Before WWII, approximately 25% of Americans shared their homes with three or more generations. After the war, the percentage of multigenerational households began to decline and bottomed out at a meager 12% in 1980.
Today, however, the numbers of families choosing to combine households across two or more generations is on the rise. Last summer, The Pew Research Center reported that a record 60.6 million Americans (19% of the United States population) now live in multigenerational households, which Pew researchers defined as any home that includes two or more adult generations or grandparents.
Some experts speculate that the economic downturn of the late 2000s may have contributed to this shift. When people fell on hard times, many people combined households as a matter of survival. Other social observers point to how growing racial and ethnic diversity has introduced a variety of cultural traditions, including multigenerational living.
Whatever the causes of this growing phenomenon, it’s clear that there are many potential benefits to bringing an extended family under one roof. Two of the most appealing up sides of multigenerational living are the opportunity to share household expenses and the ability to provide mutual day-to-day support.
For couples with children, having grandparents at home can help alleviate the burden of childcare expenses and mitigate the challenges of coordinating care. A 2008 Oxford study also found that a close relationship with grandparents often contributes to a child’s wellbeing.
On the flip side, having their grown children live with them can provide older generations with both a sense of security and the relief of knowing that someone else will take care of certain chores and maintenance around the house. At the same time, adults caring for aging parents often find that sharing a residence greatly simplifies care, decreases the need to travel and/or miss work, and – overall – reduces stress for both parties.
What to Consider if You’re Thinking About Creating a Multigenerational Household
While a combined household has many attractive benefits, there are also potential pitfalls and complications to consider before jumping in. To ensure financial stability and emotional harmony, it’s critical to plan ahead and – most importantly – engage in clear and honest communication.
Roles often shift and evolve in a multigenerational household, and it’s important to provide space for each member of the family to have a voice. It’s wise to avoid making assumptions about what someone else might want or expect, and instead make the time to have very frank conversations about the logistical and relationship concerns that will undoubtedly come up at some point. For instance, here are a few core topics you may want to discuss:
- The time frame and conditions of the living arrangements: When will the new arrangement go into effect? How long will it last? Are there specific conditions that will trigger a change in the arrangements? How do the long-term plans of each family member align with the group’s plans for a combined household?
- The nature of the living space: Will you have shared spaces or manage two completely separate-but-connected households? If you plan on having shared common areas, what are the expectations about how those spaces will be shared? How will you guarantee each family member’s privacy and environmental needs? For instance, if someone in the household works from home, how will you ensure that person has enough space and quiet to work?
- Parenting roles and responsibilities: In multigenerational households with young children, it’s especially important to establish boundaries about parenting tasks. Being explicit about how discipline will be handled, for instance, is crucially important.
- Division of household duties: Again, it’s never a good idea to rely on assumptions. Be clear and consistent about expectations for each family member’s participation in day-to-day and larger household responsibilities. From the dishes and laundry to mowing the lawn and painting the trim, there’s never a shortage of items on the average family’s Honey Do list. Be fair and firm about dividing up the load amongst all members of the household.
- Hard money conversations: Don’t let your finances be the elephant in the room. Families tend to put off conversations about money because it can feel awkward. This is family, after all. But, it’s precisely because it’s family that it’s so important to get everyone’s cards on the table and have very honest and detailed conversations. It’s imperative that everyone understands what their financial responsibilities are going in and how those might shift based on certain events.
These are just a few of the “Big Questions” that need to be addressed in order to create a harmonious and stable multigenerational household. But, if you can navigate those conversations successfully, you may just find that multigenerational living has a wealth of joy and peace to bring you.