Extended Families are Making a Comeback

November 23, 2011 | By Sharon Jayson

This Thanksgiving, many families are closer — really closer — than they've been in years.

An increasing number of extended families across the USA are under the same roof, living together either permanently or temporarily. Sometimes these arrangements are multigenerational, with adult children, grandchildren or an elderly parent sharing quarters. In other cases, an extended family bunks together, with siblings, cousins, nieces or nephews sharing space.

The reasons are economic, social and demographic. The recession and its aftermath have pushed extended families to share space at a time when the average age at first marriage has climbed to 28.7 for men and 26.5 for women. And life expectancy — now 75.7 for men and 80.6 for women in the USA — continues to rise. The flow of immigrants into this country also has been a factor; immigrants are more likely than other groups to live with members of their extended family.

Taken together, the trends suggest that the rise of the extended family is going to be with us for a while, analysts say.

In Hicksville, N.Y., Gina Moscato, 26, her husband, Ian Roche Tilden, 31, and their 22-month-old son, Tyler, live with her grandmother, Christine Moscato, who will be 95 next month. The young family stays upstairs with a living area, two bedrooms and bath, while grandma is downstairs.

Many parents of adult children who move back home charge their offspring rent — 46% in a new online survey of 483 Baby Boomers by the website VibrantNation.com. More than three-quarters (78%) say the adult child returned primarily for economic reasons; 55% say he or she has a job but can’t afford living expenses. The website, which launched in 2008, focuses on women ages 48-68.

The survey found many have formalized rules or agreements related to the living arrangements, suggesting that parents recognize this child is not moving out soon, says website founder and CEO Stephen Reily, 47, of Louisville, Ky. .

“This is a strange new hybrid of landlady and Mom,” he says. Of those with adult children back home, 36% of the boomerang kids are ages 22-25; 28% are 30+; and 27% are 26-30.

"We originally moved in to save money," Gina Moscato says. "We wanted to buy a house. She didn't mind because she wanted the company."

Moscato says that Thursday, they'll have a traditional Thanksgiving meal, with touches of their Italian heritage, at her father's home in the area. "We'll do, like, 7,000 courses," she jokes, listing antipasto, appetizer, lasagna, salad, turkey, dessert and dessert wines.

Living with extended family is nothing new for Valda Ford, 57, who last year moved from Omaha to High Point, N.C., to live with her son Alphonso Becote, 37, and his wife, Ronnida, 35. Ford's 80-year-old disabled cousin, T.J. Countee, also lives in the home. Alphonso Becote is his guardian.

"We always had the equivalent of an extended family, with either multiple generations in the same house or the same cul-de-sac," she says. "In Omaha, half the reason I moved there was because my oldest sister was less than a mile away with her grown daughter and her grandchildren."

So many family members live nearby that when 45 family members arrive for Thanksgiving at Becote's home, Ford says, "no one is really traveling to get there."

New 2010 Census data show that 5.1 million households in the USA (4.4%) are multigenerational, with three or more generations sharing quarters. That's a 21% increase from the 4.2 million (3.7%) such households in 2000.

"Siblings are supporting each other. Brothers-in-law are supporting their wives' sisters and brothers," says social psychologist Susan Newman of Metuchen, N.J., author of the 2010 book Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily. "Other cultures have always lived in multigenerational families. We are slowly seeing that happening here."

Moscato and Roche Tilden moved to her grandmother's home in late 2007. "My family says it's adding years to her life," she says.

Roche Tilden, a project manager in construction, got laid off six months later and was out of work for a year. Moscato, an executive assistant, was in her last year of college. She says her husband found a job but was laid off two more times. He's employed now. She found a job in March after being home almost a year with her son.

Moscato says living with her grandmother also benefits her young family. "I see her every day. Sometimes we watch TV together. She's a big part of our lives," she says.

That's not the case for Dianah Stehle, 57, of Plymouth, Mich. This year, both her son, John Hogg, 26, and her cousin, Jim Bradford, 51, moved into her three-bedroom, one-bath home. But because of their work schedules, they barely see one another.

"I get up first and I leave the house around 5 in the morning. I think Jimmy leaves about 5:30. My son, I think he leaves around noon. I get home around 4. Jim can show up from between 5 and 9, and my son gets home around 11 or 11:30 at night," she says.

Hogg, who works two jobs, one full-time and another part-time, moved back home in June after being away three years to try to save up for a house with a garage.

Bradford, a truck mechanic who had been out of work for three years, moved there in April to be closer to his new job. A divorced father of two adult sons, he stays there during the week and spends weekends at his own home more than two hours away.

Stehle, a computer-aided designer who has been divorced 15 years, says her son and cousin each pay her $100 a month to cover utilities.

"I had some reservations because I had been in my house by myself such a long time," Stehle says.

"It was harder mentally," Hogg says. "In my book, you move out, you get a good job, you continue to progress through life. Coming back home, I felt like I was falling back a little bit. But then I just told myself this is a way to save money."

