In times before the Boomer Generation, it was fairly common for multiple generations to live in one household. Multi-generational housing is defined as adults over the age of 25 sharing the same home, often consisting of grandparents, their children and grandchildren. It makes perfect sense, since many parents or grandparents of boomers were immigrants who needed a home base to start. Then, of course, the Great Depression arrived and forced a lot of families under one roof out of financial necessity.
After the War, returning soldiers went home and lived there until they were married. As the parents of the Boomer Generation had families of their own and moved to the suburbs, the number of people of different generations sharing the same home began to drop precipitously. A study by the Pew Research Center states that by 1950, that number was just over 32 million people in this living arrangement. Ten years later, that number dropped to around 27 million. The implications are obvious: the dream of Boomer families was to have their own space, not shared with parents, grandparents, or both. This downward trend continued until the 1980s.
In Mister Boomer’s experience, it was fairly common to have friends or family who lived in multi-generational households. Mister Boomer’s family is an example of how this housing arrangement came and went at various times for various reasons. His grandparents, when they were married in the early 1900s, moved in with his grandmother’s sister and father. Her mother had died five years earlier, so it was expected that the daughters would take care of their father. When he passed away in the 1920s, Mister B’s grandparents bought a home of their own. Over the next decades seven children and Mister B’s great-aunt lived in the house. By the time the War ended, all but two of the children (Mister B’s aunts) had moved to homes of their own. Two of his aunts remained for several years, having been married and had children of their own. When his paternal grandfather passed away in the early 1960s, his grandmother sold the family house and moved in with her son’s family, creating another multi-generational home-away-from-home.
Mister Boomer had neighbors who lived in multi-generational households, also referred to as extended households. The common denominator for all these situations was that the boomer children were either first or second generation Americans. Statistics show then, as now, the closer the family is to their immigration date, the greater chance they will share a household with multiple generations.
Frankly, it did not seem strange to Mister B growing up around this family living arrangement. He feels, at this point in his life, it only enriched his upbringing by having his grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles living with other relatives. The family traditions he knows all came from those interactions.
In the post-recession days of the late 1980s-early 90s, the number once again began to rise. As in earlier decades, new immigrants to the country accounted for a good percentage of those households. However, as hard economic times fell on many families, the necessity of shared housing became a major force in the trend. Today, after a year of pandemic living, that number is the highest it has ever been, with an estimated 20 percent of the population living in multi-generational households.
What’s more, the fastest growing age groups for people living in multi-generational households are either aged in the 25 to 40 group or 85-plus. That tells us that college graduates are moving back in with their parents, and family elders are moving in with their children. According to AARP, this does not bode well for our future housing needs. The estimate is that by 2030, one of every five Americans will be over the age of 65, so we boomers have a front-row seat at the prospect of a severe shortage of affordable housing in our golden years.
How about you, boomers? Did you have a grandparent or great-grandparent living with you in your boomer years? Do you have a parent or grown children living with you now?