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Multi-Generation Households On The Rise

qingming day

recent Qingming day

I was listening to NPR on the way to work earlier this week and they are starting an 8 week series on multigenerational households called “Family Matters.” Did you know that 1 in 6 Americans are currently living in a household with three generations or more? That’s 51.4 million people! The recent economic downturn hit our finances hard and many people have had to pool their resources and move in together.

Young adults age 18-24 have been hit hard and only 54% of them have jobs. Many of them moved back into their parents’ homes to save money. Americans are also living longer and the grandparents may have some financial trouble or need some physical assistance as well. As a result, many seniors have moved into their children’s household. The “sandwich” generation now bears the increasing cost of their aging parent’s needs and their boomerang kids.

First of all, I am from an Asian background and I think a multi-generation household is perfectly normal. I think it’s great for the kids to interact with their grandparents more and learn from their life experience. The grandparents can tell the kids about their roots and even teach them a little foreign language if applicable.

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American values

In America though, we value our independence and freedom highly and many older folks would rather stay in their own home. It’s difficult to ask for help when you have been independent your whole life and have been used to doing things the way you want. That’s why it amazed me to see that 1 in 6 Americans are living together. Mrs. RB40’s grandma owned her home and was in a very good financial position in her old age. Her children also lived nearby and she was able to stay in her home and be independent for a very long time. Eventually she had a stroke and needed more assistance and moved into an assisted living facility. This is what I thought most Americans would like to do if they had a serious health issue. No one wants to burden their kids with their medical needs.

Multigenerational Household in Thailand

On the other hand, my maternal grandmother lived with one of her 9 children (rotation) when she was old. In her last year, she had stomach cancer and a brain tumor. She stayed at the hospital for a long time after the operation and eventually moved into one of my uncle’s home for the last few months of her life. My mom was semi retired by then and stopped working to help care for her. It was a difficult period but she was glad she was there for her mom when she needed help.

In Thailand, many more seniors live with their children and a multigenerational household is the norm. Many kids stay on with their parents until they get married or even longer. Generally a bride will move into her groom’s family household or is it the other way around? Anyway, it is accepted that the children will care for their parents. I’m sure there are many more assisted living facilities now, but most families still care for their older generation at home.

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It is very different here in the US. Most of us would rather live in our own space and take care of ourselves for as long as we can. Rough finances may have forced the generations to live under the same roof, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. I think a multigenerational household builds closer family ties and it shows the younger generation that we take care of our own. I wouldn’t mind if my parents move in with us when they are older and need some assistance. We would probably have to move to a bigger home to accommodate everyone, but it can be done. Mrs. RB40 on the other hand, is going to need a lot of convincing.

What about you? Assuming your finances can handle it, would you rather move to an assisted living facility or move in with your children? Sandy at First Gen American is house hunting for a place that can accommodate Babci (her mom) so I’m not the only one thinking about this. I’m really looking forward to the next episode of this series on NPR next Tuesday.


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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.

Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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{ 31 comments… add one }
  • The Money Mail April 20, 2012, 5:00 am

    Multi-generational households are very common in India as well. They are called joint family. As you point out, there are many benefits of living with your family and that is what we plan for ourselves once we settle down.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2012, 10:42 am

      I think it’s common in many parts of the world. Thanks for your input.

  • Christa April 20, 2012, 5:49 am

    Right now, I would not want my mother to move in with us. My husband’s mother? No problem. I wouldn’t mind. My own? No way! We’re just too different and she’s too pushy — it’d drive me crazy! I know that says something about the closeness of our family, but I don’t mind stating the obvious: my family and I aren’t close. I’m sure that if my mother moved in, one of us wouldn’t survive!

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2012, 10:42 am

      I hear you. My dad is a pain to live with. 😉

  • Modest Money April 20, 2012, 9:12 am

    Wow 1 in 6? I wouldn’t have thought the stats would be so high. I would think the increase in immigrants would be affecting those stats though. In other cultures it is extremely common for multiple generations to all live together. It’s just traditionally what has been done. Americans have traditionally been opposite of that though. I think most people wouldn’t want to give up their freedom by having their parents live with them. On the flip side a lot of older people wouldn’t want to feel like a burden by asking to live with their children. It will be interesting to see if that mindset gradually changes or if people will just stick to their cultural traditions.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2012, 10:45 am

      That’s what NPR said about older seniors. They don’t want to burden the kids, but is it really that big of a burden? They raised those kids right? I’m looking forward to hearing more on the radio over the next few weeks.

