In 2016, is it still socially embarrassing to be (or have) an adult child living with parents? Or roommates? Some new information released this week by Pew Research Center indicates that multigenerational households are more prevalent than we thought — “A record 60.6 million Americans live in multigenerational households,” reads the headline.

  • Pew analysis of Census data shows young adults moving back in with parents and other housing trends.
  • The trend is more prevalent in non-white households and among women than men.

In 2016, is it still socially embarrassing to be (or have) an adult child living with parents? Or roommates?

Some new information released this week by Pew Research Center indicates that multigenerational households are more prevalent than we thought — “A record 60.6 million Americans live in multigenerational households,” reads the headline.

The research center analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2014 to reach this number; it’s higher than what the Census Bureau itself has generated because, as Pew put it, “The Census Bureau uses a narrower definition of multigenerational households than we do.”

Pew classified a multigenerational household as two (or more) adult generations living together. Children are considered adults at age 25 or older, said Pew, so college students living at home typically do not count toward the “multigenerational household” numbers.

Nearly one-in-five Americans lives in a multigenerational household

According to the Census Bureau, a multigenerational household contains three generations (though one of those generations can include minor children).

How are households changing?

Pew said that the multigenerational housing trend declined to a low of a 12 percent population share in 1980 (these households comprised 21 percent of the population in 1950).

“Since then, multigenerational living has rebounded, increasing sharply during and immediately after the Great Recession of 2007-09,” stated Pew.

The population share of households with more than one generation of adults increased to 17 percent in 2009, 18 percent in 2012, and it now stands at 19 percent.

The trend is prevalent across “nearly all” racial groups, said Pew, though more pronounced in Asian, black and Hispanic households than in white households. “Among U.S. Asians, 28 percent lived in multigenerational family households in 2014, according to census data,” said Pew. “Among Hispanics and blacks, the share in 2014 was 25 percent for each group. Among U.S. whites, 15 percent lived with multiple generations of family members.”

Whites less likely than other racial, ethnic groups to live in multigenerational households

Women are slightly more likely than men to live in this type of household — 20 percent versus 18 percent. Adult children with college degrees are less likely to move back home, said Pew.

“The most common type of multigenerational household — home to 29.7 million Americans in 2014 — consists of two adult generations, such as parents and their adult children,” said Pew.

“Three-generation households — for example, grandparents, parents and grandchildren — housed 26.9 million people in 2014. Fewer than a million people lived in households with more than three generations in 2014. Another 3.2 million Americans lived in households consisting of grandparents and grandchildren.”

Population rising in different types of multigenerational households

How are households changing housing?

In June, LawnStarter released an infographic and analysis that seemed to show that Americans increasingly want more bedrooms and bathrooms in their homes — this is likely due at least in part to increases in multigenerational households.

An American Institute of Architects survey seems to show the same trend: Homes are getting bigger.

And last fall’s Pacific Union Housing Outlook event outlined even more changes to households: double master suites in properties, for example, and small yards for households without children but containing pets.

Although some might point to the economy as the reason why more adult children are living with parents or grandparents, Pew’s article notes that these numbers were collected after the Great Recession ended — so in theory, anyway, these living arrangements are more about choice than necessity.

Good reasons to return to the nest

Between myself, my husband and all of our siblings, my husband is the only one who has not returned home to live with his parents at some point since leaving home when he turned 18.

Are we all (mostly) dysfunctional, or has society simply not quite caught up to how things are changing?

I’m not sure, but I think we had some pretty good reasons to return to the nest, including:

  • Working on unpaid internships
  • Transitioning from the military
  • Transitioning to a new career or going back to school — all involving a move to a new city, if not a new state
  • Dealing with mental health issues
  • Recovering from the death of a spouse

Both my brothers currently live with my mother and are helping her fix up the house where they live to sell it. They are both college graduates with jobs.

Building a different kind of nest

I considered moving my family (child and all) back in with my mother in 2015 — instead, I moved in with a friend who had a big house, plenty of extra space and didn’t want to tie me into a lease.

We lived with her for 10 months while we saved for a down payment to buy our own place, which we were able to do in February, and there’s now another family living in the space we vacated.

Those households aren’t multigenerational, but they involve more than one “nuclear” family living under the same roof, sharing kitchen and outdoor space and splitting up the utility bills together.

It still sounds to me like a situation you’d encounter in college — even though I lived it! — but we are all in our 30s, educated, with jobs and families and kids and pets.

Where will households go from here?

I disagree with Pew’s premise that the economy has no impact on these household formations. I think that even though we are said to be in “recovery,” and even though this research data is two years old, we will continue to see an increase in multigenerational and other types of non-nuclear-family arrangements.

The fact that adults with college degrees are less likely to take this step supports my theory: Presumably, they are employed in higher-paying positions and can therefore afford to live independently.

There is one underlying reason why myself (and my siblings and my husband’s siblings) have spent time back in the nest since fledging — given what was happening in our lives at the time, we couldn’t afford to do otherwise.

Think about how the world has changed since 1950. Health care and higher education are both phenomenally more expensive; wages have not kept a similar pace with cost of living; many jobs that used to pay well are now obsolete.

We didn’t decide to move in with roommates (or consider rejoining my mother and brothers in their house) because we thought it would be an ideal or even enjoyable living situation. We did it because rent is outrageous in Denver, and we decided to sacrifice a few months of privacy and comfort for the opportunity to buy a house.

So what can we do as a society to fix this, if anything?

Building more tiny homes and micro-units, considering different types of home layouts that accommodate multiple generations’ needs and other measures to work around these issues are all worth trying — but until we figure out ways to tackle the underlying and all-too-prevalent affordability issue, they might be mere stopgaps.

Email Amber Taufen

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