Financial Resource Center

Money Management

Generations Together, Save Costs and Build Relationships

by Darla Dernovsek / September 26th, 2019

Lisa and Steve built their new Idaho home with a "mother-in-law suite" for Lisa's mother, Brenda. Lisa and Brenda work different shifts at the same hospital, so there's usually an adult around to keep an eye on the family's three teenagers. And even when Brenda works the second shift, she returns to the reassuring activity of a lively family instead of an empty house. Families are learning that when members of different generations spend time together, it can be good for their quality of life and for their wallets.

Together Again

In their book Together Again: A Creative Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living, Sharon Graham Niederhaus and John L. Graham examine the shift toward sharing living arrangements among multiple generations.  It notes that single-family homes consisting of two parents and two children are a historical break from the longstanding tradition of multigenerational living.

In 1940, more than 60% of elderly widows lived with their adult children. The number of multigenerational families steadily declined to a low of 12% in 1980, before rising again to 20% in 2016, according to a Pew Research Center report based on U.S. Census figures. 

A Return to Interdependence

Economic pressures, immigration from countries with a tradition of multigenerational living, and a desire for stronger family ties all contribute to the trend. "We're headed back to interdependence within the extended family," Graham says. For example, the White House housed three generations of President Barack and Michelle Obama's family, from their daughters to "first mother-in-law" Marian Robinson. Together Again examines a variety of living arrangements that bring members of different generations together. That might mean sharing the same home, renting apartments in the same building, or living nearby and sharing meals or child care.

Important Gains

Sharing the same roof can offer significant savings. Graham's adult daughter moved back to the family's California home and drove one of her parents' two cars. Living in a costly real estate market, she saved $2,000 a month in rent alone, plus the cost of a car and insurance. In exchange, she helped with household chores. A household with young children who require child care or older adults who require help with daily chores or medical needs might save even more. "This trade of services, especially in the child-care area, is a really big consideration," Graham says. Ongoing contact also creates special family ties, especially among grandparents and grandchildren.

Ground Rules

Some families may be unprepared to live in close proximity. Graham suggests traveling together to see if family members or friends can share the same space day after day. Communication and compromise are essential to avoid conflict. Yet even compatible families can experience difficulties. Monthly meetings can create guidelines to deal with minor issues, such as crumbs left on the kitchen counter or wet laundry left in the washing machine. Hold meetings regularly for at least the first four to six months to assure getting off to a good start.

Beyond Family

Multigenerational living also can benefit people who lack close family ties but are seeking companionship, help with household tasks, or extra income from rent. The National Shared Housing Resource Center provides state-by-state information about programs matching homeowners with people who want to share a home. These exchanges may involve rent, personal services, or both. Single mothers can find roommates through CoAbode, a free online service.

The Next Generation

Young adults who live with their parents are sometimes ridiculed. But Graham believes critics of these "boomerang children" overlook the blessings for parents who want to share a home with multiple generations. "Human beings are designed to live in extended family groups," Graham says. "That's when we're happiest."


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