I’ve long been an advocate for shared housing. So many people struggle to make ends meet yet cling to living in a single-family household situation, even if it means financial devastation.
Having limited mobility, I’ve become even more convinced that we need to embrace a new normal.
Young adults shouldn’t be viewed as failures for living with their parents well into their 20s. If they are otherwise responsible, why should they flail financially trying to keep up with crushing rent and student-loan payments?
On the other end of the age spectrum, seniors who can no longer safely live alone shouldn’t dread the prospect of giving up their independence by moving in with their adult children and grandchildren. They have as much to give as they get.
What if we looked at our housing a lot differently than we have in recent times?
“Multigenerational living arrangements might improve financial resources, buffer stress, reduce loneliness, enhance intellectual sharing, and generate structural social capital, thereby elevating the level of one’s health,” according to findings published online last year in the journal SSM-Population Health.
Researchers pointed out that such living arrangements allow people to better share the cost of housing, food and transportation, and the responsibilities for child and elder care (and looking after a clumsy mom).
In 1950, 21 percent of the U.S. population lived in a multigenerational household — defined as including two or more adult generations, or including grandparents and grandchildren age 25 and younger, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data. By 1980, such living arrangements had reached a low of 12 percent.
But multigenerational households are trending up. By 2009, 51.5 million Americans — 17 percent of the U.S. population — lived in a home with multiple generations. In 2016, a record 64 million people lived with multiple generations, Pew said in a report this year.
Lisa Cini and her family are among them. Since 2014, Cini and her husband have lived with their two young adult children and her elderly parents in Columbus, Ohio. Until recently, they also lived with Cini’s grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and passed away this year at age 96 after staying with them for four years.
For this month’s Color of Money Book Club pick, I’ve chosen Cini’s account of how she makes her family’s living arrangement work, “Hive: The Simple Guide to Multigenerational Living.” Cini is an experienced designer whose company, Mosaic Design Studio, develops interiors for senior-living facilities.
Cini lovingly describes bringing all four generations of her family under one roof as a “4-Gen Social Experiment.” The book is part memoir with family history, and part road map to designing a multilevel home with a flow to accommodate the young and the old.
“I understood the home would need to have spaces where everyone could have privacy, could escape, and would never feel as though they were a burden,” Cini writes.
She points out how to prevent falls while still encouraging older relatives to stay active. Yes, there are stairs. They also have multiple sofas and ottomans to create a communal hub.
“Finally, though, I realized what would be the most important ingredient of all — and it was an intangible one: appreciation. Appreciation that the environment would not be perfect, no matter how hard we tried.”
Clearly not everyone can do what Cini and her family have done. I was inspired by their determination to make it work and to rely on one another. “It’s hard, but also amazing to see it and to be around those different souls who are in their different seasons,” Cini writes.
Cini’s family has an actual beehive in their yard, and the similarities to their household aren’t lost on her. Like the honeybees, everyone in Cini’s family has an important role, and they all thrive in their “hive” because they appreciate the benefits of living together.
Let’s talk about this trend. I’m hosting an online discussion about “Hive” at noon Eastern time on Oct. 4 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. Cini will join me to take questions about multigenerational living.
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.