Big Happy Families

Instead of a yearly family reunion, some Americans are closing the distance. They choose to live together in multigenerational households. This was once rare, but the numbers are growing fast with few signs of leveling off.

According to Pew Research’s 2022 report, 30% of people aged 25 to 29 are living in multigenerational homes. For 41% of adults, this is a long-term arrangement. Meanwhile, 34% consider this temporary with a defined end goal, such as saving for a mortgage.

Peoples’ experiences with these households are mixed. More than half call it generally positive. However, even those who enjoy this way of life mention challenges. In fact, respondents described multigenerational living as convenient, rewarding – and stressful. Here’s a deeper look at how this plays out in families.

Convenience or Necessity?

Rising housing prices, the economic downturn, and general job insecurity has put pressure on people across the board. Many lower-income families are pooling resources in a multigenerational household. However, upper middle class households are also joining this trend.

In America’s highest cost of living areas, even graduates with lucrative jobs are still struggling to afford rent. It often makes more sense to delay launching from the family home until they can afford a mortgage. Some families are also trying to wait out an unfriendly housing market.

Caregiving is another big convenience-based reason for living together. Here, 12% of Pew’s respondents chose multigenerational living for built-in childcare. A further 25% chose this to provide better care for elderly loved ones. Today, 1 in 5 Americans is an unpaid caregiver. That’s over 50 million people dealing with the progressive aging of the nation, in a time when most Americans don’t want to age in an assisted living facility – hence the now-familiar aging in place remodeling plan. Even more cannot afford the high costs and years-long waiting lists. Sometimes, moving in with family is the only real option.

Multigenerational households also act as a safety net for vulnerable populations. Many people who are neurodivergent or have disabilities can’t live completely independently. However, support programs are often overburdened or nonexistent. The family home offers shelter as they navigate their health, education, and workplace. Without a family safety net, many of these people could end up falling through the cracks.

A Rewarding Way of Life

But not everyone stays in the family home out of necessity. Many people simply prefer to live this way. Living together and overcoming challenges as a family can build strong lifelong bonds. For instance, kids may get to know their grandparents in deeper ways than they could during twice-yearly visits.

Peace of mind is another big factor, especially when caregiving is part of the equation. It’s more difficult to offer quality support to someone who lives miles away. Anxiety is common: did they miss the call because they were watching TV, or have they fallen again? Are they wearing their medical alert smartwatch or is it left somewhere? Sometimes all the technology in the world can’t substitute for human presence, and driving an hour to offer help seems impractical. Many people have chosen to combine households to be close to each other, so that one generation can care for another.

Many cultures, and increasingly the American culture, find it natural to support adult children well into their twenties. In return, the elderly parents expect to move into their kid’s spacious home. After all, they only afforded this house with family support. If everyone’s on the same page, the whole family can build a mutually beneficial future together.

Bumps in the Road

The journey to a multigenerational household isn’t always smooth. ‘Stressful’ was one of the top three ways people described this way of life. In fact, about a quarter of respondents said it was stressful most or all of the time.

Where does the stress come from? There are a lot of potential sources of friction including:

  • Clashing personalities, political and religious beliefs, or philosophies for raising children and grandchildren.
  • Not enough space, and people suddenly having to share a room when they once had a whole house of their own.
  • Frazzled caregivers who may need to care for children, pets, seniors, the house, and somehow hold down a job.
  • The expense of renovating and redecorating a home to make it accessible or reflect everyone’s personal styles.
  • More complicated finances including changing taxes, Medicaid coverage, and home equity.
  • Disagreements over a fair division of bills and household labor.
  • Growing pains in the family dynamic as teens become adults but their parents continue to parent them.

Combining households – of any size, from a couple to multiple generations – will always have at least a few challenges. The larger unit handles these together, getting through the tough times by lean into the advantages of a multiplex household. More than sharing resources such as time and money, a family can combine brainpower to work out compromises and win-win solutions.

Big problems are rarely solved with one big conversation, so it helps to build frequent check-ins into the weekly routine. This gives everyone space and time to talk about concerns before they grow into major issues.

Flexibility matters too. No plan survives the real world unchanged. You may need to adjust household schedules, swap bedrooms, or shift deadlines. Finally, patience is always beneficial. These kinds of transitions can be tough on people of all ages.

Sometimes, the real fix isn’t talking, it’s the passage of time. Give a family time to adjust to the compromises built into multigenerational households, and it will be better able to see the advantages of this kind of life.