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Why more Americans are choosing to live in multigenerational housing

Nicole Boynes, 46, has dinner with her daughters, Sierra, 13, and Gabrielle, 10, and her mother-in-law, Germaine Boynes, 77, at their house in Silver Spring, MD on March 7, 2022. (Shuran Huang for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Nicole Boynes, 46, has dinner with her daughters, Sierra, 13, and Gabrielle, 10, and her mother-in-law, Germaine Boynes, 77, at their house in Silver Spring, MD on March 7, 2022. (Shuran Huang for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

One in five Americans now live with their parents, grandparents, or adult children — all under one roof.

It’s a remarkable change from a few generations ago.

What’s driving the change, economically, and socially?

Today, On Point: Why more Americans live in multi-generational housing. We’ll hear your stories about the challenges and benefits of life under one roof.

Guests

Ammylou Daludado, third grade teacher. Lives with her children and her in-laws in a multigenerational household.

Michelle Singletarypersonal finance columnist for the Washington Post. Author of “The 21 Day Financial Fast.” Her column “The Color of Money” is syndicated in newspapers across the country. (@SingletaryM)

Hope Harvey, assistant professor of public policy at the University of Kentucky.

Also Featured

Matthias Daludado, 16-year-old who lives in a multigenerational household in New Jersey.

Anastasia Daludado, 13-year-old who lives in a multigenerational household in New Jersey.

Nikki Carpenter, who grew up in a multigenerational home on Chicago’s South Side.

Lina Guzman, head of the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families.

Pooja Makhijani, lives in a multigenerational household with her 11-year-old daughter and her parents.

Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: On most Saturday nights, Pooja Makhijani and her family enjoy a tradition. They all gather around the TV to watch a Bollywood movie together.

POOJA MAKHIJANI: Bollywood movies tend to be long. They tend to be like 2 to 3 hours long. So it’s like a whole night’s production. There’s like lots of popcorn and candy and it’s fun.

CHAKRABARTI: Pooja is 45. She’s a writer, and she and her 11-year-old daughter live with Pooja’s parents in their house in central New Jersey. They moved in in 2016 after Pooja separated from her then husband.

MAKHIJANI: It was a situation that was really familiar to me. My family is Indian American and multi-generational living arrangements are commonplace culturally. I grew up in a multigenerational home with my paternal grandparents, so it was a situation that felt familiar and that I felt I can navigate, especially at a time that I was feeling really vulnerable.

CHAKRABARTI: Pooja says living under the same roof as her parents has practical benefits. They divide the housework and the childcare. She’s noticed some cultural benefits, too, especially for her daughter.

MAKHIJANI: We speak Sindhi, which is a South Asian language, and I code switch when I speak to my parents, so I speak partially in English and … we go back and forth and my daughter has picked up Sindhi, which is like a lesser-known South Asian language, just because it’s in her world and she has an affinity for South Asian food. You know, I don’t think she could live without my mom’s Biryani now.

CHAKRABARTI: But there are challenges too, and they are challenges familiar in families: such as negotiating boundaries.

MAKHIJANI: I think that sometimes they forget that I’m 45 years old and they kind of revert to old parental roles and sometimes that happens, and I have to call that out. I’m also giving up sort of a little bit of my privacy and a little bit of space, too. And then as an adult, as an American adult, I think that’s also been despite my cultural upbringing, being, you know, having been raised in this country, I think that I, you know, struggle with that a little bit.

CHAKRABARTI: This is On Point. I’m Meghna Chakrabarti. Pooja is one of a growing number of Americans who are living in homes with multiple generations under one roof. That number is now almost 60 million Americans, almost one in five people in this country, according to an analysis of census data by Pew Research. And that’s more than double the percentage of what it was in the early 1970s. Pew also found that nearly one third of all Americans aged 25 to 29 live in multigenerational households, now a third of them. And the percentage is higher for young men than young women.

