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Are today's families 'The Waltons 2.0'?

Economic woes have accelerated a trend toward multigenerational households that began in 1980.

By Teresa Mears Mar 18, 2010 3:37PM

It’s certainly not surprising to hear that the United States has more multigenerational households than it did a decade ago -- 30% more, as more young adult children move back home. More elderly people also are moving back in with family.


What is interesting is that the trend toward multiple generations sharing a home has been going on since 1980, and only part of it is economically motivated. Think of it as "The Waltons 2.0."


According to a new Pew Research analysis of census data, 16.1% of Americans live in a multigenerational household, up from 15% in 2000. But the number has been increasing since 1980, when the number was at its lowest level, 12.1%. That was considerably lower than in 1940, when 24.7% of Americans lived in multigenerational households.


Economic factors have played a role in forcing generations to live together. But the economy isn’t the only reason. The Pew analysis also cited two other major factors:

  • The later age of marriage. The average age of marriage is now about 28 for men and 26 for women, up about five years since 1970. That means there are more unmarried 20-somethings in the population.
  • Immigration. Immigrants from Latin America and Asia are more likely to live in extended families, just as earlier generations of European immigrants did. However, the trend toward more multigenerational households is also true for native-born Americans.

The number of older adults living with family members increased from 17% of those over 65 in 1990 to 20% last year. The study suggests cuts to Medicare in 1997 and the greater availability of children to move in with could both be factors. In 1900, 57% of adults 65 and older lived with family.


That trend, too, has both economic and social motivations, Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, told USA Today. “Older people who had planned for a comfortable retirement lost a pretty serious chunk of their capital and don't have the potential to earn it back the way somebody in their 50s can," she said.


But she also sees the trend as being driven by the realization that living in a retirement community far from family isn’t as popular as it once was. "We don't think it's healthy for older adults to just live with older adults," Butts told the newspaper. "All they do is talk about who's died, what hurts and what medication they're on."


Young adults’ willingness to live with their parents also isn’t entirely financial. It indicates a change in the relationship between the generations, the Pew Center’s Paul Taylor told National Public Radio.


Unlike the baby boomer generation, which coined the adage “don’t trust anybody over 30,” Generation Y does trust their parents.


"It seems rather admiring of older adults," Taylor said of the millennial generation. They "believe older adults have values that are better than their own. At some level they're becoming buddies with Mom and Dad, and they may not find it so unusual to still be living in their childhood bedroom."


Kelly Campbell at Fire Your Broker has some advice for both young adults and their parents to make sharing a household easier.


He offers these tips for young people:

  • Be thankful and gracious. Also, pay your own bills.
  • Contribute to household expenses or help out around the house.
  • Develop a financial plan and review it with your parents.
  • Once you’ve secured a job, build some savings before you move out.

His advice to parents:

  • Review household rules and collaborate with your children on rules that work for everyone.

  • Help your children get back on their feet, including working with them on a budget that includes a savings plan.
  • Find ways for your children to contribute to the household, either monetarily or by doing chores.

And you probably can dispense with the long multigenerational "good night" routine the Waltons used in the 1970s TV show. You're probably not all going to bed at the same time anyway.

Are you living in a multigenerational household? Would you like to? Are you happy to see your adult children back home or are you counting the days until they get their smelly socks out of your house?


What do you think makes the difference between a multigenerational household that works for everyone and a dysfunctional family situation?


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