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor April 20, 2012, 10:01 am

    I agree, multi-generational living can be a good thing for the family. (That said, there are certain members of my family who I wouldn’t want living with us, yikes!) I think multi-generational was more common in the US a couple generations ago. When I was a kid, both of my maternal great grandmothers lived in the same home with my maternal grandparents. The great grandmothers didn’t need nursing home level care, but were no longer able to live completely on their own. From what I could tell as a youngster, it seemed to work well.

  • Aloysa @My Broken Coin April 20, 2012, 10:15 am

    A lot of households are like this back home. During my first marriage we lived with my grandmother. My friends lived with their parents. Majority of people live in apartments, not houses. The living space is in scarse supply. However, this trend is changing step by step. As Lithuania becomes more westernized, less people live with their parents. I have to admit that I cannot imagine us living with my mother or grandmother now. We would kill each other. 🙂

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2012, 10:49 am

      Really? Why would you kill each other? 😉
      My dad is really difficult too and I don’t know if we can live together unless we really really need to.
      We got a condo nearby so they can move closer soon.

  • Well Heeled Blog April 20, 2012, 10:26 am

    If my finances allowed, I would buy a 4-plex and just move my parents and my fiance’s siblings in there so we are all one big happy family (with plenty of space/privacy for ourselves, of course!).

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2012, 10:49 am

      That’s a great idea! It is more cost effective and everyone have their own space.

  • SavvyFinancialLatina April 20, 2012, 11:50 am

    Right now I don’t want my parents living with us. We are way too young. I do want to buy my mom a house though closer to me when I get older and can afford it. I liked Well Heeled Blog’s idea. 4 plex! 🙂
    Honestly, though as much as I love my parents, they do drive me insane.

    • retirebyforty April 21, 2012, 6:03 am

      My dad drives me insane too, but now that I’m older, I’m learning to accept the insane things he does. 🙂
      The 4 plex is a really good idea.

  • Jim April 20, 2012, 12:07 pm

    I would guess there are 3 common reasons behind 3 generation households:
    – The household is foreign born and follows customs from their culture. We have around 11-12% foreign born population in the US.
    – Elderly person in need of care. A lot of people can not afford nursing homes or simply prefer to live with family instead.
    – Boomerang kids with their own offspring. A pretty large % of the 18-25 year olds live with their parents and some of them have their own kids too.

    I’m just assuming but I’d bet those are a lot of the 1 in 6 households.

    • retirebyforty April 21, 2012, 6:06 am

      I think the elderly person need care is a big issue for many of us right now. The healthcare cost is too high and regular people can’t afford it by themselves. Not many people can afford to live in an assisted living facility. 1 in 6 is a huge number and it is increasing. I suppose if the economy improves, it might decline.

  • Jim April 20, 2012, 12:12 pm

    Add a 4th reason : teenage pregnancy. Thats not exactly the same as boomerang kids as they usually never left in the first place. I assume more often than not teenage pregnancy results in 3 generations in a household.

  • krantcents April 20, 2012, 4:26 pm

    As a concept, I like it. I would prefer to live close to my children versus with them though. I definitely do not want to go into assisted living until the end. In fact, I have long term care insurance to take care of me at home as well as the care facility.

    • retirebyforty April 21, 2012, 6:07 am

      Thanks for your input. You are prepared financially so I’m sure you can do what you’d like. Many seniors do not have that option right?

  • [email protected] April 21, 2012, 10:30 am

    My grandparents lived right next door to us in a trailer after they retired, and when they got too old to care for themselves completely, they moved in. I have wonderful memories of all of the time I was able to spend with them.

    Now that I am my mom’s only living child and she has a meager retirement, I fully expect that she will move in with us eventually. We’ll try to find a house with a mother-in-law suite for her.