Almost 40% of young men compared to 26% of young women. So, the American nuclear family has been undergoing a quiet transformation driven by larger changes in the economy and society. And in a sense, national policy has always been driven by the expectation that family has always been the ultimate safety net in this country. Well, we can now see both the benefits and the costs of that assumption in the lives of 60 million Americans. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, joining us now is Ammylou Daludado, and she is a third grade teacher, joining us from New Jersey. Ammylou, welcome.

CHAKRABARTI: … Tell me a little bit about who is all living under the same roof in your home.

AMMYLOU DALUDADO: Sure. So it’s my husband and I, and we have three children ages 16, 13 and 12. So needless to say, there’s a lot of, you know, teenage hormones going around the house. But in addition to that, we also have my husband’s parents. They’re about in their mid-seventies now. So we’re all just one big family in our house here in New Jersey.

CHAKRABARTI: And has this always been the case? How … did this come about?

DALUDADO: So I think a lot of factors played into how they moved. And first, it just so happened that my father-in-law, mother-in-law, was retiring and it was time for a change just downgrading from a house. You know, they didn’t want to have to take care of landscaping and taking care of just like a huge house and paying the bills of having a house that only both of them are living in.

And it just so happened that our kids also needed childcare. And we had a space and the home that we had bought around the time, I want to say closer to the pandemic or right before that. So I felt like there were benefits for both of us. They were able to live in a home where they weren’t by themselves, and they got to downgrade. And they also, you know, spend time with grandkids. And in essence, for us, we had childcare, which, you know, the best childcare grandparents you could ask for.

CHAKRABARTI: So this the sort of mutual benefit and especially when it comes to the need for different kinds of care, it’s something that comes up over and over again when people talk about why they’re living in multigenerational households. Now, I should say, that you very kindly asked members of your family if they would be willing to be interviewed by you for us.

I understand that your in-laws respectfully declined, which is totally okay. But your son, who’s 16, did answer some questions that you put to him. And so here’s a little bit of what he said about what it’s like living with both his parents and grandparents.

MATHIAS: Well what I like about it is that like, before they lived far away. It was really hard for me to spend time with them and see them and like, visit them. But now since they’re literally just downstairs, I can go down whenever I want, I can play chess with my grandfather whenever I want. I can talk to them whenever I want. I can see them like, anytime.

AMMYLOU: Any favorite things that you like about having a grandma who is a really good cook?

MATHIAS: (LAUGHS) Well, that. Like, it’s just like so much food and it’s all made with love and care and she’s always making food and having us go downstairs. And there’s always something good there. And she’s always invited me down to eat.

AMMYLOU: Maybe you can talk a little bit about how your teammates from wrestling and from football also experience some of that?

MATHIAS: After weigh-ins, you know, in wrestling, you have to cut down to make the weight. My grandma would always prepare grilled cheeses for me initially but then I couldn’t finish them all. So I would give them to my teammates and they loved them. And more and more people just started finding out—more of my teammates started finding out about it. So I’d be handing out like eight grilled cheeses every match day.

CHAKRABARTI: Shout out to grandmas who feed the wrestling team. By throwing shade on your own cooking there, like in comparison.

DALUDADO: (Laughs). You know, that was a moment of reflection for me when I realized that, hey, my son’s not asking me for food.

CHAKRABARTI: He outlines a bunch of the clear benefits there. First of all, the relationship it sounds like that he has with his grandparents, that is communicated through lots of things, love and food especially. What other benefits do you think there are for your kids right now?

DALUDADO: So I think, you know what I’ve been noticing they have more moments to talk with their grandparents. I feel like if they were far away, they don’t really get a chance to ask them about their childhood. I know my daughter was sick for a few days and she hung out with them, so she just asked her grandparents, Hey, how was life like in the Philippines?

And of course, that was a great question because they have a lot of stories to share. So she came back upstairs and couldn’t wait to tell me. So I think that’s one of them, just preserving some of those cultural heritage that they otherwise may not have the chance to be exposed to had they been far away from their grandparents.

