How the Pandemic Brought a Surge in Multigenerational Living in the United States

It used to be that the path to the American Dream was pretty straightforward and clear. You grow up, get an education, and find a job. Then you leave your parents’ home and move into one of your own. There, you will raise your own family, in your home complete with its white picket fence and two cats in the yard.

For far too long, though, that American Dream has been precisely that — a dream largely unattainable, especially for the working class and persons of color. In the pandemic era, however, that dream seems to have slipped even further away. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, a trend that was rising before the virus struck has now surged, with multiple generations now living in shared family homes, often as a simple matter of financial survival.

The Rise of Multigenerational Living

To be sure, the multigenerational household is not unprecedented. Indeed, throughout much of the 18th and 19th centuries, this was the norm in many areas, especially on farms and homesteads, where households were largely self-sustaining. 

With the advent of the 20th century, young folk began leaving the farms for schooling and, then, work in the cities and suburbs. There, they would make their homes and raise their families. The modern American Dream was born.

Today, many American families are returning to the old ways, with young adult children returning home after schooling to begin building their careers and families, and elders seeking care and support in the homes of their offspring.

And while the pandemic has led to a spike in this trend of multigenerational living, it certainly did not start it. Rising student debt and years of economic instability, particularly in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008, have put homeownership out of reach for many young people. Living with the family, for many of these newly-minted adults, is an ideal way to save money, build credit, and launch a career in preparation for buying their first home, with all its significant upfront expenses, later in life.

In the face of the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, multigenerational living, increasingly, has become a matter not of choice, but necessity. Research shows that housing insecurity has become ubiquitous in the US since the coronavirus outbreak, with Black and Lantinx families particularly adversely affected.

The Perks of Multigenerational Living

No matter what a family’s particular reasons may be for bringing multiple generations together under a single roof, there are significant advantages to such an arrangement. Though homeownership is a significant source of private wealth, it’s also a costly endeavor. The maintenance and upkeep of a home can quickly devour the family budget, particularly when unexpected expenses — a broken appliance, a plumbing issue — arise. 

In the best of times, those costs can be a tremendous burden, even in a two-income family. In an era of rising prices and high unemployment, as we have today such expenses can however be catastrophic for a family. 

When you have multiple generations living under the same roof, those expenses, not to mention the daily expenditures of food, utilities, and fuel, are far easier to manage. Not only this, but multigenerational living can also be a tremendous asset for sharing the responsibilities of running a home, as there will be more hands on deck, so to speak, to help out with child and elder care, to take care of household chores, and to support little ones with schooling, particularly for those who are still learning from home.

And that can be a tremendous incentive for welcoming parents, grandparents, and grandchildren into the family home, not only for established homeowners, but for prospective ones as well. The decision to purchase a home is a daunting one, and it’s not uncommon for prospective buyers to face doubts, fears, and hesitancy. But the reassurance of the support of multiple generations of family sharing the burdens and the benefits of a shared family home can make all the difference for those preparing to leap into homeownership. 

The Takeaway

Multigenerational living was on the rise even before the COVID-19 outbreak. In the wake of the pandemic, however, such arrangements quickly became not a luxury but a necessity, particularly for low-income and BIPOC families, for whom the economic impacts of the pandemic have been especially devastating. There are, however, numerous benefits to multigenerational living. From the sharing of expenses and household duties to the emotional support of always keeping the family close, multigenerational living may well be a trend that long outlasts the pandemic.

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