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AARP Bulletin

3 Generations Under One Roof

51 million Americans live in multigenerational homes. Is it right for your family?

Have you noticed more people around your neighborhood? That long-gone college grad is back across the street, and Grandma's moved in, too. The older couple next door has a full house — their son, his wife and two kids. The ranch a few doors down was just bought — jointly — by adult children and their parents.

Three generations under one roof, known as multigenerational housing, is here to stay.

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The Ng family (parents Karen and Melvin, son Jason, girlfriend Jamie and baby Addison) lives in a multigenerational household in Hawaii. — Daniel Hennessy

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, approximately 51 million Americans, or 16.7 percent of the population, live in a house with at least two adult generations, or a grandparent and at least one other generation, under one roof. The Pew analysis also reported a 10.5 percent increase in multigeneration households from 2007 to 2009. And a 2012 survey by national home builder PulteGroup found that 32 percent of adult children expect to eventually share their house with a parent.

"It used to be older people whose money had run out who were living with their children, and now it's the next generation that can't keep up," says Louis Tenenbaum, a founder of the Aging in Place Institute, which promotes "multigen" remodeling.

True, multigenerational families bunking together is hardly news in certain cultures. In 2009, 9.4 percent of Asian households, 9.5 percent of African American ones and 10.3 percent of Latino homes were multigenerational (compared with 3.7 percent of non-Hispanic white households).

But strong indications show that multigenerational living is on the rise: The U.S. 65-plus population is expected to more than double to 92 million by 2060. Sixty-one percent of Americans ages 25 to 34 have friends or family who have moved back in with parents or relatives (because they have no job, no money and no other place to live). And the latest census projections show the clear growth in cultures, such as Latinos, that already embrace multigenerational housing (non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up the majority of the population by 2043).

Could this be an idyllic world of built-in child care, elder care and three square meals? A solution for avoiding isolation in old age? A way for pooled finances to go further?

Another Pew report did find that more than three-quarters of "boomerangs" — the young adults ages 25 to 34 who move back in with their parents — were satisfied with their living situation. Almost half paid rent and nearly 90 percent helped with household expenses. And in a 2011 report of multigen dwellers by Generations United, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, 82 percent said the setup brought them closer, 72 percent mentioned improved finances, and 75 percent saw care benefits.

Consider long-term care costs alone. A 2012 MetLife Mature Market Institute survey put the average annual cost of a private nursing home room at $90,520, a semiprivate at $81,030 and assisted living at $42,600. Add to those costs the value of peace of mind knowing a loved one is being cared for by family, and multigenerational housing may be the new assisted living plan.

Designing for multigenerational living

Builders and remodelers are ready to support the growing trend. Want or need to stay put? The number of certified aging-in-place specialists who help older folks remain safely at home has more than doubled to nearly 5,000 since 2008. And the construction of new houses has started to get off the ground again.

Some builders have begun offering two master suites, a den or family room that can be converted into a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, and other "bonus areas" with flexible space that can change with family needs. A two-car garage might shrink to one car and the extra area morph into living space for a grandparent or boomerang kid. Builders and remodelers are offering universal design features (wider hallways and doors, good lighting, few or no steps) that work for a baby stroller or a wheelchair. Some builders are installing infrastructure for future bathroom grab bars and stacking closets for down-the-road elevators.

In 2011, national builder Lennar introduced its first Next Gen house in Phoenix, geared to more than one generation. Now Lennar offers more than 50 Next Gen floor plans in 120 communities in California, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota, Texas, New Jersey, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Next Gen's concept is two houses in one: The main home has three or four bedrooms, and there's an attached unit with its own front entrance, kitchen, bedroom, living space and garage. Perfect for an aging parent (or lucky nanny or guest, or as a man cave), it's typically one-fifth the size of the main house. An adjoining inner door can be left open so the house can be one big home or, when closed, two residences.

Next page: Handling family friction, strain on spouses and other concerns. »

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Video Extra

THE CHALLENGES OF MULTIGENERATIONAL LIVING: Members of a household with three generations under one roof reflect on the pros and cons of their situation.

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