CHAKRABARTI: I completely understand that. And it also seems like there might be some great benefit in having multiple adults around, with maybe a similar set of values but different perspectives as being guides in your children’s lives. Your daughter, though, whom you also kindly interviewed for us, who’s 13, mentioned some of the other the pluses we talked about food, but also talked about one, you know, potential delicate disadvantage.

ANASTASIA: Getting lectured all the time. Like, if I go downstairs where my grandparents live and I get one thing, they’ll turn it into a lecture like, if they see something, they’re like, ‘Have you been eating?’ Or, ‘You’re not eating enough.’

CHAKRABARTI: Seems like a pretty gentle lecture actually. But what are the kinds of things that you do have to negotiate as a family with multiple generations living together?

DALUDADO: I think parenting styles are very different. Their background, I guess they have a certain expectation about how children should treat their elders or adults and the kids just communication wise there. That seems to be a point where we have to negotiate where, you know, your grandparents are coming from a place where they want to care for you in this way. But for them, it could be seen as overbearing. So it’s like giving each other the space to think about where each other is coming from.

Parenting styles for us also, you know, I was just saying we have an app that tracks our kids, but for grandparents, it’s like every time you step out of the house, you should tell us where you’re going, Who are you going to be with and how long are you staying there? You know, did you talk to their parents? Have you seen their parents? And that’s fine. Obviously, those are things that we also care about, but I guess not to the degree that they expect. I said, you know, we have them on track. We know they’re moving. I see it on the tracker. So those are some things that I think can be a point of contention and just have to just negotiate kind of like what’s a good fight and what’s not.

CHAKRABARTI: Do you anticipate other forms of potential pressures arising as your in-laws themselves get older, like they help you provide care for your kids? Well, do you anticipate having to provide care for them in the future?

DALUDADO: Yeah, something we’re definitely thinking of as they’re growing older. And, you know, our children are also growing older so we can expect them to be caregivers. I think that roles will be switching very soon in the near future.

CHAKRABARTI: There’s been a really profound growth in the number of Americans who are living in these situations. And we’re talking about why that is today, what the benefits are and what the costs are. And boy, did we ever hear from you listeners about this. For example, here’s Nikki Carpenter. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago.

When she was around seven, she and her mom and dad moved in with her great aunt and two cousins because her great uncle had died. Then when Nikki’s mom got divorced, they moved in with her grandma and she says it wasn’t always easy. But now that she has a five year old daughter of her own, she sometimes gets nostalgic about it.

CARPENTER: At the time I probably didn’t appreciate it like I do now, now that I’m a mom. I was just well cared for. Whether it came down to like dinner being made or laundry or hair. My aunt was like very intimate with me, like she would like, lay me on her lap and like, clean out my ear. And my grandma would give me these lectures. And then my mom was in my ear. All around I had these amazing Black women. And then my dad as well. Now, it’s my husband, myself and my daughter and sometimes I just look around like, ‘I need some more hands here.’

CHAKRABARTI: That’s Nikki Carpenter. Well, joining me now is Hope Harvey. She’s assistant professor of public policy at the University of Kentucky, and she’s with us from Lexington, Kentucky. Professor Harvey, welcome to you.

HOPE HARVEY: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: And also with us today is Michelle Singletary. She is the nationally syndicated personal finance columnist at The Washington Post.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY: Oh, it’s always so good to join you. Thank you for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: We really wanted you to join us today in our conversation with Professor Harvey, because you’re living the multigenerational life, too, right?

SINGELTARY: All three of our adult children, 27, 24 and 22 living with us. They’re all graduated from college and they’re not living here because they have any student loan debt or trying to get out of debt. They send them to school with no debt. But we as a family decided that it was best economically rather than them having pay the average rent in the D.C. area is about $2,500. So instead of paying that they’re paying themselves, they’re putting that money in the bank. So when they launch, they can go and maybe not come back.

