This family is part of a growing trend of Americans living in a multigenerational household.

The number of people living under one roof is growing for the first time in more than a century, a fallout of the recession that could reduce demand for housing and slow the recovery.The Census Bureau had projected the average household size would continue to fall to 2.53 this year. Instead, the average is likely to hit 2.63, a small but significant increase because it is a turnabout.


“A funny thing happened on the way to the future” says Arthur C. Nelson, director of the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah. “Household size increased.”

The USA could end this decade with up to 4 million excess housing units because of the reversal in household size, he says.

A key factor: “The Great Recession has forced doubling up among both family and non-family members,” Nelson says.

Multi-generational households are on the rise: 49 million, or 16% of the population, live in a home that had at least two adult generations in 2008. In 1980, there were 28 million, or 12%.

According to a recent Pew Research Center report, the growth is due to demographics, cultural shifts and high unemployment.

“I think it’s the young adults,” says Dowell Myers, housing demographer at the University of Southern California. “Residential mobility has slowed down and when it slows down, they’re back in their parents’ houses or living with roommates.”

Household size began inching up in 2005, before the recession, a trend that might have been driven by the real estate boom that made housing unaffordable to many. Now, it’s more likely to be caused by the poor economy.

“There are a lot of trends going on,” Nelson says. Among them:

• Older Americans. They’re moving in with children and grandkids and vice versa. About 20% of people 65 and older live in multi-generational households

• High unemployment. It’s keeping young adults out of the job market and back home with their parents.

“Clearly, a lot of people are not forming households when they’re getting out of school,” says Karl Case, economics professor at Wellesley College who helped create the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index.

It’s not just that people are not buying homes. They’re not renting either, a sign that more people are squeezing into one unit.

“I can document this with my own students,” Case says. “Rental vacancy is the highest it’s ever been.”

• Immigrants. They have higher fertility rates and a cultural acceptance of extended families living together. Despite a decline in the influx of Hispanics since the economy soured, household size inched up.

“It’s going to have huge implications for the housing market,” Nelson says.

If it lasts. Many economists and demographers are convinced that as soon as the recession ends and jobs open up, Americans will return to their old ways. “I see it as temporary,” Myers says.

“The economy is the most important thing,” says Stephen Melman, director of economic services at the National Association of Home Builders. “Projecting lifestyles is a really tricky business.”

“The New American Home” unveiled this year at a builders’ show is a large, one-story home with master bedroom suites at either end to accommodate two generations — a nod to changing lifestyles.

“It’s to be determined whether it’s a temporary thing driven by either affordability or the economy,” says Eric Belsky, executive director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. “There are so many conflicting pieces of information.”

 Via USA Today