  • Little House April 23, 2012, 7:05 am

    I think that in most countries, multi-generational families are the norm. If anything, the independence we feel in the US is probably strange to most cultures. However, with that said, I don’t think I’d ever move back in with my parents. And, since I don’t have kids, I’m thinking I’ll be visiting a rest home in the future at some point, unless I can live independently until I keel over.

    • retirebyforty April 23, 2012, 8:58 pm

      Sometime I think it’s better to go real quick instead of dragging on and on. 🙂
      That’s why I’d like to get a few acre and then put down those tiny houses. Everyone will have their own space, but be close by.

  • Squirrelers April 23, 2012, 10:12 am

    I think that there’s much to learn from other cultures that have been around for so long. Our culture here is great, but we can always evolve.

    I like the idea of living separately from parents (and especially inlaws!). At the same time, I don’t think it’s weird for people to have multi-generation households. If anything, I do belive that elders deserve respect and we as a society here in the U.S. should treat older people better on average. They aren’t disposable old has-beens. Rather, they’ve earned their respect and should be treated with kindness in old years. If that means they absolutely need to move in with children, so be it!

    • retirebyforty April 23, 2012, 9:03 pm

      I think we’ll see more multi-generation househoulds in the future. It seems many people owe a lot of money and I don’t see how they will be able to handle retirement.

  • 101 Centavos April 25, 2012, 3:06 am

    Very common to have parents in the house in Italy. Were my dad to pass away, there is a standing offer for my Mom to move in with us. My MIL has been living with my sister-in-law for years. Great way to cement generations together. And yet, there have been three assisted-living facilities built in our neck of the woods in the last few years. Seems to be a growing trend.

    • retirebyforty April 25, 2012, 2:16 pm

      That is generous of you. I would like my mom to come live with us as well. They will come later this year and we’ll see how it goes.
      I need to check in Thailand to see if there are any assisted living facility and the cost.

  • Kanesha Baynard April 30, 2012, 11:16 pm

    My mother-in-law lives with my family and me. So far so good.
    I think it’s great for my children to have this access to their paternal grandmother. Also, with my husband and I both working (and having work travel) – we have great support.
    I know many articles paint the picture that most mutltigenerational households come about because people are struggling financially. There is also another story to be told – about those of us who “opt in” to this “new”clear family.

    • retirebyforty May 1, 2012, 11:55 am

      That’s great to hear. I want my mom to move in with us too. My dad on the other hand is a huge pain to live with. 🙂

  • First Gen American May 13, 2012, 9:57 pm

    Thanks for using me as an example. I think it’s way more common in other cultures because they don’t always have the nursing home options that westerners do. That being said, there’s nothing my mom fears more than being stuck in a nursing home someday.

    In our case we actually would not save money by moving in together. Where I live, it’s much cheaper to buy 2 smaller homes than it is to have one bigger one that has in law quarters. Usually the bigger places are in more expensive parts of town, so it’s definitely not just all about the money. We really enjoy having my mom in our lives and having her happy and healthy for as long as possible is definitely part of our motivation to move.

    • retirebyforty May 14, 2012, 1:57 pm

      I don’t think nursing home is a common option in Thailand. I’ll have to check. Most seniors live with their kids, but there has to be other options for people with no kids.
      You won’t save any money? That’s very surprising, but good to know. Hope your house search is going well.

  • Barbara Ann August 12, 2012, 8:26 am

    My retirement will be with a single generation home with four people, me, my Dear Paramour, my sister and my brother-in-law. We have decided to pool our resources monetary and non-monetary making a household with diverse interests and talents.
    Only one child between the four of us that might move in at some time, she is pursuing (like her auntie) a career in the arts so employment is iffy.
    Our house is large giving each of us room to pursue interests in our own space, we have also looked into possible remodeling to accommodate any future handicaps.
    We found out recently that a family of two brothers and their spouses are moving a block away from us. Is this a trend?

    • retirebyforty August 12, 2012, 10:35 am

      I would love to do something like that with my brothers and parents. My mom is planning to move nearby soon. I want to get a piece of land, 2-3 acres, in Hawaii. Then build a few small homes (maybe 600 sq ft) on the property for each family. We can share cooking and recreation space.

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