Key takeaways:

Multi-generational living has historically been associated with necessity, and its affordability is still a key asset. But now, more than just providing a temporary solution to economic challenges, the multi-generational household has evolved into an arrangement that mutually benefits family members. ‘Boomerang kids’ are now joined by older millennials who increasingly consider staying with mom and pop, enjoying shared expenses and assistance with childcare. And as work from home has become so widespread, keeping people away from regular face-to-face professional interaction, sharing space with family is often a viable alternative to spending most of the day alone.

Considering the wide range of needs multi-generational living is responding to, perhaps it’s no wonder that it is now more common than it has been for a long time. More than half the country’s 18- to 24-year-olds live with parents. And 17% of 25- to 34-year-olds — that’s most Millennials — do too, more than twice the number that did so 50 years previously. They may be joined in multi-generational households by grandparents and of course children.

Younger generations living at home with their families

 

The incidence of multi-generational living, in terms of 18- to 34-year-olds living with their folks, rose from 27.3% in 2007 to 32.7% by the end of 2020, demonstrating how this arrangement has been of increasing importance to Americans through all kinds of circumstances. And now, with the timescale of the US’s economic recovery after COVID-19 uncertain, it is to be expected that a preference for multi-generational living might well continue.

To see where multi-generational living is most prevalent, and what factors might be causing this, the STORAGECafé research team analyzed the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. We defined multi-generational households to be those that include an adult who is a child of another household member — and so having, therefore, at least two generations of a family. The age range this ‘child’ belongs to was defined in different ways, either as being 18 or over or 25 or over, depending on which aspect of multi-generational living we wished to investigate.

The multi-generational household is as American as mom’s apple pie — and the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds living in it doubled over the last half-century

Multi-generational living is common in many societies and the US is no different. However, for several decades after the second world war, it became less common as spending power increased and a new spirit of independence gripped many people. But the trend for extended family households started to rise again in the late 70s, as home prices went up, making independent living less sustainable. It then plateaued for much of the 90s but started increasing again when the nation experienced economic challenges in 2007 and has continued rising for much of the last decade. Boomerang kids are now joined by downsizing grandparents who look for more relaxed lifestyles as well as remote workers to form the largest multi-generational living cohort of the last 50 years.

According to the US Census, the US is now home to nearly 4.7 million households comprising three or more generations. The states with the highest proportions of multi-generational households in the US are Hawaii, California and Texas, with 7.3%, 5.8% and 4.9%, respectively.

And, naturally, these states have strong representation at the level of metropolitan areas. In fact, more than 20 of the nation’s largest metros see an incidence of multi-generational living of more than 40%, in terms of 18- to 34-year-olds who live with parents.

The Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura metro has the highest incidence of multi-generational living in the country, 50%, and six other areas in Californian make the top 20. Metros as geographically diverse as those centered on Bridgeport, CT, McAllen, TX, and Augusta, GA, all score highly in this regard. At the opposite end of the list of the country’s largest metros, it is smaller metros in the Midwest and the Northwest that feature the least multi-generational living, with Madison, WI, and Spokane, WA, having 18% and 20%, respectively, while the larger Seattle metro has 24%.

Even some of the US’s largest metropolitan areas have very high proportions of multi-generation living involving young adults. Several metros with more than 1M inhabitants, including those centered on LA, NYC and Miami, have over 40% of their young people between the ages of 18 and 34 living at home with their parents.

Among the medium-sized metros — those having between 500K and 1M inhabitants — many have even higher proportions of this type of multi-generational living, with at least ten of them featuring incidences of over 43%.

What drives multi-generational living: mainly affordability but also the teleworking trend and psychological advantages

Several factors motivate the increased preference for multi-generational living, including local unemployment rates, cost of living, and affordability of accommodation — either in terms of average rents or house values. Now more than ever, economic and social context makes it more probable that people will move in with family. But the rocketing work from home trend means they can earn money while living there, creating a greater willingness to return to the family nest, and with online learning being another option for students or adults with younger children.

