ST. JOSEPH, Mich. -- Remember "The Waltons?" When Jim Bob, Mary Ellen, John-Boy, Grandpa, and their extended family all lived under the same roof? In reality, around the same time that "The Waltons" aired, the American multi-generational household was reaching an all-time low. But after hitting bottom in 1980, the extended-family household started to stage a comeback, and that trend has continued.The latest Pew Research Center analysis shows that, as of 2008, a record 49 million Americans, or 16.1 percent of the U.S. population, lived in a household that contained at least two adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation. That is up from 12.1 percent in 1980. The biggest reason families are giving for moving in together is the economy. A recent survey by Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage showed that 37 percent of its sales agents surveyed nationwide had noted an increase in buyers looking to buy houses to accommodate more than one adult generation. In the same survey, 70 percent of the company's sales agents said they believe economic conditions might cause greater demand for multi-generational homes in their market during the next year. According to the Pew Research analysis, the extended-family household fell out of favor with the American public between 1940 and 1980. But the number of extended-family households began to creep up in 1980 and has accelerated during the recession that began at the end of 2007, research shows.
Another recent study by Gary Painter, associate professor in the School of Policy Planning and Development at the University of Southern California, showed that more young people are living with their parents instead of moving out. The number of American households dropped by an estimated 1.2 million between 2005 and 2008 even as the population grew, the study said. Why the Trend? The reasons for the increase in multi-generational living include the later median age of first marriage and a big wave of immigration dominated by Latin Americans and Asians, who are more likely than native-born Americans to live in multi-generational households. Other factors are cuts to Medicare and the oversized Baby Boom generation. At the current stage, the Baby Boom generation is 50 percent larger than previous generations. This gives their parents more people with whom they can choose to share a household. The Coldwell Banker survey cited financial drivers as the No. 1 reason for multi-generational living, followed by health care problems and strong family bonds. "The benefits go beyond just financial reasons," said Fran Broude, president and chief operating officer of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. "With two or three generations living under one roof, families often experience more flexible schedules, quality time with one another and the ability to better juggle child care and elder care."
It Works for Them
Cherisse Havlicek of Bridgman, Mich., said she and her husband, Allan Havlicek, would never have been able to afford the house they have if not for Allan's mother living with them. And with Eleanore Havlicek there, the couple never had to hire a baby-sitter for their two children, Arthur, now 17, and Alisse, 13.
The Havliceks bought their house on five acres in Bridgman in 1999 after living with Allan's mother, Eleanore Havlicek, for 10 years to save money.
Married in 1985, they moved in with her in 1989 in Chicago while Cherisse worked for the Cook County Juvenile Court and Allan worked as a policeman.
The extended family owned a summer house in Union Pier, Mich., when, on a visit to the area, Cherisse and Allan fell in love with the house in Bridgman. That's when they and Eleanore decided to pool resources.
"(Eleanore) gave us the down payment (for the Bridgman house), and we paid the mortgage. We lived with her for 10 years and saved money. Then in 1999 she sold her house in Chicago and we moved here full time," said Cherisse Havlicek, who now works as an advertising sales executive at The Herald-Palladium. "She was a huge help with everything. She designed the gardens and planted flower beds everywhere. My kids have never had a baby-sitter. It's part of the family package."
Havlicek said pooling their resources was the only way the family could have afforded the house in Bridgman, where Cherisse and Allan now take care of 94-year-old Eleanore, who has had a stroke. They also took in a developmentally disabled cousin. "Our kids see the advantage of pooling resources, and they understand family responsibilities," Cherisse said. "It's good for character-building. Without pooling it all together, nothing would have been accomplished." Economic Reality Atilla, of Atilla Real Estate in St. Joseph, Mich., said that for many people living together is "an economic reality." "From what I've seen it's less a pooling of resources than one person has resources and another person doesn't. For about 10 years it's been an ongoing trend," he said. "Some people have to do it just to make ends meet." Atilla said he has seen the trend both in Baby Boomers taking their parents in and having their own grown children move back in. "It's less a pooling of resources and more that people have to live somewhere," he said. Added Benefit Havlicek said living in a multi-generational household is not always easy. "It takes strong people to do it and make it work. You still have to be able to be an individual. In our case, I'm not sorry we did it," she said.
According to the Pew Research Center survey conducted last year, adults ages 65 and older who live alone report they are not in as good health and are more likely to feel sad, depressed or lonely than older adults who live with another person. And a majority of people consider it a "family responsibility" for adult children to take in an old parent who wants to live with them. Most said it is easier to have the parent live with them than to take care of a parent who is living in a separate household.