CHAKRABARTI: I’m going to ask you in a few minutes what some of the delicate negotiations in a multigenerational household look like. But let me just get down to brass tacks with you quickly, Michelle. So this was an economic decision that the family made together, which makes me wonder. Let’s say that rents weren’t sky high in the D.C. area. Would you still have wanted your children to be living with you as adult children under the same roof at this point?

SINGLETARY: I actually would have, because we talked about if they stayed here for several years and saved the majority of their paycheck because staying here, we don’t charge them rent. We don’t charge for the utilities with the idea that they going to save, you know, upwards of 80% plus of their take home pay. And with the idea that once they left, they would have enough to buy a house either outright or close to it so that by their late thirties, early forties, if they did have to get a home loan, they would be done and they would not have the most expensive part of their budget in their budget, which is housing, except for taxes, of course.

And so … we talked to them, we wanted them to leverage these years where they don’t have to have a place by themselves so they can take that money and when they might be in a better position, think about it. It would be a game changer for them if they don’t have a mortgage or rent for the majority of their adulthood, which means they can save for retirement. They could retire early if they get married and one of them wants to stay home and watch the kids and not work, they can live on one income. It gives them more financial choices.

CHAKRABARTI: There’s this underlying truth about. Financial choices, the structure of the economy today and the sort of the cost benefit analysis that families have to constantly do. Point taken. And we’re going to dig into that a little bit more because it’s something that many folks we reached out to reflected on. For example, Lina Guzman, who directs the Hispanic Institute at the. At the research organization Child Trends, says that a lot of times Latino families may live together also for financial reasons.

LINA GUZMAN: Having multiple workers to help make ends meet. Having a grandparent who may be receiving Social Security, which may be providing a very stable source of income or the only source of income for an extended family. Many Latino families live in cities where housing, the housing market and rent are quite high. And so to reduce the burden that rent plays or has on a household’s income, you know, families can choose to pull together resources so that they can together pay more for housing, rent or mortgages.

CHAKRABARTI: Again, that’s Lina Guzman, who directs the Hispanic Institute at the organization Child Trends. Now, Professor Harvey, you know, I would love to step back for a second in order to understand where we are now by looking where we have been. I mean, because I don’t want to come off as saying multigenerational housing is like suddenly a thing in the United States and it never was before. Can you give us just a short history of what that’s looked like in this country?

HARVEY: Yes, certainly. So the type of multi-generational families that I study are families with children who are living in three generation households. So that means a household that includes a parent, a grandparent and a child. So rates of multigenerational co-presidents today, these three generation households, about one in ten kids live with a parent in a multigenerational household today.

So these rates are extremely high. They’re about as high as they were around 1950, which is the historical peak of multigenerational co residents. And they’re more than double what they were in the around the 1980s when a historic low of around 5% of kids were living in these households. So what we’re seeing today is really sort of a return to the historical peak that we saw.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So let’s talk about what happened in that postwar period, essentially is what you’re talking about, because that’s the era where we have the emergence of this concept of the nuclear family, the rapid expansion of suburban housing, more people going to college due to the G.I. Bill. I mean, so it sounds like there were a lot of forces in play to make multigenerational housing, not so much the necessity that it was prior to 1950.

HARVEY: Yeah, certainly. And in recent decades, we’ve seen increases in both multigenerational households that are in the grandparent household with the family moving in. And multigenerational households that are in the parents’ household with the grandparent moving in. So both of these have been increasing in recent decades.

CHAKRABARTI: So then what would you say are the things that began changing in the 1980s that began the rise in the number of multigenerational households?

HARVEY: You know, I think that that’s still an open question and an area that still needs a lot more research. I will say that in recent decades, there are a few things that I think have been contributing to it. First, we’ve seen housing costs growing far more quickly than wages. We’ve seen higher childcare costs. And so living in these multigenerational households through economies of scale and through help with childcare, that can lower both of those.

