Millennials feed two-generation household trend

Young adults overtake seniors as most likely to live in multi-generation homes

By Mac McLean / The Bulletin / @agingbeat

Alicia Severson moved back home with her parents two years ago because she was having problems finding a job out of college and figured it would give her a chance to save a little money while she worked to get her own business up and running.

“When I moved back home, I kind of viewed it as a failure,” said Severson, 25, who hopes she’ll have the money she needs to head back out on her own two years from now. “But then when I sat down and thought about it, I realized it made sense because it would help me become financially independent.”

According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, almost one-fourth of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 were living in a multigenerational household in 2012. They have been the most likely age group to have this living arrangement — where two or more generations of a family’s adults share the same home — since 2011, and it will likely stay this way as many of them struggle with the rough economy.

“Historically, the nation’s oldest Americans have been the age group most likely to live in multigenerational households,” wrote the study’s authors, Richard Fry and Jeffrey Passel. “But in recent years, younger adults have surpassed older adults in this regard.”

The numbers

According to the Pew Center’s study, more than 56.8 million Americans — roughly 18.1 percent of the country’s adult population — lived in a multigenerational household during 2012. The number of people with this living arrangement has increased by 11.5 million people since the Great Recession started in 2007 and has continued this increase at a slightly slower pace since it ended in 2009.

Multigenerational households most often involve situations where parents and their adult children share the same roof. As Fry and Passel mentioned in their analysis of the study, these arrangements historically featured older parents — 22.7 percent of Americans who are 85 or older lived in one of these households in 2012 — who live with their children because they can no longer live on their own.

But according to the Pew Center’s study, there’s been a steadily growing number of cases where millennials — Americans born between 1980 and 2001 — have been moving back in with their parents because they are unable to find a high-paying job or afford a place of their own.

According to the study, while the percentage of people 85 or older who were living in a multigenerational household grew at a slow but steady rate of half a percentage point per year, the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who had this arrangement grew at a rate nearly twice that. The study found 18.3 percent of those age 25 to 34 were living in a multigenerational household in 2006. This figure grew to 21.6 percent in 2010 and climbed to 23.6 percent by 2012. Meanwhile, the percentages for people 85 or older climbed from 20 percent in 2006 to 21.9 percent in 2010. It climbed by less than one percentage point in the two years that followed — nearly half the growth seen by the millennials — until it reached 22.7 percent in 2012.

The household

Severson moved to Chicago in hopes of finding a full-time job as a graphic artist when she graduated from college in 2011. But when she could only find a part-time job, and in retail at that, Severson decided after about a year that it would be better to move back in with her parents Lupe, 58 and Roger, 61, in Texas than stay where her career wasn’t moving forward and she needed her parents’ help paying the rent.

“I’m lucky I get along with my parents very well,” said Severson, who came with her parents when they decided to retire about a year ago and move to Bend. “They’ve known since I was in first grade that I wanted to be an artist, and they have always supported my dream.”

Severson sees herself playing a role where she can help her parents almost as much as they’ve helped her. She helped her mom move to Bend and get situated in town while their house was being built and her father was putting in his last year at work.

She also cooks the family’s meals — a job she admits she’s slacked a little bit on lately now that her father is living with them in Bend and she’s not the only person who likes to cook — and is working a part-time job as a graphic designer for a greeting card company in Redmond.

“It works well,” said Severson, who estimates that after another year or two, she’ll have enough money in the bank to work as a freelance illustrator and designer and afford a place of her own.

Lupe Severson said she hasn’t had any problems with the living arrangement. She said that has a lot to do with the fact that Alicia is very independent and is usually working at her job, working in her studio or hanging out with her friends. Roger and Lupe Severson also have no problem taking off and leaving Alicia back at the house if they want to get dinner out on their own or go on a trip out of town.

“It’s been really good, actually,” Lupe Severson said, explaining that if Alicia were living on her own, they probably would still be chipping in financially toward her well being. “She’s a healthy 25-year-old who just happens to be in a profession where it’s difficult to get a start.”

In their analysis of the study’s results, Fry and Passel cite economic reasons as the driving force behind the increase seen among 25- to 35-year-olds living with their parents.

They point to the steady increase in the country’s poverty rates for young adults since the 1980s, when only 11 percent of people between the ages of 25 and 34 were living at home.

They also cite rising housing prices and a decline in the number of available full-time jobs as other reasons people in this age group may have problems moving out on their own. Added to this is the fact that older adults, for the most part, are experiencing better economic circumstances than they did three, if not four, decades ago.

Because the poverty rates for seniors have decreased significantly over the past 50 years, more and more seniors are able to afford their own place to live after they retire and can even hire someone who can tend to their needs at home, so they don’t necessarily have to move back in with their children when they need help performing certain activities of daily life.

“While the likelihood of living in a multi-generational household may not be a direct measure of economic well-being (or lack thereof),” Fry and Passel wrote in their report. “There is evidence that the changing patterns of multi-generational living parallel the general trends toward the greater economic security of older adults and the increasing financial strain experienced by younger adults.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, mmclean@bendbulletin.com