Life in a shared family house certainly requires respect for other people’s space and priorities. However, there are also psychological benefits in joining an established household, with what started out as an economic necessity turning into a positive experience for young and old alike. In addition, cramped living quarters in many city apartments may actually mean there is more room in a multi-generational household. The tendency to get married later these days also feeds into the trend to move back home with mom and dad as the arrangement is more suited to single people than to married couples.

Of all the factors we analyzed, unemployment and high cost of living were found to be two common features that accompany most cities that also show high incidences of multi-generational living. A high ratio of rent to earnings makes many people look for a lifestyle where their accommodation costs don’t swamp them. The same goes for the ability to pay off a mortgage, especially if the borrower is not earning as much as they did when they secured their loan and so is having difficulty making the payments. In both cases, costs vary considerably across the country. Although salaries often reflect these costs and regular purchases from metro to metro, some time spent living with family clearly eases the financial strain.

Unemployment causes people to move in search of work, but many people prefer going back to live with family until new opportunities turn up, avoiding unnecessary expenses and stress. Our research indicates that unemployment of young adults is often high where multi-generational living is common locally. This is seen most clearly in the Californian metros centered on Fresno and Bakersfield, which have unemployment rates of 10.2% and 9.8%, respectively. Jackson, MI, with its 9.9% unemployment rate, also sees a lot of multi-generational living, as do Texas’s McAllen-Edinburg-Mission (9.2%) and Memphis, TN (8.9%). Unemployment is a localized phenomenon, though the work from home trend can help anyone who experiences it where they live.

The economic and psychological advantages of multi-generational living add up

The “boomerang children” have spent a little time away, perhaps at college, but then unemployment or a wish to save money sees them back in the family nest. They enjoy any disposable income they may have as a result of not paying rent — though a contribution towards household expenses is always appreciated! — and may also avoid problems of safety and isolation associated with living alone.

Welcoming grandparents into established households, either out of necessity or for their psychological well-being, is becoming increasingly prevalent, and as vaccines become more available they’ll feel even safer there. And live-in grandparents who lend a helping hand with children are a benefit many parents working from home have come to appreciate these days. Caring for seniors can be expensive in their own homes or in communal living facilities, but a family member who invites an elderly relative into their home will not only be motivated to provide good care but may also be eligible to receive payments.

Additionally, space constraints — one of the traditional downsides of living in a full house — are now easier to surmount as self storage has significantly expanded in recent years and can help multi-generational households manage their space. The industry currently offers close to 1.5 billion square feet of storage nationwide with street rates for a non-climate-controlled 10’x10’ unit averaging an affordable $118 per month.

Family of Grandmother & mother & girl

Working from home sent many millennials back to live with mom and dad

Another driver of the increase in multi-generational living is the emergence of remote work as a viable alternative to working from a physical business location. Jobs such as creative writing and web design could always be done remotely at a computer, but many others have now migrated from offices to homes, which frequently suits employees and may continue strongly even in the aftermath of Covid-19. Marketing and customer service jobs can also often be done anywhere online, as can those providing expertise in domains such as finance and medicine. As long as employees living at home with their folks have a room, a desk, a computer, and some peace, they can do their work.

Florida’s Tampa and Cape Coral — 10th in our ranking of metros based on multi-generational living — have large proportions of their populations working from home. The trend has now become a huge part of life in America. For people between the ages of 18 and 39, the ability to telework exceeded 50% in several states at the end of last year, the District of Columbia topping the list with 73%, and a few of them showing double-digit increases over the latter months of the year.

The same is true for metros, with more than half of all workers staying at home in front of a computer in several of the country’s largest, and Los Angeles seeing a 15% increase between August and December of last year.

Multi-generational living increases as youngsters leave college but don’t get married

In 1967, 49% of America’s 18- to 24-year-olds were living at home with their parents, and that had risen to 57% by 2020. The trend is even more marked for people in the 25-34 age bracket — having hovered around 7%-8% in the 60s and 70s, that percentage grew to 17% in 2020. Both age ranges include many young people who do not seek independence between living at home and getting married, while the broader group will include much more of the college crowd.

