Center for a Secure Retirement
A Primer for Living in a Multigenerational Household

A Primer for Living in a Multigenerational Household

They say what's old is new again, and that's definitely the case with multigenerational households. Several generations living under one roof was the norm until about a hundred years ago, and despite that trend waning throughout the last century, more and more families are now living together again.

If you're about to move in with other generations of your family, you may be wondering how to make the transition a smooth one and ensure everything goes as well as possible. Here's some information and a few tips on how to make this living arrangement work.

What Is a Multigenerational Household?

The U.S. Census Bureau officially defines multigenerational families as households where three or more generations live together under one roof.

According to the Pew Research Center, 20% of the U.S. population, or 64 million Americans, lived in a multigenerational household in 2016, and the trend continues to grow, with the average household size expected to exceed 2.58 persons in 2020.

In fact, the Population Reference Bureau recently released information about the upcoming 2020 Census which shows fewer households are being established. This is in part because young adults are still living with parents and the U.S. population growth is set to outpace household growth in 2020 for the first time since the 1930s.

Clearly, families are deciding to live together. But what issues should you consider before transitioning to this living situation?

Communication Is Key

As is the case with nuclear families, different generations living together can produce friction, but it's usually nothing that can't be worked out with planning, care and consideration. One common challenge involves the use of shared areas of the household such as the family room or kitchen areas. Who uses these areas and when? Do you all eat together as a family? What about use of the television?

Another challenge involves privacy. Does an older family member have a separate area for themselves? This may be particularly important if young children are in the home.

No matter what the challenge, communication is the key. The best way to prevent a problem from becoming a major issue is to set aside a regular family meeting time for everyone to talk in person about what's working and what's not. When communication is frequent, issues can be easily identified and resolved. Something may seem to be a small issue, but little things can become big and resentment can set in, so keeping communication open is critical.

Togetherness Can Benefit Your Health

A 2020 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) indicates that loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health risks. The report found that "social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia and other serious medical conditions." Living together as a family has a direct benefit for health and wellness.

For many multigenerational families, especially those with younger children, the mix of ages and life stages can be rewarding and strengthen relationships. If families are strewn across the country, time together is often limited, so living together under one roof allows ample time and opportunity to share life's big and small moments.

Another benefit is shared household responsibilities. For many older adults, property management tasks such as lawn mowing or more physical chores can be difficult, but with different ages and abilities living together, these concerns are no longer an issue. Tasks within the home can be assigned according to people's physical abilities and even their interests so everyone can do their part to keep the household running.

Financial Considerations of Living With Family

As with any big life decision, financial considerations must be taken into account. For those contemplating moving in with family, questions about who pays for what should be discussed in detail before anyone packs a box or suitcase.

For an older parent moving in with adult children and grandchildren, how will a home or assets be handled? Will a property need to be sold? What if younger family members are moving into a home owned by a grandparent to help care for them? Will the home stay in the name of that grandparent or will there be a transfer of the property?

Any situation involving assets or a sale of a property should involve a lawyer and/or an estate planner. Just as a renter enters into an agreement, family members need to openly discuss how finances will work within the home. Some families with younger children pay for groceries and home expenses, while grandparents help provide childcare for younger kids while the parents are at work.

Pew notes that there can be a definite financial benefit to having a multigenerational household, particularly if the home includes working adults who contribute to the household income. Savings on appliances, maintenance and property upkeep are a few of the perks of sharing a home.

Master Schedules Can Make It Work

Having a central calendar is best when a variety of family members with different schedules, appointments and activities are living together. This is particularly important if family members are sharing a car. Like a military operation, cooperation, planning and coordination are needed for things to run smoothly, so figuring out a scheduling system that works for you and your multigenerational family is essential.

Consider the "Why"

For some, living together isn't a choice — it's done out of necessity. Perhaps a young adult can't afford to live independently yet or an older adult can't live alone or isn't comfortable doing so. Before embarking on a multigenerational family living situation, it's important to examine why you're doing so. Is it something that other family members are looking to do or is it something you want yourself?

Writing out the pros and cons of your specific situation is an important first step so the best decisions can be made for everyone involved. Being honest about how each family member envisions the arrangement will lead to a successful process as you move forward together as a multigenerational unit.

Every Multigenerational Household Is Unique

No matter what, spending time together as a family under one roof will provide memories and a lifetime of shared experiences. However, it's important to remember that each family is unique. How you choose to move forward as a multigenerational household will be as individual as every member of your family.

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