[This is a guest post by Amy Blitchok - a professional writer interested in researching and disseminating information about aging in place and mobility technology. She currently writes for U.S. Medical Supplies.]
A convergence of current events and larger cultural changes has created a significant shift in Americans’ attitude towards multigenerational homes. While just a century ago, the majority of Americans shared a home with multiple generations of their family, this trend began to change in the 1940s. After WWII, an influx of veterans began to build their own families and take advantage of educational and business opportunities brought about by post war legislation like the G.I. Bill. America’s “Greatest Generation” adopted an ambitious and independent mindset that sent them across the country to seek their fortunes and resulted in far-flung extended families.
This new independent attitude was reflected in the types of homes that were being built. The 1940s saw a rise in construction of single family homes that became the standard for builders for decades to come. The single family home became so ingrained in American culture that even today most city zoning laws do not allow homeowners to add accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that are more commonly known as “granny flats.” However, the pendulum is swinging back towards multi-generational homes and a living arrangement that had come to be stigmatized is once again an acceptable cultural norm.[i]
Who is Moving Back Home and Why?
The return to multigenerational living is due, in part, to financial necessity. The Great Recession has made it especially difficult for young Americans to get on their feet. College graduates are taking on student loan debt only to be met by a struggling job market. As a result, twentysomethings are returning home directly after college, earning themselves the title of the “boomerang generation.”[ii] In fact, so many adult children are returning home after venturing out on their own that by some estimates, 85% of college graduates are now back in their old bedrooms.[iii]
The Great Recession has not been discriminatory in those it has affected though, and even older adults are finding themselves moving in with their elderly parents. As of March 2013, the national unemployment rate was at 7.6% or 11.7 million people. About 39.6% of the unemployed have been without a job for a year or more.[iv] These longer periods of unemployment have been further exacerbated by the housing crisis, which left many families with high mortgage payments on houses that are “underwater.” As a result, many families were forced to take more drastic measures to survive. A lot of times that meant foreclosing on their homes and moving back in with mom and dad.
Another contributing factor to the surge in multigenerational homes is an increase in life expectancy and quality of life among older Americans. Longer lives and better health have changed where and how people choose to age. More adults over the age of 65 are moving in with their children instead of paying to live in assisted living facilities than ever before. Mobility technology and devices are making it easy to increase accessibility in existing homes and allowing seniors the option of “aging in place.” Stair lifts, mobility scooters, walk-in tubs and other products that don’t require major home renovations, allow seniors to navigate homes with little assistance or supervision and prevent injury and help meet the needs of all generations under the same roof.[v]
When you combine the boomerang generation with the “aging in place” baby boomer generation you get the modern family living in a multigenerational house. This arrangement goes beyond the old stereotype of the grown, overly-dependent adult living in mom’s basement. Multigenerational homes are no longer stigmatized and represent a cohesive family unit where everyone contributes. Today, approximately 51 million Americans live in a multigenerational home and that number is increasing among all ethnic demographics.[vi]
Benefits of Multigenerational Homes
In addition to easing financial burdens, there are many other advantages to living in a multigenerational home. First and foremost, everyone benefits from a familial support system. Having your family around can help with practical issues like childcare and chores, but it also helps fight loneliness, isolation, and depression.[vii] This is true among all age groups, but can be especially important for seniors; around 15% of seniors over the age of 65 suffer from depression, which is twice the national average for those over 18.[viii] A multigenerational home can provide both the practical and emotional support that allows all generations to thrive.
Market Response to Multigenerational Trend
While there are already many mobility devices on the market that can help convert existing homes so that they meet the needs of mixture of age groups and their various needs, developers, homebuilders, and other entrepreneurs are taking a more proactive approach and designing new homes that are specially built to house multiple generations. As mentioned before, this doesn’t mark a revolutionary new way of thinking, but simply a return to a former way of life : “In fact, architectural historians, statisticians and builders themselves are pointing out that the new household — and the house that can hold it — is much like the old household, the one that was cast aside after World War II by the building boom that focused on small, tidy dwellings for mom, dad and their two children.”[ix] The difference today is that new designs are more aesthetically pleasing and luxurious than ever before.
Lennar is one major player who has been leading the pack when it comes to multigenerational home design. They are marketing their designs with the slogan “Next-Gen The Home Within a Home.” One available option is a 400-square-foot bonus room that can accommodate the temporary or permanent houseguest. Homebuyers can also choose among more spacious options that feature full, two bedroom apartments within their home. Lennar’s floor plans are meant to allow family member to cohabitate while also enjoying a certain amount of privacy and independence.[x]
Another prominent national builder, the Pulte Group, now offers blueprints that feature “flex rooms” and over-the-garage apartments they have dubbed the “Grand Retreat,” which certainly sounds like a step above the “granny flat.” According to Pulte, approximately 30% of their customers are now requesting features that are meant to accommodate multigenerational living.[xi]
While both Lennar and Pulte specialize in luxury homes that include amenities far beyond most people’s means, there are also smart, simple, and affordable design elements that can create a home that is friendly to people of all generations. Side swing ovens can be installed to allow for safe and easy access and recessed cabinets provide room for a chair so that residents can sit while they work in the kitchen. Incorporating wide doorway openings and building one-story homes with threshold free, level flooring can allow for wheelchair accessibility and prevent falls. Pocket doors and movable walls are two other popular options that can allow rooms to be easily separated or opened up to connected living areas. Even something simple like a paved patio can add accessibility and create a space that can be shared by all generations, regardless of mobility impairments.
A variety of indicators point to the fact that multigenerational living is a more than just a temporary response to economic hardships. Approximately 78% of adults who have moved in with a family member report that they are happy with the arrangement.[xii] Homebuilders have responded by designing multigenerational houses and zoning laws across the country are beginning to be revised in order to accommodate the changing nature of housing. As the future of the American household continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how marketers, builders, inventors, designers and other entrepreneurs create products and innovations that adapt to and encourage this trend.
[i] Goyer, Amy. “Multigenerational Living is Rising, and May be to Everyone’s Benefit.” AgingToday, Oct 2011. Web. 19 April 2013.
[ii] Shell, Elizabeth. “Pew Study: Young Adults OK with Moving Back Home.” PBS.org, 15 March 2012. Web. 19 April 2013.
[iii] Dickler, Jessica. “Boomerang Kids: 85% of College Grads Move Home.” CNNMoney, 15 May 2012. Web. 19 April 2013.
[iv] “The Employment Situation.” Bureau of Labor Statistics U.S. Department of Labor, 5 April 2013. Web. 19 April 2013.
[v] Tenenbaum, Louis. “The MetLife Report on Aging in Place 2.0: Rethinking Solutions to the Home Care Challenge.” MetLife, September 2010. Web. 22 April 2013.
[vi] Akitunde, Anthonia. “Multigenerational Homes Benefit from Accessible Design the Entire Family Can Enjoy.” The Huffington Post, 9 April 2013. Web. 19 April 2013.
[vii] Marcotte, Amanda. “Living at Home Not So Stigmatized.” Slate.com, 22 March 2010. Web. 19 April 2013.
[viii] “Depression in Older Persons Fact Sheet.” National Alliance on Mental Illness, October 2009. Web. 28 March 2013
[ix] Green, Penelope. “Under One Roof, Building for Extended Families.” New York Times, 29 November 2012. Web. 19 April 2013.
[x] Green, Penelope.
[xi] Green, Penelope.
[xii] Parker, Kim. “The Boomerang Generation: Feeling Okay about Living with Mom and Dad.” Pew Research Center, December 2012. Web. 23 April 2013.