Tag Archives: multigenerational

Marketplace multigenerational

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.


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Extended households, extended version

Following up on previous news that the recession was bringing people closer together – physically, at least – and a little literature review.

There is little doubt now that household structure has changed in response to the financial crisis and recession, partly because of its overall severity and partly because of its concentration in housing and real estate. There is general evidence of doubling up, as well as a specific trend toward children living with their grandparents.

The Washington Post has a story with some new numbers from the 2010 Census on extended families in the DC area, and a photo essay on one guy living with his parents.

The story quotes sociologist Frances Goldscheider, whose work on extended households goes way back:

“We haven’t seen anything like this since the Depression,” said Frances Goldscheider, a Brown University sociologist who has studied families and living arrangements. “Overwhelmingly, it’s the recession’s effect on people’s ability to maintain a house. You have the foreclosures on one hand, and no jobs on the other. That’s a pretty double whammy.”

Goldscheider has been studying young adults leaving home and returning home for many years. It’s a great subject for studying families and social change, as it involves the interaction of economic and normative processes. Some of her relevant older articles are:

  • “Pathways to Independent Living in Early Adulthood: Marriage, Semiautonomy, and Premarital Residential Independence” (Demography, 1989)
  • “Coming Home Again: Returns to the Parental Home of Young Adults” (Population Studies, 1990).

She also has used patterns in living arrangements to study family relationships, especially involving gender and care work. See, for example:

  • “Less Help for Mother: The Decline in Coresidential Female Support for the Mothers of Young Children, 1880-2000” (Demography, 2006).

That study of living arrangements was a model for some of my own research, including this:


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Who’s who in the blended family, circa 1886

The fascination with family intricacy and naming relationships, as seen in The Brooklyn Magazine (v. 3, no. 5, Feb. 1886, p. 196).

A Marriage Mix.—I got acquainted with a young widow, observes a recent writer, who lived with her stepdaughter in the same house. I married the widow. Shortly afterward, my father fell in love with the stepdaughter of my wife and married her. My wife became the mother-in-law and also the daughter-in-law of my own father; my wife’s stepdaughter is my stepmother, who is the stepdaughter of my wife. My father’s wife has a boy: he is naturally my stepbrother because he is the son of my father and of my stepmother; but because he is the son of my wife’s stepdaughter, so is my wife the grandmother of the little boy, and I am the grandfather of my stepbrother. My wife also has a boy, my stepmother is consequently the stepsister of my boy, and is also his grandmother, because he is the child of her stepson; and my father is the brother-in-law of my son, because he has got his stepsister for a wife. I am the brother-in-law of my mother, my wife is the aunt of her own son, my son is the grandson of my father, and I am my own grandfather.

Note that this whole blended-family story, with many step-relatives, is made possible by widowhood — but no divorces.


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Living with grandparents update (yikes edition)

The grandparent spike spikes on.

Last fall I learned that the number of children who live with at least one grandparent had spiked upward over the last half decade or so. The one-year update of that trend was dramatic enough to justify a yikes-edition update, even though grandparents’ day is still five months off.

Again, the non-poor and near-poor lead the upward trend, while the highest rates are among near-poor. Although there were upward movements in the years before 2008, for the present I think we should file this under recession studies.

(For more on grandparents providing care for children, see this Pew report from last fall.)

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State v. family care for elders in China

As China’s population ages, its social safety net appears increasingly inadequate.

The New York Times reports: “Under a proposal submitted last Monday by the Civil Affairs Ministry to China’s State Council, adult children would be required by law to regularly visit their elderly parents. If they do not, parents can sue them.”

Enforcing a return to filial piety is unlikely to fill the gap in care for China’s growing older population. With no national social security system, the pressure on families to care for their own elders is brutal, resulting in families splitting apart, and suicides among care givers and receivers alike.

My photo from Beijing, 2002


Although China’s suicide rate has fallen in recent decades, researcher Jun Jing believes, it is higher among old people than young people, an unusual pattern which he attributes to “social factors such as aging, lack of medical security and conflicts caused by large-scale demolitions,” especially the destruction of historic neighborhoods in China’s big cities — which causes family conflicts and crises of elder care.

In rural areas, higher suicide rates for women than for men also set China apart from most countries — although researchers believe the displacement of rural populations for factory jobs in the cities has actually eased the stress on many rural families (and reduced the access of many poor women to pesticides, the most common method of suicide).

A few years ago Jun Jing (a sociologist at Tsinghua University) published a fascinating, in-depth account of one family’s tragic history, including the suicide of its grandmother. They were a poor, multigenerational, multihousehold family – given the pseudonym Hao – that was displaced by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in 1996. The grandparents were reluctant to move up to the mountains with the younger households. Jun Jing tells the story better than I can:

The elderly couple had no money to repair their house, and even less to build a new one on another location, so the younger generations of the Hao family decided to draw lots for which household should look after them and set aside a place for them to live. The lot fell to the third daughter-in-law, who although unwilling to be drawn, had to join in as representative of the third household (the third son had died some time before). So the two elderly people moved into the third house and were looked after by their third daughter-in-law with support from the other households. … Soon, Lü Quanxiu started saying that her daughterin-law’s place was not as comfortable as her old home and that she was not used to living high up on the mountain slopes, so endlessly urged her sons to repair her own house by the river because she said she wanted to return. The younger generations of the Hao family discussed the matter and decided that the expenses for the repair of their house should be shouldered by the third household, since the government’s compensation money given to the elderly couple had already been used up by the third daughter-in-law’s boy. …

Once again, the Hao family got together and decided that each house would look after the old couple in turn, and the household where they die would take responsibility for the burial. The places in the mountains where houses could be built were extremely scattered and far apart, so when the six households of the Hao family moved uphill they found that they could not live in the same place. They were allocated places by the authorities, and the two closest houses were several tens of metres apart. Every five days, the elderly couple would have to travel along a stone path in the new village to move between the households supporting them. Each stone step was about 40 centimetres high, so climbing up them was a physical torment for the elderly couple. Lü Quanxiu became extremely unhappy, and felt that to live in this way she might as well be a beggar, so she decided to go to her daughter’s house to live. After she had been living there for some time, people in the village started gossiping that, in fact, the households of the younger generations of the Hao family had been unable to make proper arrangements to look after the elderly couple. As soon as they heard this, the Hao family sent people to bring the old lady back on a bamboo pole, but they kept to the rotating method of supporting her and her husband. The elderly couple still had no real place of their own to live.

