081: Multi-Generational Homes

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
081: Multi-Generational Homes

Show Notes:

COHN, D., HOROWITZ, J. M., MINKIN, R., FRY, R., & HURST, K. (2022, March 24). The demographics of multigenerational households. Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project.

Homebuyer Demographics: Are You Ready for This?

Cini, L. M. (2021). Boom: The baby boomers’ guide to preserving your freedom and thriving as you age in place. Ethos Collective. 

Multi-Generational Living

New Study reveals multigenerational living nearly quadrupled in the past decade, with the pandemic playing a strong role. Generations United. (n.d.).


Sarah: [00:00:00] You’re Listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. A podcast that explores the interaction between people, design, and activity. Good Fit Poor Fit is part of The Universal Design Project, a nonprofit organization with a vision for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible.

Learn more at universaldesign.org.

Welcome back, Good Fit Poor Fit listeners. I’m Sarah, and today Rebecca and our student, Kaylee, are back at the microphone to discuss a topic I am pretty sure we have yet to talk much about in the history of our podcast. I think it’s an important topic to discuss as many factors impact this both culturally and financially.

So Kaylee, why don’t you give us a little intro to our topic today?

Kaylee: Hello, Sarah, and thank you for having me back on the Good Fit, Poor Fit podcast. I’m excited for today’s topic, [00:01:00] multi-generational homes. This has been a topic that has recently seemed to gain popularity and circulate my interests even more. By the end of today’s episode, I hope you understand the recent shift in generations, knowledge on how different generations influence the housing market, ways you can leverage technology, housing, design, and your environment to have a successful, independent, multi-generational home. Throughout my capstone, I have researched topics related to multi-generational homes as well as talk to experts, senior living interior designers who understand the different generational perspectives and how that has influenced design. Now, to dive into the generational shift and how it has and will continue to influence the housing market. First, Pew Research Center defines multi-generational households as including two or more adult generations, or a skipped generation, which consists of grandparents and their grandchildren younger than 25. This definition can [00:02:00] vary but typically consists of at least two or more adult generations. A new study from Generations United finds that the number of multi-generational households in America has nearly quadrupled over the past decade, with a dramatic increase of 271% from 2011 to 2021. Before we unpack the history of multi-generational homes and the drivers of growth behind them, I want to ask Sarah and Rebecca what their take is on that shocking statistic.

Sarah: I’ll jump in here. That is a really dramatic increase, and I’ll be excited to hear some of the drivers of that. I know in our extended family, we’ve had multiple generations living together just out of necessity until a home was found or when in transition from a big move. In the article linked in the show notes, “Home Buyer Demographics, Are You Ready for This?

I was surprised to see that there are currently six different generations influencing the housing market. I’ll let you click on [00:03:00] that link to read more about the breakdown of each generation as it was really neat to look at how each group brought up different considerations such as being near community, sustainability, sensory experiences, and making smaller spaces feel larger.

Rebecca: That is a fantastic article, Sarah, and I’m sure our listeners will appreciate the share. I find this statistic shocking too, but really not wildly so. I’m not an expert here, but my sense is that with things being so expensive these days, like college and grad school for younger generations and aging-friendly homes for older adults. Plus the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic still very much lingering. I can see and understand how families are ending up under one roof again these days, but I’ll be curious to see what the official reasons are, Kaylee.

Kaylee: I agree. According to Peer Research data, multi-generational homes had its lowest dip in 1970 to 1980 after World War II. The [00:04:00] first major acceleration began during the Great Recession and continued to go up since. Most recently, Generations United estimates 66.7 million adults, aged 18 and over in the US are living in a multi-generational household with nearly 57% saying they started or are going to continue to live together because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with saying that, let’s continue to break down the data on demographics and social implications you can typically see with this type of living and why this might be. There are various differences in the likelihood of living in a multi-generational household, dependent upon age, gender, race, and geographic location.

According to Pew research, men and women overall are equally likely to live in multi-generational households, but men are more likely to do so among those younger than 40, and women are more likely to do so among those ages 40 and [00:05:00] older. By broad age range, Americans ages 25 to 39, and those ages 55 to 64 are about equally likely to live in multi-generational family household.

