Pew report shows 50-year high point for multi-generational family households

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010

The number of people living with several generations under one roof in the United States is at its highest point in 50 years, as families cope with ruinous job losses and foreclosures, researchers said Wednesday.

During the first year of the recession, the number of Americans living in such multi-generational families rose by 2.6 million, or more than 5 percent, from 2007 to 2008.

"For some families, when you lose your home, you lose your job, what do you do? You go to your family," said Paul Taylor, co-author of the Pew Research Center report, who described the phenomenon as "the ultimate social safety net."

The trend to bring extended families together in one home has been growing since 1980, driven by an influx of new immigrants as well as other social and cultural changes, according to the report. But the trend accelerated as the economic crisis sent many families reeling.

Now 49 million Americans -- 16.1 percent of the population -- live in homes with multiple generations. Many include adult children in their 20s.

Young adults are less likely to be married than they once were. The typical age of first marriage is five years later than it was in 1970 -- 28 for men and 26 for women.

In a tough job market, many still live with their parents. Pew'sanalysis showed that 37 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds in 2009 were either out of the workforce or unemployed, a nearly four-decade high. The figure includes some college students.

The latest wave of multi-generational families includes Bob Gillette and Debra Reed-Gillette of Silver Spring, who took in a niece and her daughter in January, hoping to ease the financial strain of single motherhood after the 21-year-old lost two successive jobs when the companies she worked for closed down.

Now the Gillette family, with sons in high school and college, also includes a child of nearly 3. Bob, 52, is relearning what he once knew about car seats and day care and is becoming increasingly acquainted with "Dora the Explorer."

"It's a lot of fun to have a little one in the household again," he said, "and obviously it takes some adjustment."

Households composed of such extended families were on the decline after World War II, with the growth of suburban nuclear families and as immigrants became a smaller share of the population. At the same time, more adults aged 65 and up -- once the group most likely to live in a multi-generational household -- continued to live independently as they fared better physically and financially, the report said.

The comeback since 1980 of the multi-generational household has been steady. Immigrants, many from Latin America and Asia, have had a role, the report said.

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