The number of Americans enrolling in universities has been increasing — by more than a third from 1990 to 2018, according to Institute of Education Sciences data. As they mostly live away, it might be expected this could decrease the percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds living at home, but that number rose. Youngsters returning home after college may be the cause of the even greater increase of 25- to 34-year-olds in multi-generational households. All in all, the increased number of college enrollments has not reversed the rise of multi-generational living.

The age at which people marry for the first time has changed considerably during the past hundred years. In the 1960s, on average, men tied the knot at around 23 years of age with women who had only just passed the age of 20 — somewhat younger than half a century previously. But by 2020, the numbers had risen to 30.5 and 28.1, respectively. As single people are often more willing to live with parents than married couples are, this may be a reason why 25- to 34-year-olds now live much more frequently than before in multi-generational households.

Among the 18- to 34-year-olds living at home with their parents in 1967, 32% were men and 23% were women, and by 2020 these figures had risen to 36% and 29%, respectively. The trend is even more marked for people in the 25-34 age bracket, and of these, 9% of men and 5% of women were living at home in 1967. These figures rose to 21% and 13% by 2020, with men living back at home still outnumbering women by more than three to two.

Expanding houses and shrinking apartments motivate moving back in with the folks

Between 2010 and 2019, new-built houses grew by 143 square feet — a good size for a single person’s bedroom. Household size has decreased, however, comprising 2.52 people in 2019, down from 2.59 in 2010 and 3.14 in 1970. And the number of rooms in newly-built homes has been going up too — between 2010 and 2019, the number of newly built homes with four bedrooms or more increased while the number with two bedrooms or fewer decreased.

New apartments, on the other hand, got somewhat smaller in 17 of the nations’ 20 largest cities. Those in Charlotte, NC, and Jacksonville, FL, lost over 90 square feet from 2010 to 2019 — the size of a child’s compact bedroom — with Washington, DC, and Seattle, WA, not far behind. Clearly, constructors have been hoping that people can live in smaller spaces these days, but fortunately they are also creating more room in larger properties, those which are more suitable for multi-generational living.

Self storage helps out multi-generational households

Multi-generational living can mean people don’t have as much living space as they would like. A young adult back from college might want room for their entertainment center and books, while an older person might have bulky sports equipment such as golf clubs or fishing gear. And everybody, including seniors, will have clothes they don’t want to throw away. Self storage is a great place for such things. Seldom-used items and seasonal clothing can be stored in a nearby unit, and equipment can be picked up from there on the way to sports activities. In addition, a self storage unit is the perfect place for furniture while a property is being renovated in anticipation of new arrivals, and also for surplus ornaments and other items they bring with them that are too beloved to throw away.

The good news for residents of Texas’s McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro is that, while it is fourth on our list of areas in terms of multi-generational housing, it is also in the top five for the cost of its self storage, charging just $73/month. Little Rock, AR, Toledo, OH, and Oklahoma City and Tulsa in the State of Oklahoma have even more reasonable rents. Oklahoma City also scores highly in terms of the amount of storage it offers per capita, 10.39 square feet, exceeded only by Boise City, ID, with 12.90 square feet.

Multi-generational living has a long history and a bright future in the US

The fact that multi-generational households are a celebrated part of American life can be seen in the way they have regularly featured in TV shows — bringing out both the positive and the negative aspects of the arrangement, not to mention the humor as well! We’ve collected ten of our favorites as good examples of how the perception of multi-generational living has evolved through the years:

  • The Addams Family (1964-1966, 1973, 1992-1993): Featured Grandmama, also known as Granny Frump, a very ‘interesting’ elderly relative!
  • The Waltons (1972-1981): Something rather more wholesome, with three generations living in a large house in rural, depression-era Virginia.
  • Sanford and Son (1972-1977): Comedy about salvage dealers featuring the house-sharing father and son team and the strong bond between them.
  • Little House on the Prairie (1974–1983): Another family all living in one house, and it touched on interesting multi-generational themes such as adoption.
  • Dallas (1978–1991): They certainly had plenty of money and yet it seemed they preferred to live all together at the Southfork Ranch — way to go!
  • The Golden Girls (1985-1992): It should not be forgotten that Sophia is Dorothy’s mother, and her wisecracks often keep the other girls going.
  • Seinfeld (1989-1998): Yes, George Costanza lived with his parents Frank and Estelle for a few episodes, but it’s not certain if he enjoyed the experience!
  • Frasier (1993-2004): Fancy-pants radio psychiatrist lives with his blue-collar ex-cop dad, and it appears to be a rewarding experience for both of them.
  • 7th Heaven (1996-2007): Mary goes to live with her grandparents to get some stability in her life, working in a homeless shelter and then restarting college.
  • The King of Queens (1998-2007): Carrie’s father lives in the basement of the Heffernans’ house…. after he accidentally set fire to his own!