But within the younger group, those ages 25 to 29 or 31% are far more likely to live with multiple generations under one roof than those ages 30 to 34. Or even ages 35 to 39 at 15%. Previous analysis has found that today’s young adults are more likely to be living in their parents’ homes and for longer stretches than previous generations, and this is especially prevalent among those with a high school education compared to those with a bachelor’s degree or more education.

This is something I can definitely agree with. I actually lived with my parents for about two months before getting married while I was starting my first semester of OT school. I also know quite a bit of people in their early twenties that are [00:06:00] living with their parents to save money as well.

Sarah: Me too. I certainly couldn’t afford my own place while going to grad school and stayed with my parents, so I can relate to that as well.

Rebecca: Yep. This makes sense to me, too when we’re just launching our careers, maybe even looking for a job, but still working to pay off student loans or figure out our next steps. It really makes sense for so many of us to move back with our parents, even if it’s just temporary. Especially given the cost of rent in lots of places that are popular for younger generations these days.

Tell us more, Kaylee. What else have you found?

Kaylee: Well, Rebecca, multi-generational homes are on the rise for many reasons. As one can assume, a shifting economy, increase in the cost of care for elders and children, cultural beliefs, aging in place, and perhaps the lack of affordable and accessible housing in the US. But, how does this affect the housing market and real estate, you may be wondering? As you may know, the housing market has been one big headache the past couple of years [00:07:00] between home prices rising, housing inventory dropping, and having a crowded buyer market. It only makes sense why people are resorting to multi-generational homes. As more families adopt this concept, many real estate construction or modifications such as granny pods, in-law quarters, and accessory dwelling units or ADUs have been trending as an affordable housing option.

For those audience members who are not familiar with the term accessory dwelling unit or ADU, it is typically a very small home built into a family member’s backyard. There can be multiple uses out of these types of homes, and they can help financially by avoiding buying land or having to build a home.

Most states prove them to be effective, affordable, and promote the use of them. However, be careful because some areas have banned ADUs or Mother-in-law suites.

Sarah: I love that you mentioned how these multi-generational housing options are occurring in design and the [00:08:00] social and financial benefits to support the stats you’ve given. I’ve definitely seen a rise in conversations about ADUs as well or families just converting another part of their house like a basement or adding an addition to their home to accommodate another family member.

I’ve heard of grandparents moving in and other families utilizing extra space to give an adult family member, maybe someone with an intellectual disability, the opportunity to live alone, but be close to family for support. There are a lot of companies out there doing specific ADU work, including one called Wheel Pad.

This specific company even markets their products for this little home to be a place someone can live until home renovations to the main home can be completed, and it’s easily wheeled away when the family is ready for their next transition.

Kaylee: These concepts are great ideas, when you have a family member aging in place, but sometimes this may not be feasible. Let’s get real and talk about the benefits and restrictions [00:09:00] of a multi-generational home. Now, this is what I’ve gathered from research in books, online studies, podcasts, blogs, and more. I am sure some of the listeners out there have more insight from living in the experience of a multi-generational home. If you have any experience or tips, I would love to hear more about it.

Starting off, I feel as if there are many difficult aspects of multi-generational living that could be avoided altogether with the right home layout or through some simple home modifications. For instance, the lack of privacy that comes with having individuals all across the lifespan under one roof.

One could say this can become overwhelming or overstimulating at times. Author, mom and business owner, Lisa Cini, states that she would sneak into her own home just to get some privacy. She continues to state in her book that once they had a sit-down conversation and got a schedule down, it was much more enjoyable and they were able to grow closer and make great [00:10:00] memories.

There are also many pros to multi-generational living with one being finances. They’re either dividing the rent, having an ADU, which increases property value or even just having a babysitter when needed has been a great way for some families that are combating the increased cost to live.

Gerontology studies also show that children who grow up with their grandparents increases the child’s well-being. It has also been shown that by grandparents having a community and family of various ages to identify with, rather than living in a facility, drastically decreases depression and other mental illnesses.

If you have recently become a multi-generational household, or it is in your near future I wanted to discuss some suggestions, modifications, and assistive technology that would be beneficial to you and your family. Sarah, do you have any modifications or assistive technology that come to mind when talking about multi-generational homes?

Sarah: Sure. Yeah, I do Kaylee. As far [00:11:00] as some suggestions to make this living arrangement work, I wanted to point out an article that we’ve linked in the show notes entitled Multi-Generational Living. There’s a section that references Lisa Cini again. She discusses ways to make multi-generational living work for many different families because we all know family dynamics do play a role in this with people wanting their own space, but also having the benefit of that socialization and support like we already discussed.

