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Multigenerational housing is coming back in a big way

April 1, 2024

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Americans used to live in multigenerational homes. We’re starting to, again.

Layla Ahmed is, by any measure, a responsible adult. She works at a nonprofit in Nashville helping refugees. Makes 50k a year. Saves money. Pays her bills on time.

But there’s another measure of adulthood that has so far eluded her. Ahmed, 23, moved back in with her parents after graduating college in 2022.

“There is a perception that those who live with their parents into their 20s are either bums or people who are not hard-working,” she told the Today, Explained podcast.

Being neither of those things, Ahmed and her situation actually point to a growing trend in America right now: More adults, especially younger adults, are either moving back in with family or never leaving at all.

According to the Pew Research Center, a quarter of all adults ages 25 to 34 now live in a multigenerational living situation (which it defines as a household with two or more adult generations).

It’s a number that’s been creeping upward since the early ‘70s but has swung up precipitously in the last 15 years. The decennial US Census measures multigenerational living slightly differently (three or more generations living together), but the trend still checks out.

From 2010 to 2020, there was a nearly 18 percent increase in the number of multigenerational households.

The research arm of the apartment listing and resident services company RentCafe went granular on Gen Z and found that 68 percent over the age of 18 still live with a parent or parents. As for millennials, 20 percent are back with mom and/or dad (or just never left).

Given the bum stigma (to paraphrase Layla Ahmed), what’s going on here?

What’s driving this?

When Pew recently surveyed people living in multigenerational homes, more of them said financial issues drove the decision to move in with family than any other reason.

Which: Yes. Total student loan debt has ticked slightly down in the past few years but not by much. Meanwhile, inflation. You may have heard of her. And, oh yeah, home affordability last fall was the lowest it had been since the ‘80s.

“I think it’s a contemporary trend, whether it’s to be able to save the money to buy a home, to be able to go back for a master’s degree or to be able to do something to further their ability as independent adults,” said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a nonprofit that researches and advocates for multigenerational households.

Major macro disruptions — financial or otherwise — often lead to spikes in multigenerational living: “We’ve seen the largest increases when our country has had a recession or a housing bust and then Covid,” Butts said. “But what people are surprised by is they always think that the numbers are going to decrease again.”

Masks off, goodbye Mom and Dad? Not exactly.

The census found that there was a dip in younger adults living with parents after a spike at the height of the pandemic. But the dip was pretty shallow. Which means many people moved in and just never left.

Amid skyrocketing costs and labor shortages in care work at either end of life have also pulled people into multigenerational housing. Nearly a third of people surveyed by Pew said caregiving — child, elder, or otherwise — was the primary reason they lived in a multigenerational situation.

One more reason multigenerational housing is on the rise: America is getting less white. Hispanic and Asian people, especially if they are immigrants, are more likely to live with extended family. Black families are also traditionally more open to these arrangements.

In many cultures around the world, multigenerational living — at least until marriage, and often even after — is the norm, not the exception.

Given some of these factors driving the increase, I suppose it’s not surprising to see the way polling shakes out when it comes to these living situations.

Overall, a little more than a third of Americans say this trend is “bad for society” (ouch), per Pew’s research. But white people are more likely to say it’s bad news (41 percent) than Black people (26 percent), Hispanic people (28 percent), or Asian people (23 percent). Men find it more objectionable than women, older people are less on board, and Republicans are the least into this of any group measured.

Dave Ramsey fits a few of the above categories. White dude; baby boomer. Definitely conservative, though he’s not much for party politics. He is also perhaps the most popular personal finance personality in America, preaching a gospel of aggressive saving, home ownership, and freedom from debt (besides a modest mortgage).

Ramsey told Today, Explained on a recent visit to his studio, “It’s not a kid that’s a college graduate with a degree in logistics that has the ability to make 120k. He’s not living in his daddy’s basement, okay? It’s career choice and direction.”

But Ramsey loosened up a bit when asked about the potential for an adult living with parents to pay down debt. He said that if giving up autonomy temporarily means getting very real about paying off debt, “Sure. Have at it. I’m in.”

Butts points out, though, that multigenerational living used to be pretty common before World War II — and for decades before that. It was after the war when people got in cars, got jobs in suburbs, and bought homes with more space for fewer people. Nuclear families.

By 1960, a new norm had entered the chat. The vast majority of adults were peacing out from mom and dad’s and not looking back.

“And we then said that was the way that people should live, that they should be independent, that we don’t need each other — when in fact we do need each other,” she said. That includes for things like caregiving, staving off loneliness, and helping out (collectively) with the bills. Pooling resources is also better for the climate, she said.
“We need to realize that it’s not a matter of us going back. It’s a matter of us going forward to something that is better and healthier for many families.”

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