Three generations under one roof

Photo © Ke Yu

Could you live with your children or parents again? It may surprise you to hear that more people are giving it a try. Multigenerational households are making a comeback, says a recent report from the Pew Internet Research Center.

The report is based on U.S. statistics, but you can bet the rest of the world is watching too. The center’s analysis of recent census data shows an increase in the number of households that span three generations. Currently, an estimated 49 million Americans — about 16 per cent of the population — live in a multigenerational household. (There’s even one in the White House.) That’s an increase of 2.5 million people since 2007, and up 4 per cent from the lowest point in 1980. The proportion of multigenerational households hasn’t been this high in about 50 years, when numbers were decreasing following World War II.

Not surprisingly, Zoomers play a pivotal role. On average, one in five people over the age of 55 are living in a multigenerational home. If they aren’t opening their homes to their adult children — often with a partner or children in tow — then they’re welcoming a parent or loved one. In some cases, there’s a generation missing: grandparents are raising their grandchildren.

What’s behind this trend? Job losses and a lack of opportunities affected baby boomers and younger generations alike, and most people saw their stocks and savings take a serious hit. Merging households makes living expenses more affordable and can help compensate for a job loss or shrunken retirement savings. Some generations are even selling their respective homes and purchasing a new dwelling to meet everyone’s needs and budget.

It’s no surprise that the economy plays a large role, but experts note there’s another trend at work — the aging of the population. These extended family households are returning to one of their original purposes: providing care and financial support. That’s why experts say we won’t likely see a reversal to this trend any time soon. In fact, we could see more multigenerational homes — and appropriate housing options like additions and in-law suites — in the next couple of decades.

Is the same thing happening in Canada? Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a comparable study of recent data done here — but we do share some characteristics with our neighbour to the south. Statistics have shown that an increasing number of twenty-something adults are still living at home or are moving back home, and we’ll face many of the same challenges as other countries when baby boomers age. (See Back to the nest for details.)

What to consider before making a move

It may be a necessity for some, but multigenerational living isn’t for everyone. Experts warn to give it a lot of thought beforehand to make sure merging households is the best option. Here are some tips to help smooth the way:

Ask yourself how this will affect your relationships. No matter what their ages, parents and adult children living together makes for some challenging family dynamics. Living under one roof can cause significant stress and strain to already tense relationships — or it can strengthen the bond between family members too.

Think about the sacrifices (before you have to make them). You know the advantages — like saving money on housing, offering care and enjoying each other’s company — but don’t forget to look at the other side as well. What goals, routines and activities will be affected? What are you willing to give up, and for how long?

Consider the accommodations. Is your current home up to the challenge, or will you need to do major renovations or even buy a new home? Do you need to free up a room, or build a separate apartment or suite? What modifications — like childproof areas, redecorating or assistive devices — will be required to make it safe and inviting for all ages?

Plan for privacy. Experts warn that mutual respect for privacy is an essential ingredient for multigenerational households. Can each person have a room or a space to call his or her own? How will household guests be handled? Can everyone have some down time — alone, or with other family members?

Foster independence . Experts advise that maintaining a sense of independence is important for all generations — yet it’s a feeling that can be lost when an adult child or parent moves in. Make sure everyone has some autonomy in the household and a chance to live their lives independently. Even if they’re not in a separate apartment, opportunities to visit friends, spend time on their favourite activities and contribute to the household are vital.

Discuss responsibilities and expectations beforehand. Try to minimize surprises and have a few frank discussions before a new family member moves in. Who does the cooking, shopping and cleaning — or provides caregiving? How will chores be divided up? How long will this arrangement last, and under what conditions will it have to change — like an adult child finding a job, or a parent requiring intensive medical care?

Talk about financial arrangements. Obviously, money will be an important part of the conversation. How are expenses divided up, and who pays for what? If modifications and renovations are required, who will cover the costs?

If you have a parent move in so you can provide care, be sure to discuss the situation with your siblings to see what support — financial or emotional — they can provide as well.

Devise a process for making decisions and dealing with issues. Who is the head of the household? It’s often hard to tell… that’s why it’s important to include everyone in family decisions. Regular check-ins, family meetings and discussions can help make sure everyone has a say and that everyone’s needs are being met.

Look into the legal aspects. Moving in might not be as simple as you think. In some areas, you may require a permit or license to have a separate apartment in your home (especially when the space includes a second kitchen). If you’re considering purchasing a new home together, make sure you understand the legal implications of joint ownership — especially how it factors into an estate plan and future financial needs (like long-term care).

Be flexible. You’ll learn a lot from trial and error once everyone is under one roof, so be ready to adapt your plans as needed. Circumstances will also change — like younger children growing up and moving out, or parents requiring more care due to their health.

Seek support . Multigenerational households can be a big change, even when there’s a lot of harmony at home. Make sure to take care of yourself too, and seek out support before you need it — like friends, other family members, church or local organizations.

– Read the report from the Pew Research Group.

– For more information about adult children moving in, see Back to the nest (on, How to Set Up a Multi-Generation Household ( and Grandparents Moving In (

Additional sources:, New York Times Blogs, Statistics Canada,