The old woman eventually committed suicide by jumping off a precipice, and her husband died of a brain hemorrhage four days after her funeral. A little while later, a grandson died after a truck accident left him seriously injured — and the family could not afford the $500 deposit required by the hospital to perform surgery. A granddaughter, born “outside the government’s family planning limit,” was sent to a remote mountain village to live out of sight of local inspectors; she died of hepatitis before she could be brought to the nearest doctor.

How did the villagers interpret her suicide?

Some people said that she was unwilling to continue being a burden to her children. Some said that when she realized that the issue of her care was creating conflict between the different generations, and particularly between the brothers’ wives, she completely lost heart and all interest in living. Others said that once the issue of the Hao family’s care of the two elderly people became a topic of public opinion in the village, the old lady felt that she had lost face and was unwilling to go on being the target of ridicule in the villagers’ criticisms of the Hao family.

China may be an economic powerhouse that has the whole world worried, but with its family house this out of order, the only certainty in its future is continued suffering and the risk of growing social instability. Efforts by the state to pressure families into caring for their elders merely illustrate the shallowness of its economic miracle.


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Care vacuums

Which came first, the closed nursing home or the doubled-up household?

The recession-driven spikes in multigenerational households and cohabiting couples are making families feel the love a little more proximately. These are spikes in longer-term trends; another one is the race and class disparity in reliance on nursing home care.

And in the last 10 years the people who use nursing homes more have disproportionately experienced the closure of local facilities, according to a new analysis in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The authors analyzed the closure of almost 3,000 nursing facilities – a little more than half of them free-standing nursing homes – between 1999 and 2008, for a loss of about 5% of all nursing care beds.

They conclude:

The relative risk of closure was significantly higher in zip code areas with a higher proportion of blacks or Hispanics or a higher poverty rate. … Closures tended to be spatially clustered in minority-concentrated zip codes around the urban core, often in pockets of concentrated poverty.

The findings are nicely illustrated in this figure from Chicago, showing closures (red triangles), remaining facilities (black dots), and racial composition (darker blue = higher minority composition):

In practical terms, this means poor people, Blacks and Latinos in urban areas are more likely to live further from the nearest nursing care facility:

…in zip codes in which at least 1 nursing home closed from 1999 through 2008, the nearest distance to an operating facility increased from 2.73 miles in 1999 to 3.81 miles in 2008… In contrast, this distance was shortened slightly in zip codes without any nursing home closure… Similarly, in the poorest quartile of zip codes (ranked by poverty rate), this nearest distance increased by 10.4%, from 3.45 to 3.81 miles.

Most people doubling up or moving in together because of economic constraints probably aren’t responding to a lack of nursing home care. But both trends are indicative of the intermingling (geographic, economic and otherwise) of care needs, housing needs, economic insecurity and family relationships.

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Multigenerational families, recession studies

The hows and whys of multigenerational living during the recession.

A new article in the NY Times describes the experience of multigenerational families living together during financial hard times. This pattern and its implications should be an important part of recession studies in the coming years.

Extended families may live together for what you could call positive or negative reasons. Positive reasons are the things people love about their families, such as togetherness, grandparent-grandchild closeness, caring for elders — the premodern family checklist, or, less pejoratively, the traditional family. The negative reasons are financial desperation from unemployment, lack of child care or healthcare, or the rent being too damn high.

We can’t know how many of the multigenerational households live together for each of these sets of reasons, and both may be represented in any family. But when the numbers trend upward during hard economic times, we suspect the change is more about negative than positive choices. And that is what the Census Bureau has reported:

The same pattern has been apparent among cohabiting couples, who seem to have moved in together with greater frequency during the recession. And there are positives and negatives there, too.

The increase is not brand new for this recession. Last spring the Pew Research Center reported on the “return of the multigenerational family household,” with evidence of an increase dating back to the 1980s, with spike upward in the last few years.

Before waxing too romantically about family togetherness, there are a number of problems to consider.

As I noted last spring, one issue we need to keep an eye on is the gender effect of changes in living arrangements. That’s  because carework arrangements and obligations follow from decisions about where and with whom people will live — decisions that are made outside the view of most demographic analysis, which relies on descriptions of where people already live (including my work on multigenerational families and children’s living arrangements).

Another problem is that, although it’s great that families take care of each other during hard times, the family-concentrated nature of poverty and insecurity are such that people who need help usually turn to people who can just barely help. In an attempt to ferret out different kinds of multigenerational arrangements, I diagrammed some individual households in the Current Population Survey that help make this point. Here’s one (with invented names):

In this case it appears that Bob and Mary, whose home it is, are playing host to both their daughter’s family – who hopefully are pitching in with expenses – as well as Mary’s elderly mother. With four employed adults and only one child, the extended family may not be desperate – and living together might be a smart move. But there isn’t a lot of room in the budget — or, probably, the house – to spare.


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