Results from a Pew Research Center study released in March indicate a sharp increase in multi-generational family households in the United States in recent decades. In 1980, 28 million Americans, or just 12% of the population, lived in multigenerational households. By 2008, that number jumped to 49 million people, or 16.1% of the total population—an increase of 33%. The study defines a multi-generational household as one with at least two generations of adults, or a grandparent and at least one other generation. The decrease in independent households can have a significant effect on housing markets as fewer homes are demanded.
According to the Pew study, a range of factors led to a decline in multi-generational families in the 1960s and 1970s. The growth of the suburbs, a decline in the immigrant population, and the improving health and economic well-being of adults ages 65 years and older all played a role in the decline of such households into the 1980s.
Since 1980, several demographic factors have begun to reverse the trend. First among the factors is the wave of immigration by Latin Americans and Asians. While 28.2% of whites and 31.7% of blacks 65 years of age or older live in a one-generation household, only about 19% of Hispanics live in the same situation.
Another factor, according to the study, is the change in the median age of people marrying for the first time. Data show that the typical man now marries for the first time at age 28 and the typical women at age 26, an increase of about five years for each since 1970. This change means both adult men and women are delaying creating independent households and are therefore more likely to live with parents or grandparents.
Economic factors also contribute to the decline in independent households. In a bad economy, young adults may move back home as a way of cutting costs when they experience difficulty finding jobs and launching careers. According to Pew analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 37% of 18 to 29 year-olds were either unemployed or out of the workforce in 2009, the highest share for this age group in nearly four decades. These returning children are popularly known as “boomerang kids” because they have come back to live with their parents after having left to be on their own.
While the increase in multi-generational households has been significant, the study finds that the current rate is not historically unprecedented. In 1940, in the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II, approximately one quarter of the U.S. population lived in a multi-generational household.
The report, The Return of the Multi-Generational Family Household, is available at: http://pewsocialtrends.org/assets/pdf/752-multi-generational-families.pdf