Nearly 60 million American adults — about 1 in 5 — live in multigenerational households. That number has been growing in recent years due in part to financial challenges and caregiving duties, as well as changing demographics.
In the past half-century, the number of adults who live with adult relatives has quadrupled, while the share has doubled, according to a new study by Pew Research Center.
Among the most striking findings from that report is that more than 4 in 10 American men ages 25 to 29 live with older relatives — most often their parents. In 2014, Pew found that for the first time young adults ages 18 to 34 are more likely to live with parents than with a spouse or romantic partner. For young men, that’s still true.
Pew’s report focuses on multigenerational households with at least two generations of adults 25 and older living together. Those ages 18-24 who live with older relatives aren’t considered an adult generation unless they are the householder with whom a parent or older-generation relative lives, the report said. The 5% of multigenerational households where grandparents raise grandkids without the parent were not included in the analysis, either, because of their small numbers.
Financial needs or caregiving aren’t the only things sending adults to live with relatives. Multigenerational living has also been boosted because some of the groups with the greatest population growth — Pew’s list includes those born elsewhere, Asian, Black and Hispanic Americans — are more likely to share a home. The practice is also growing among non-Hispanic whites, the research shows.
Despite speculation it might, the pandemic hasn’t had a big impact on living arrangements, said study co-author Juliana Menasce Horotiwz, Pew’s associate director of research.
Asked to list reasons for living with other generations of their family, just 13% included COVID-19. Some said they’d not yet left home, while others listed caregiving duties or the type of relationship status change that comes with a spouse’s death or divorce as driving their decision.
Young adults make up the biggest share of those living with other generations. Compared to previous generations at the same age, they’re apt to stay in school longer, postpone marriage or never marry and launch more slowly into their own households, the report says. Among those ages 25 to 29, just under a third live with other adult relatives, including just over one-fourth of women that age. That’s a small number compared to the 37% of young men.
Around age 40, the shares flip. Women are more likely to live with other adult relatives after that, often because a spouse died, they got divorced or a loved one needs care. The report said one-third of adults in multigenerational households cite caregiving as the reason for their living arrangement, including 25% who say an adult needs help and 12% who refer to child care.
After 65, 20% of women live in multigenerational households, compared to 15% of men. “Older Americans are less likely to live alone than they were several decades ago,” the report said, a “change linked to the growing share of older women who live with their spouse or children.”
Benefits and challenges
Janina Leprozo, 29, is living in a multigenerational household for the second time. She resides with her fiance, his parents and her child in New York City. But before her family came to the United States from the Philippines when she was 16, she lived with her parents, cousins, grandparents and a great-grandmother.
She easily lists both benefits and challenges to multigenerational households. Growing up that way, she said, helped her have better social skills and a “more grounded upbringing.” Family traditions, values and culture were strong because of experiences she shared with her family, she told the Deseret News.
Leprozo said her own child benefits from the support and guidance of grandparents and living together provides some physical and financial security she would not have if she had her own home. The multigenerational household has also strengthened her communication skills and ability to compromise, she said.
Privacy, though, is challenging, Leprozo said, and many people living together creates more chores, higher expectations and the chance for others to nitpick mistakes because of varying perspectives. Sometimes, too, ideas about parenting don’t mesh between generations, she added.
Kathryn Smerling, a New York City psychotherapist, believes important emotional benefits may come with living together in a multigenerational household. Having some live-in emotional support can be crucial, she said.
Since people crave contact and need communication, warmth and connection, it’s not surprising multigenerational living is, for many, a good experience, said Smerling.
Still, Kate Sweeny, a professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside, points out that one of the big jobs of emerging adulthood is separating from parents, which might be harder in multigenerational households. Staying home longer or leaving and coming back could delay adulthood. Then again, she added, people are living longer and timelines have shifted before. No one’s marrying now at 13 or 14.
Both Sweeny and Smerling note that privacy and independence are important for both young and old people. So those in multigenerational households need to be mindful of challenges on those fronts.
A different experience
A rising share of Americans are living without a romantic partner, as a different Pew Research Center report this fall found. It said close to 4 in 10 adults ages 25 to 54 were unpartnered, meaning not married or cohabiting. That’s a big jump from 1990’s 29%. They also found men were more apt to be unpartnered than women, which wasn’t the case in 1990.
That’s mostly due to a drop in marriage among working-age adults, that report said. And an increase in cohabiting hasn’t been large enough to offset the decrease in marriages. All the growth has come from the number who have never been married, it adds.
Just as why multigenerational households form varies, the experiences based on age and circumstance can be very different.
Horowitz said conversations about adult children living with parents may call to mind young adults. “I think what was really interesting in the survey was looking at those 25 to 39 compared to the 40-plus who are living with a parent and just the differences in their experiences.”
Pew and others have found that young adults are “far more likely to live in their parents’ home (and for longer stretches) than previous generations,” especially those with less than a college degree.
Younger adults may need financial help and are less likely to contribute to household expenses like mortgages or rent. They typically pay less than half if they pay anything at all. Older adults who live with adult relatives are more apt to contribute financially. Young adults are also more apt to see the situation as temporary and to find the situation stressful, at least some of the time, the report said.
Financial challenges also lead parents to live with adult children sometimes. But young adults are more likely to benefit financially from the living arrangement. Parents more often say living with extended family “hurts their finances at least a little,” the report said.
However, researchers found that, overall, “Americans living in multigenerational households are less likely to be poor than those living in other types of households.”
A (mostly) happy home
Most adults who live in multigenerational households say the experience is positive: Thirty percent say “very” and 27% say “somewhat” positive. Just 17% describe the experience as being negative overall, while 26% are neutral. High shares call the living arrangement convenient or rewarding most of the time.
Parents living with an adult child are more likely than an adult child living with a parent to say the arrangement is “at least somewhat positive.”
Smerling believes the generation gap is smaller than it has been in the past and parents and adult children often have more in common.
“I think the internet has made it easier for us to keep up with each other,” she said. “Grandparents can tweet and TikTok as well as 28-year-olds. I think they are enjoying themselves more together.”
The report is based on data from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, which includes civilians not living in institutions such as prisons or mental hospitals. Similar trends were found in earlier analysis of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the report said.
Horowitz’s co-authors on the Pew report are D’Vera Cohn, Rachel Minkin, Richard Fry and Kiley Hurst.