There has been some great research … that [has] linked the increases in multigenerational households in recent decades to higher rates of unpartnered parenthood. So parents who might need the economic and childcare assistance that multigenerational households can provide. And then that research has also linked the rise of multigenerational households to a rise in Social Security receipt, which may give the grandparents more economic stability.

CHAKRABARTI: Let’s keep that in mind and turn back to Lina Guzman, who’s the again, the head of the Hispanic Institute at the organization Child Trends, because she told us that about 15% of Latino children in the United States live with a grandparent, 10% live with an unrelated adult. Lina says, though, that in addition to the economic factors, those numbers may be partially rooted in culture.

GUZMAN: There has been a cultural and historic norm to be living in multigenerational households or to be living very close to one’s grandparents or aunts and uncles in many Latin American countries and cultures. It’s a very oriented, very much towards the family. So the family unit and thinking about the family first. So, for example, it will be unexpected to pull resources to benefit the family as opposed to benefiting the individual.

CHAKRABARTI: Michelle, I want to turn back to you, because, you know, there are definitely cultural reasons to stay together as well. I mean, my parents are South Asian. Growing up in India was like everybody living around them, had multigenerational households. So it was the norm. But it feels like especially given the history that Professor Harvey was just describing, that it wasn’t necessarily considered the norm for a big chunk of the 20th century in this country. Are there parts of you, Michelle, that think that, you know, what’s happening here is economic factors that are preventing my children from being, quote unquote, independent in the way that we might have previously expected young American adults to be able to be.

SINGLETARY: Yeah, You know, I think for African American households, there was a lot of multi-generational living just because we couldn’t get homes, people wouldn’t rent to us. So you did live with, you know, your grandparents and aunties and uncles. I am very dismayed at how we characterize this housing as it relates to young adults, as if somehow, they have failed. If they don’t launch soon enough, in our opinion, and at the same time, we are quite aware, particularly since a lot of the young adults like to be in more metropolitan areas, that the cost of living is so expensive.

So on the one hand, you go out there, 18, and you know, learn to be on your own. On the other hand, rent is really high, Food costs a lot of utilities and many of them have student loan debt. And so there’s a disconnect and that we criticize them. I mean, I was really struck by the percentage of, you know, more men living at home. And so you hear of jokes like, oh, he’s 30, live in his mom’s basement, and it makes them feel like they’re a failure when in fact, it could be the smartest thing that they do economically. I was at Prince George’s Community College and was talking to a couple of students and a guy, young man, and was just asking them questions cause, you know, I’m a mom, I ask questions.

So I was just like, Oh, how’s it going? And he was, you know, telling me he’s at home trying to save money. And I was like, Good for you. And he just stopped. He was like, Wait, wait, what’s going on here? And he just he said, because most people criticize me. I said, No, you’re being really smart because you’re trying to make sure that you are economically safe. And even in my situation, my middle child, my son is on the autism spectrum and he graduated from college with a math degree. Did well, but his first job wasn’t a good fit. You know, they didn’t understand his autism. They weren’t, you know, patient enough with him. And he lost his job not soon after he got it.

He had been in an apartment trying to struggle to make it. That would have been more devastating … to him than it already was. But because he was living at home, he had me and his dad. I’m going to cry at his oldest sister talking to him because he was devastated. And so we were saying, it’s okay, we got you. No worries. And so we pivoted. So now he’s going back to school to do some accounting to get a little bit more skills. So a situation that could have been really pretty dramatically devastating turned out to be hard, but it didn’t knock him out. And that’s because he was living here. He didn’t have to pay rent. He didn’t have to worry about, you know, how to make the food budget.

And so I’m just really glad that he was here and he could have this cocoon of love and safety at a very vulnerable time in his young adult life. And so I need people to stop saying things, you know, like, you know, you still live with your mom or, you know, when they’re dating, it’s like you live with your mom or your dad or your parents, you know, until you find out the situation. Now, having said that, you know, young adults coming home, there ought to be some productive stuff going on if they’re just, you know, lounging around, that’s a whole nother situation. Well, you don’t want that.

