Intergenerational living–the new normal?

It’s starting to get hard to keep up with the new wave of stories about young adults moving back home. This round, though, I’m happy to report the articles are becoming a little more positive and less snarky and judgmental. The turn of tune is testament to the growing ‘normalacy’ of intergenerational living.

The latest Pew Research survey released today reports the highest share (21.5%) of young adults living in multigenerational households since the 1950s. The survey finds that finds not only are increasing numbers living at home longer, but the fact that young adults and parents are pretty much ok with it. As the Pew study writes:

If there’s supposed to be a stigma attached to living with mom and dad through one’s late twenties or early thirties, today’s “boomerang generation” didn’t get that memo.

It’s also become, with time, a more equal co-residence. About half of those surveyed said they paid rent to their parents, and more than 90% said helped with household expenses. I’ve been saying this for about a year now–that eventually we will get so used to this pattern that the stigma will fade and it will all become just, well, normal. In Europe, which is ahead of us in living home longer and intergenerationally, it started out as a worry as well. But with time and familiarity, it became the stuff of the Gallic shrug.

In fact, Kathy Newman’s new book, Accordian Families, looks at intergenerational living broadly, comparing trends in the United States with those in Europe and elsewhere.

Christian Science Monitor article –which features yours truly– also has a more positive spin on the trend. It conveys a sense that maybe this trend is shaking out in positive ways. And looking longer-term, the rising numbers living  at home for longer could create positive sense of mutual obligation down the road, when mom and dad are in need of some support themselves as they age.

However, not all is sunny. As a recent New York Times article noted, this generation is the least mobile in decades. In “The Go-Nowhere Generation,” Todd Buchholz and Victoria Buchholz lament the loss of the quintessentially American urge to hit the road. While generations of youth have packed up and moved almost as a rite of passage, this generation is staying put. As they write:

The likelihood of 20-somethings moving to another state has dropped well over 40 percent since the 1980s, according to calculations based on Census Bureau data. The stuck-at-home mentality hits college-educated Americans as well as those without high school degrees.

They report that it’s not economics that is keeping young people tethered to their home towns, but an urge to stay more connected to where they grew up. Even if the jobs are elsewhere, they’re not keen on making the leap, they write. Could this be another sign that we’re in a new era of Americanism–one that is more rooted to place (ala Europe) and more intricately tied to extended family? If so, that can only be good for an aging society such as ours. Kids can take care of their parents, and parents can take care of their grandkids in a seamless swap of support.

More generally, this risk aversion might not be so surprising. The Great Depression cemented a long-lasting fear of risk and spending. My mother is a prime example. She has an entire cupboard of CoolWhip containers for tupperware and she buys the cheapest toilet paper on earth.  She’s not alone. A recent study finds that those who come of age in times of uncertainty are for decades later significantly more hesitant and timid in their financial matters (and other realms of life) than those who are coming into their own during flush times. An article in the Daily Beast expands on this point.

And finally, another new book adds a twist to the trends. Rather than worrying over the numbers living at home, Eric Klinenberg in “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone,” regales readers with the benefits of single life. He’s on to something. While the numbers living at home have risen, the numbers and time spent living alone are much more pronounced. According to him, more than 50%  of American adults are single — a number that has jumped from 22%  in 1950. While he also touches on the darker side of solo lives (dying alone, social isolation), his is an upbeat assessment of this dramatic shift. It’s worth a read. Both Klinenberg and Edin’s books are reviewed here.

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