Young adults return home

This is a pattern that will continue, predicts Neil Howe, 60, a historian, economist and demographer in Great Falls, Va., who has written about generational issues.

"We are clearly going to be in this era for a while," he says. "High rates of multigenerational family living had been the norm" until after World War II, when the emphasis shifted to the nuclear family enabled by construction of interstate highways, the rise of suburbs and the affluence of young adults. But by the late 1960s and '70s, "there was a generation gap and almost generational war," Howe says.

"There was a time in the 1970s when no one wanted to live together," he says. "Seniors were moving to Leisure World to get away from the culture of the kids. Couples were divorcing — it was the high tide of the divorce revolution, and Boomers wanted to strike out on their own."

But now, many young adults do return home, at least temporarily.

New Census data from the Current Population Survey 2011, out earlier this month, found that between 2005 and 2011, the proportion of young adults ages 25 to 34 living in their parents' home rose from 14% to 19% for men and from 8% to 10% for women.

Destiny Young, 26, is among them.

She earned her bachelor's degree in communications from Fayetteville (N.C.) State University in May 2010 and stayed but couldn't find work in her field. She worked part time as a receptionist at a nursing home and then moved to Raleigh for a marketing job.

Although it was full-time, Young says, it was commission-only, and she left after two months. She moved back to her parents' home to Amityville, N.Y., in April.

"They knew I was struggling," she says. "I couldn't even pay my rent. My parents were like, 'You need to come home.'"

"We gave her the option to come home one time," says her mother, Renee Young, 58. "It's not a revolving door."

Now, Destiny Young works full time as a customer-service representative; many of her employed friends aren't in their career field, either. She doesn't pay rent but does contribute to groceries. She pays for her phone and car, as well as the storage fee for her furniture, still in North Carolina. In January, she'll have to start paying on her student loans, which she had deferred. "It is difficult because I got used to being on my own," she says. "Now that I'm home, I really don't have space."

Goodbye, empty nest

Michele Beatty, 54, of Waynesville, Ohio, and her husband, Gordon, 56, had an empty nest for almost 2½ years between the time the youngest of their three sons went to college and the return in August of their oldest, Patrick, who had been living in Dayton for about eight years. He had left his job as a graphic designer in February.

"We said, 'You can come home to your old room and continue to look for employment,' never dreaming it would go on this long," she says. "One thing we did not want was his stuff. His stuff is in storage. He came home with clothes and his cat, Sprite."

There are two closets in his room, but he lives out of suitcases, his mother says.

"It felt too permanent — like I was stuck there," says Patrick Beatty, 28. "We were all brought up with the cultural expectation that once you leave the nest, you are not supposed to return."

He's working two days a week as a freelance graphic designer and three or four days part time stocking boxes. Two of those days, he works 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.

"I feel part of the time like a burden," he says. "I try to contribute to the house when I can. I try to stay out of their way as much as possible. It's home, but not the home I'd be building for myself if I had my way."

According to a Pew Research Center report released earlier this month, about one in five adults ages 25-34 live in a multigenerational home. However, Pew's definition includes two or more adult generations, unlike the Census definition, which bases its data on three or more.

Caring for family elders

A survey of 2,226 adults, done in September by Harris Interactive for the non-profit Generations United, found that of those in a multigenerational home, 40% reported that job loss, change in job status or underemployment was a reason for the living arrangement; 20% said it was because of health care costs; and 14% said it was because of foreclosure or other housing loss. The report, Family Matters: Multigenerational Families in a Volatile Economy, will be released Dec. 6.

Bill Fragoso, 57, of Cleveland says his parents, both immigrants from Puerto Rico, set an example to care for family elders.

"I have to do this. That's one of the things both parents instilled in us," he says. "They took care of their parents."

Fragoso says his parents lived with his family during the last year of his father's battle with cancer. After he died in 2003, Fragoso's mother, Sarita, now 81, returned to Campbell, Ohio, about an hour away.

In 2005, she moved back in with him, his wife, Raquel, and daughter Joanna, now 17, a high school senior. Two older sons, ages 26 and 29, don't live at home.

Families don't always move to the same house to stay close. In 2008, Betty Cook, 72, and her boyfriend got an apartment at Azalea Trace, the retirement community in Pensacola, Fla., where her mother, Jean Phillippi, 98, had moved a couple of years earlier. They live in separate buildings connected by a breezeway.

On Thanksgiving, they'll gather — with Cook's son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters — in Azalea Trace's dining room.

Cook is among a growing number of seniors moving into the same retirement communities as their elderly parents. She says it allows her mother to continue living independently and is much less time-consuming and more efficient for her. In the five years before Cook moved, it was an hour's drive to Pensacola several times a week.

"When she would have a doctor appointment, it would take all day," she says.

Newman says "families have lived so far apart for so many decades" that they're now realizing that for the most part — except for some families that can't get along — their relatives are "the people they turn to when the chips are down."

"Once you work out the kinks," she says, "people realize they like the relatives."

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