So in her book, Hive The Simple Guide to Multi-Generational Living, Lisa suggests a few ways to lower stress with this type of living arrangement. The first is locating bedrooms in separate zones. This gives each family unit a space to call their own and gives a living caregiver who may be in the family or not a place to stay as well.

Second, she mentions utilizing multiple doorways to help with the flow of traffic from all of the different people moving around the house. With multiple generations, pets, caregivers, equipment and more giving multiple [00:12:00] routes to get around the home, reduces traffic jams and getting stuck. I’d also probably add open concepts or wider hallways into this point as well. Third, Lisa mentions not worrying about decorating. Of course, when you have multiple generations, you’re going to have multiple design choices, but I agree with her in her thinking here about the function of furniture around the fireplace or the TV to make sure everyone is included is more important than styles and decor.

Lastly, she notes it’s important to find an alternative office space. Oftentimes the extra room serving as an office gets turned into a bedroom for another family member and workspaces get shuffled into the kitchen or another random table. Finding a place to work and that may even be outside the home may have to be a consideration.

I also think, of course, that many universal design concepts will apply here too, as we’re focusing on all ages and abilities. Wide accessible routes [00:13:00] in the home and outdoor spaces for family socialization and reachable functional storage in all home areas. With that many people living in one space, I’d think depending on the square footage, many would need to apply some minimalistic concepts to have everyone live together without so many things.

Rebecca, do you have any other ideas to add to this list?

Rebecca: I think all of these that you’ve mentioned Sarah, make a lot of sense. I think the idea of multiple entryways strikes a particular chord with me related to something Kaylee said earlier. I think it could have a lot of impact on the older and younger generations and maintaining a sense of independence for young adult children who are living with their parents, maybe after college, for example, or older adults who are moving back in with their grown children.

It’d be important to preserve a sense of independence and the ability to come and go as you please without the whole family having to be privy to your every move. So I think that’s a really keen point. I also think that the concept of [00:14:00] flexibility, which is one of the most important pieces of universal design, is particularly salient in a scenario like this.

I think about, for example, multi-height countertops in a kitchen. They’d be functional for people of all heights, perhaps people who may use wheelchairs, children as well as older adults who could pull up a chair and do kitchen tasks seated if standing were to become a challenge at any point. Or just really tired people who want to sit down and prep their dinner seated.

That flexibility that comes from the option of multiple heights in a countertop is really powerful in a situation where people have skills and needs that are different and varying at different times. I’m also wondering how technology could be used to facilitate a functional multigenerational home.

Kaylee, any thoughts here?

Kaylee: Yes! I could actually talk about this all day, but leveraging technology is going to be one of the best decisions when it comes to safety within the home. Smart technology such as Alexa, Ring Doorbell, Apple TV, keypad [00:15:00] automatic locks and more are great expenses that can be added for individuals across the lifespan.

In addition, reducing clutter, having furniture proportional to the space in each room and utilizing organizational techniques are some suggestions to keep items and trip hazards off the floor. With many people in one environment, it is important to have optimal room for navigating hallways and rooms with safety and function.

Of course, always take time for yourself and your own privacy as it can become overwhelming at times. Overall, you utilizing aging in place concepts with universal design will help further assist your use of space and benefit yourself, friends and family members. As well as promote more effective and accessible design.

If you have any questions or would like to share your experience living in a multi-generational home, I would love to hear more about your experience if you comment below. Thank you guys so much for listening in.

Rebecca: I too would love to hear from some of our [00:16:00] listeners about their experiences in multi-generational homes. Tell us what’s worked and maybe even what’s been a challenge design-wise. Give us something to think about and maybe we can even talk about it on another episode of Good Fit Poor Fit. But for now, thank you Kaylee for bringing this timely topic to the table and getting our gears turning.

And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. Stay well and we’ll be back on the mic soon.

Sarah: Thanks for listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. I’m your host Sarah Pruett, Program Director and Occupational Therapist at The Universal Design Project. Learn more about our work at universaldesign.org, and find more episodes and links to subscribe at goodfitpoorfit.com If you have questions or topics you’d like to discuss, email us at [email protected].

Thanks for fitting us into your day!



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