Southfork Ranch Dallas

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant many people have reassessed their living arrangements. Households have welcomed back grown-up kids and found places for elderly relatives. This saves money all round — and maybe some can be put in the bank for the future. Plus, importantly, members of the household may not be exposed to infection risks if they can largely enjoy social activities among themselves.

Our research shows that living in multi-generational households is more common in some geographical regions than others. Many places in California experience not only high costs of living and housing but also correspondingly high incidences of multi-generational living. The same is also true for locations which are currently experiencing higher than average unemployment rates, something which is often seen together with multi-generational living.

While some communities tend to form multi-generational households more readily than others do, the arrangement is becoming not only more of a reality but also a good idea for Americans of all backgrounds. Many jobs now have been moved from workplaces to private homes, pleasing a lot of people, and there is no reason why this cannot continue. As long as a person in a multi-generational household respects the needs of the other members, things can work out well, and there may be benefits, both financial and emotional, which are even more than they anticipated.

What the experts say

As well as looking at the figures about multi-generational households, we wanted to ask experts who have researched the ways in which people live in America today. The university professors we interviewed know about the interpersonal dynamics within families and gave us the low-down not only on why multi-generational living is more common now but also on what can be done to make it work for everybody’s benefit.

Fran Goldscheider, Professor of Family Science at School of Public Health, University of Maryland

Frances Goldscheider, Professor of Family Science at School of Public Health, University of MarylandThe percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds living with parents has risen from around 7% in the 1960s to 16% today — what factors do you think have caused this?

The answer [….] on trends between 1960 and now, is the most straightforward. For the first 20-30 years, the biggest issue was the increase in age at marriage, which skyrocketed between 1960 and 1980-90 (and has continued to drift upwards though more slowly).  Young adults are very unlikely to stay/return home if they are married or cohabiting.  In fact, during that early period, unmarried young adults actually became less likely to live with parents, but that change was overwhelmed by the growth in the unmarried (maybe more than you want to know).  In the later period, however, the big issues appear to be financial; young adults are having much more trouble getting ‘launched’, both because of a relatively poor job market and the skyrocketing costs of housing.

Read more....
The percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds living with parents is very different for men and women — currently 19% and 12% respectively — what do you think the reasons for this might be?

…. the research [on sex differences] is mostly full of speculation.  Women still partner younger than men, so that’s part of it; another part is likely the fact that young men get better ‘service’ at home than do young women, who are more likely to expect to help with the HW.

Multi-generational living is often seen together with high ratios of rent-to-earnings — do you see it as a good solution to balance a family’s budget?

…. of course money matters, and coresidence saves a lot.  Another element, I think, is that parents are much less likely to lay down the law; parents and young adult children are more likely to have relatively egalitarian relationships in the recent period than in the late 20th C.

How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has affected multi-generational living?

Re Covid-19, the major impact is likely to increase coresidence because of job difficulties, but for those teleworking, it can get pretty lonely!

Renting self storage is often regarded as a way to deal with living space challenges. Would you agree that this is a good solution when consolidating households?

Extra stuff is clearly a problem for any downsizing move! Especially if there is uncertainty about next steps!

Ashley Ermer, professor of Family Science and Human Development at Montclair State University

Ashley Ermer, Professor of Family Science and Human Development at Montclair State UniversityThe percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds living with parents has risen from around 7% in the 1960s to 16% today — what factors do you think have caused this?