CHAKRABARTI: I just want to jump in here because I love that story, because it’s such a concrete example of the unique kind of support, not just economically, but, of course, emotionally, socially, spiritually, that comes from these kinds of households. But, Professor Harvey, you know, it’s not one thing or the other, right? This is a complex situation because I’m also seeing that, like in your research in families that you studied and have talked to, that this idea … there is a cultural norm of having a home of your own was especially internalized amongst mothers. Do I have that right?

HARVEY: Yeah. So I interviewed mothers with young children and those who were living sort of as a guest in someone else’s home. A lot of them expressed this sort of internalized cultural norm that families should have a home of their own. And so this made it really challenging for them to live happily in a shared household. So obviously, there were a lot of psychological costs from not being able to or not having a home of their own for themselves and their family.

And then in addition to that, families who live in someone else’s home occupy a sort of a subordinate position in the household, as some of your guests have sort of suggested, and other scholars … have found, when you rely on someone like a parent for housing, you’re living under their rules, often for yourself and then often for your kids. And a lot of mothers told me that they felt like that was sort of inconsistent with what they expected for themselves, both as an adult and then also as a parent.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, so, Michelle, what do you think about that?

SINGLETARY: I think that’s such a great point and why it’s so important that when you do have these situations that you talk through things. And my husband and I have been very intentional, not just with our adult children, because we also let other relatives come live with us when they need the help and when they move in. We have a family meeting. We sit down and we say things like, This is not our home.

This is your home too. … You come and go like you’re an adult. And I think that is so important particularly and it’s hard for me, you know, I’m the mom. And so I have to kind of check myself all the time, you know, when I’m like, Where are you going? Like, sometimes I go, Don’t ask that. Because this is a young adult, right? … So there has to be a baseline of respect that this is their space, too.

CHAKRABARTI: I want to just share a bunch more stories that we got from On Point listeners about all aspects of living in a multigenerational household. So here’s Dexter Criss in … New York, who says his mother moved in with him around 2010. Dexter’s father had died and his mother was living alone in Arkansas. And Dexter realized that he and his wife needed not only to help their mother, but that his mother could help taking care of their kids.

CRISS: There were some adjustments, of course, at first. My mom cooking the way she likes to cook, my wife cooks the way she likes to cook. And our siblings always going at it. But in 2019, our son Dalton died in a tragic car accident. And having my mom here during that accident probably saved my life because she was someone that I could lean on.

CHAKRABARTI: Dexter, thanks for sharing that story with us. Here’s Robin Humphries in Americus, Georgia, who told us that her father moved in with her and her husband and their four-year-old daughter about a year ago after her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

HUMPHRIES: We rearranged our household and brought our daughter into our bedroom so we could give my dad her bedroom. Having our daughter in our bedroom for the last year has been a little crunched up. There’s pros as well: Being able to spend time with my dad, having him able to spend time with his granddaughter — my daughter is four. It’s also given me an opportunity to do some personal healing work around my own family history and experiences with my dad growing up.

CHAKRABARTI: And here’s one more. This is Renee Fratantonio, and she actually has a bit of a lighthearted about her situation because she jokingly refers to her home as a compound. Because different family members live in separate apartments but all on one property. She says they all started eating breakfast and dinner together as a way to spend some quality time after her father died. But mealtimes aren’t always easy.

FRATANTONIO: I can’t tell you how challenging it is to try and cook for six adults. Everyone’s got their own idea about what makes a good dinner. Their ideas about food are fully formed. It’s not like with a kid where you can try to wheedle them and get them to try something news or hide it under a lot of cheese. My grandfather’s 87. He has lots of strong opinions about side dishes and any food that isn’t meat and potatoes.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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