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multigenerational living

The Pros and Cons of Multigenerational Living

Here's what you need to know about sharing a home with parents or other older family members.

[Updated: Feb 04, 2021 ] Jun 14, 2020 by Maurie Backman
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Some families need physical distance between them to get along. Others manage to coexist peacefully under the same roof, even across multiple generations. In fact, multigenerational living has grown more popular in recent years, and here, we'll discuss the pros, cons, and considerations for it.

What is multigenerational living?

The U.S Census Bureau defines the multigenerational home as a living arrangement with more than two adult generations living under the same roof. For example, if you and your spouse decide to live in the same home as your parents, that's multigenerational living. Some multigenerational living arrangements involve extended family as well.

Trends in multigenerational living

The concept of a multigenerational house isn't new. Back in the 1950s, an estimated 21% of households had adult children living with their parents, according to the Pew Research Center.

Those numbers dropped steadily through the years as more young adults sought independence from their elders, choosing to raise a single-family unit under one roof instead.

But then the Great Recession hit in 2007, lasting all the way until 2009, and in the middle of it, the housing bubble burst.

Suddenly, a large percentage of Americans lost their jobs, saw their investment portfolios tank, and quickly fell behind on their mortgages. And while the economy has clearly seen its share of recovery since then, it became more difficult to buy homes after the Great Recession due to stricter lending requirements.

It's not a coincidence, then, that the housing market saw an uptick in multigenerational families living under the same roof in 2009, with 17% of the U.S. population falling into that category. And by 2016, an estimated 64 million households, or 20% of Americans, were multigenerational.


Click to enlarge

Data source: Pew Research Center

Benefits of multigenerational living

Multigenerational living has its advantages. First, a family that chooses to live as a single household under the same roof can divide up the expenses associated with owning or renting a single home rather than have each generation bear that expense independently.

Imagine you live in an area where affordable housing is difficult to come by. If you were to split the cost of a single home with your parents rather than have each of you own or rent your own homes, you all stand to save. This is an especially helpful thing for millennials, many of whom are too saddled with student debt to afford a down payment on a home anytime soon.

Maintaining a home is also easier if you have more people with whom to split that responsibility. Granted, if you have an elderly parent, they may not be in physical shape to shovel snow or engage in heavy-duty repairs, but they may be able to assist with other forms of upkeep that you'd normally have to manage on your own.

Furthermore, if you have children, living with older family members could mean having built-in babysitters for your kids. With childcare costs skyrocketing these days, the savings involved could be huge. And while some older adults don't have the energy to keep up with children, younger, recently retired baby boomers may want nothing more than to look after your kids as they transition into that new stage of life.

Finally, if you have aging parents, multigenerational living could be a far more affordable, desirable solution than paying for an assisted living facility, nursing home, or senior living facility. That way, your elderly parents can continue to age with dignity, and you and/or your older children may be able to provide them with a higher quality of care than they'd receive in an outside facility.

Drawbacks of multigenerational living

While living together as an extended family unit has its advantages, there are some downsides to consider, too. For one thing, multigenerational households don't enjoy the same level of privacy as adults who live independently. Imagine you're an adult in your 30s with children, and you decide to buy a home with your parents. While it may be nice to have your larger family together at all times, you may also find that you're desperate for personal space.

Multigenerational living can also lead to some legal complications. Imagine you buy a home with family, but then one of you wants to sell or move elsewhere. What happens then?

Finally, living with older family members could mean having to adjust your lifestyle in a less-than-pleasant way. Imagine you share a roof with your aging parents, who go to bed at 8:30 p.m. on a good night. What happens if you're an adult in your 40s who stays up later and likes to watch sports or television till 10:30 p.m.? Will you effectively be forced to lock yourself in your bedroom for fear of waking your elderly parents? And what if you have young kids who get up early and make noise? How will that impact older family members who live with you? These are all challenges you'll need to account for if you're considering becoming a multigenerational household.

What type of home lends to multigenerational living?

If you're interested in multigenerational living, you'll need the right setup for it. A multifamily home may be your best bet in this regard, because that way, you can share a roof while maintaining some separation and privacy. If that's not in the cards, a single-family home with a separate living area could also work.

For example, if you buy or rent a home with a finished basement, you could have your parents take over that space while you and your children reside on the main level. While it's possible for multiple generations to squeeze into smaller quarters and share the same bathrooms, kitchen, and general living space, that sort of setup is more likely to lead to conflict in the long run.

Is multigenerational living right for you?

Clearly, multigenerational living has its perks, but it's not the right setup for everyone. If it's something you're considering for your family, talk through it with each member involved and get everyone on the same page with regard to budget, lifestyle, privacy, and other issues that are apt to arise in the course of sharing a home. Having multiple generations under a single roof can be rewarding on many levels, but make sure it's right for your family before moving forward.

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