According to a new Pew Research Center® analysis of census data, the multi-generational American family household is staging a comeback, showing that from 2007 to 2008, the number of Americans living in a multi-generational family household grew by 2.6 million.
As of 2008, a record 49 million Americans, or 16.1 percent of the total U.S. population, lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation. This represents a significant trend reversal. In 1940, about a quarter of the population lived in one; by 1980, just 12 percent did. The reversal — an increase of 33 percent — has taken place among all major demographic groups, and it, too, appears to be the result of a mix of social and economic forces.
Older adults were once, by far, the likeliest of any age group to live in a multi-generational family household. Back in 1900, 57 percent of adults ages 65 and older did so. But over the course of the 20th century, older adults grew steadily healthier and more prosperous as a result of a range of factors, including programs such as Social Security and Medicare, as well as improvements in medical care.
However, older adults are not the age groups most responsible for the overall trend reversal since 1980. That distinction belongs instead to young adults — especially those ages 25 to 34. In 1980, just 11 percent of adults in this age group lived in a multi-generational family household. By 2008, 20 percent did. Among adults 65 and older, the same share — 20 percent — lived in such a household in 2008. However, the rise for this group has been less steep. Back in 1980, 17 percent lived in a multi-generational family household.
The trend toward older median ages for first marriage is a big part of this long-term shift among younger adults. But, in recent years, the economy appears to have played a significant role. Just from 2007 to 2008, the share of adults ages 25 to 34 living in such households rose by a full percentage point from 18.7 percent to 19.8 percent.
According to a recent Pew Research Center analysis, as of 2009 some 37 percent of 18- to-29-year-olds were either unemployed or out of the workforce, the highest share among this age group in nearly four decades. In addition, a 2009 survey by Pew Research found that among 22- to 29-year-olds, one-in-eight say that, because of the recession, they have boomeranged back to live with their parents after being on their own.