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Multi-Generational Family Households Make a Comeback

Jim Liebelt | Senior Editor of Publications for HomeWord | Thursday, April 15, 2010

Multi-Generational Family Households Make a Comeback

According to a report based on the Pew Research Center's public opinion surveys and analysis of 2008 U.S. Census Bureau data, a record 49 million Americans, or 16.1% of the total U.S. population, lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation.

In 1940, about a quarter of the population lived in an extended family household one; by 1980, just 12% did, says the study. A range of demographic factors contributed to this decline, including the rapid growth of the nuclear-family-centered suburbs; the decline in the share of immigrants in the population; and the sharp rise in the health and economic well-being of adults ages 65 and older.

The multi-generational American family household is staging a comeback, driven in part by the job losses and home foreclosures of recent years but more so by demographic changes that have been gathering steam for decades.

Key findings about multi-generational family households and living arrangements of older adults:

• This 33% increase since 1980 in the share of all Americans living in such households represents a sharp trend reversal. From 1940 to 1980, the share of Americans living in such households had declined by more than half (from 25% in 1940 to 12% in 1980)

• The growth since 1980 in these multi-generational households is partly the result of demographic and cultural shifts, including the rising share of immigrants in the population and the rising median age of first marriage of all adults

• At a time of high unemployment and a rising foreclosures, the number of households in which multiple generations of the same family double up under the same roof has spiked significantly. From 2007 to 2008, the number of Americans living in a multi-generational family household grew by 2.6 million

One reason for the reversal in the multi-generational household trend, says the report, is the change in the median age of first marriage. The typical man now marries for the first time at age 28 and the typical women at age 26. For both genders, this is about five years older than it was in 1970. A byproduct of this cultural shift is that there are more unmarried 20-somethings in the population, many of whom consider their childhood home to be an attractive living situation, especially when a bad economy makes it difficult for them to find jobs or launch careers.

Source: Center for Media Research