and in record numbers, according to a Pew Research Center study. In 2008, 49 million Americans (just over 16 percent of the population, including a rising number of seniors) lived in multi-generation households-2.6 million more than in 2007.

But the recession didn't start the increase in multigeneration households, it only accelerated a trend that has been building steadily since 1980, when the number of Americans living in such family units hit an all-time low of about 12 percent.

In 2008, about 20 percent of adults 65 and older were living in households with at least two generations under one roof. Some had moved in with children or other relatives to make a fixed income go farther or to have a family caretaker nearby, while others were raising their grandchildren. Yet the biggest factor in creating new multigeneration households was the number of young adults in the 25 to 34 age group that moved in with their parents or older relatives.

The percentage of young adults ages 25 to 34 who were living in multigeneration households in 2008 was about the same as the percentage of people who were 65 and older. But the increase in young adults living in multigeneration households was dramatic (from 11 percent in 1980 to 20 percent in 2008) while the increase among older people was more gradual (from 17 percent in 1980 to 20 percent in 2008).

The Sandwich Generation is Born
Many baby boomers-the so-called sandwich generation -are caught in the middle as they struggle to provide shelter and support for aging parents and adult children who are not yet able to live on their own. And the economy is making it harder for many people, young and old, to remain independent-which drives the increase in multigeneration households.

The Pew Research Center reports that roughly 37 percent of younger Americans (aged 18 to 29) were either unemployed or out of the work force in 2008, the highest percentage in 40 years. And a more recent Pew Research survey found that among 22- to 29-year-olds, one in eight say that the recession caused them to boomerang back to live with their parents after being on their own for awhile.

Creating a Successful Multigeneration Household
For even the most loving families, a multigeneration household can put a strain on communication, lifestyles, privacy and peace of mind. It's important to keep communication open and avoid misunderstandings. Take a tip from well-run businesses and schedule a family meeting once a week-or at least once a month. Decide how household tasks will be shared, look for ways to streamline meal planning and preparation, and household chores. And don't forget to have fun together.

The poet Robert Frost said: "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." In today's economically troubled times, it appears that more and more people are being forced to test that theory.

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