There are a handful of posts on here about multigenerational family arrangements, especially inspired by family responses to the recession. Maybe that inspired the public radio program Marketplace to call me for a quick conversation about the recent increase in families spanning more than two generations. You can listen here, or read the transcript below (with the “um”s removed).
Here’s one visualization of the trend:
STEVE CHIOTAKIS: We’re gonna get a glimpse at how home prices in big cities across the country are doing with the Case-Schiller Index that comes out in just a couple of minutes. For some American families home dwelling is taking a trip back to the future. New census data shows in this tough economy — and an even tougher housing market — the number of multi-generational households has surged. Those are homes where children, parents and grandparents — three generations or more — all live under one roof.
Let’s talk a bit about this new trend. Philip Cohen is professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. He’s with us now from Chapel Hill. Good morning professor.
PHILIP COHEN: Good morning.
CHIOTAKIS: Why are more people of different generations living together, and how does this effect them all?
COHEN: Well, the first thing that happens is that people turn to those they expect to care for them, or people that have some moral obligation. And whether its young people looking up a generation or old people looking down a generation, the family is the first place that people have to turn.
CHIOTAKIS: Is this because of economic conditions? Is that particularly the reason why?
COHEN: We’ve seen for a long time that people tend to live in multi-generational households when they don’t have as much choice as they’d like. So it seems like Americans, when they can afford to, don’t do this. So when we see a strong uptick in multi-generational living, we have to expect that it’s economic. Although frankly, the numbers have been trending up since the middle of the decade.
CHIOTAKIS: How does this bode for the rest of the economy, though? Does this mean more sharing of groceries, and other toiletry items, less shopping, less spending?
COHEN: Well I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but it may be more efficient for families. They certainly — it may reduce the total number of households and increase economies of scale within families. I have seen at least one report that builders are getting more requests for so-called “in-law suites” in some areas. So if you who are taking it seriously, and you have some money to spend, then it certainly is another opportunity to spend some money.
CHIOTAKIS: Very quickly, sir, is this temporary, or are these permanent living situations?
COHEN: Well the long term decline in multi-generational living made us think that it would never turn around. The steep increase in the last few years has us wondering. I don’t know.