Adults are marrying later. It used to be the case where young adults would marry in their early 20s, which also meant they were leaving their parents’ home in many cases. The average first age of marriage in the US is approaching 28 for women and 30 for men. The economy is another reason. Those in their late 20s/early 30s were entering the workforce in large numbers around or slightly after the Great Recession.

Read more....
How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has affected multi-generational living?

Since many jobs have moved remotely, it may be more enticing for young adults to move in with their parents to save money. It may also be the case that some individuals have moved in with family members so that they can have regular social interactions safely and are not on their own all day. Additionally, with more people in a household, discussions about how to navigate COVID-19 may become more important. For example, family members may need to set rules and expectations about socializing and interacting with those outside of the household. These conversations may be difficult, but are necessary so that everyone is on the same page.

Clinton Gudmunson, professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University

Clinton Gudmunson, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State UniversityThe percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds living with parents has risen from around 7% in the 1960s to 16% today — what factors do you think have caused this?

The parents have fewer children and larger homes and the relationships between these two generations are better. Also the children are facing more costly housing to get out on their own and marrying later so it is easier all around to just stay in the parents’ home.

Read more....
The percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds living with parents is very different for men and women — currently 19% and 12% respectively — what do you think the reasons for this might be?

Women expect men to be better financial providers than they are themselves. Feminism is a widespread ideal now and society is reaching out better to women.

Multi-generational living is often associated together with high ratios of rent-to-earnings — do you see it as a good solution to balance a family’s budget?

Yes, the homes do not shrink in size when the children move out, so why not use them as resources to help these young adults?

Brad Wilcox, professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia

Brad Wilcox, Professor of Sociology at the University of VirginiaThe percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds living with parents has risen from around 7% in the 1960s to 16% today — what factors do you think have caused this?

Young adults are putting off marriage in greater numbers and instead turning to parents to offer help, save money, and experience family life.

Read more....
The percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds living with parents is very different for men and women — currently 19% and 12% respectively — what do you think the reasons for this might be?

Young men often take longer to mature and launch into adulthood, which helps explain why they are more likely to live with their parents.

Sarah Kuborn, professor of Family Studies at Southeast Missouri State University

Sarah Kuborn, Professor of Family Studies at Southeast Missouri State UniversityThe percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds living with parents has risen from around 7% in the 1960s to 16% today — what factors do you think have caused this?

More and more adult children are living with their parents. Some factors influencing this include delayed marriage, few job prospects at a livable wage, expensive housing, and high student debt.

Read more....
How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has affected multi-generational living?

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected multi-generational living. Job loss has had a great affect on individual’s and family’s lives. Housing is expensive, especially when renting. It makes sense for adult children to move home to reduce their own expenses, but also to help out their family if they are struggling with financial hardship. In addition, the pandemic has closed down schools and child care centers, leaving many parents working from home while also having their children at home. Multi-generational living provides the family with resources to assist in relieving family stress, including childcare, social support, and financial assistance.

Methodology

This analysis was done by STORAGECafé, an online platform that provides storage unit listings across the nation.

  • Data about the incidence of multi-generational living was taken from the US Census; national figures are from 2020 while local figures are from 2019.
  • Unemployment rates are for 20-34 year-olds only, obtained from US Census data.
  • The average marrying ages are for first marriages and were obtained from US Census data.
  • The housing affordability index was computed using US Census data for the household and qualifying income and Federal Housing Finance Agency data for the mortgage rate.
  • The cost of living index was obtained from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
  • The rent to earnings ratio was computed using US Census data.
  • Data about self storage was obtained from Yardi Matrix. Yardi Matrix is STORAGECafé’s sister division and a business development and asset management tool for brokers, sponsors, banks and equity sources underwriting investments in the multifamily, office, industrial and self-storage sectors.

Fair Use and Distribution:

This study serves as a resource for the general public on issues of common interest and should not be regarded as investment advice. The data is true to the best of our knowledge but may change if amendments to it are made. We agree to the distribution of this content but we do require a mention in return for attribution purposes.

Author

Francis Chantree is a former programmer and researcher who has exchanged computer language for his greatest passion, human language! When not writing and proofreading text, he spends his time gardening, reading and singing.

Write A Comment