Will You Live with...?

Will You Live with Your Adult Children and Elderly Parents?

by Karina Gafford

If your military spouse is international, then chances are that your family has already discussed the possibility of needing a multi-generational living space later in life (preferably when your two- to three-year career hopping has culminated and you’ve found your ideal retirement area). Though a long-time tradition for foreign-born spouses and those living outside of the U.S., for a growing number of American families, the trend toward multi-generational homes is fast growing. That doesn’t mean that multi-generational housing—with children, parents, grandparents, and possibly additional family members all living under one roof—is a new concept in the U.S.; however, it is a practice that has been out of vogue for quite some time.

Multi-generational housing means housing that includes three or more generations. Traditionally, that meant children, parents, and aging grandparents who move in with their own children when they can no longer care for themselves. Today, however, multi-generational housing is more likely to include young adults in their mid- to late-20s and early 30s than it is to include elder family members. The Pew Research Foundation credits the rise in multi-generational housing to the Great Recession, as their research reflects a similar trend with that of the Great Depression in the twentieth century.

Are Older or Younger Americans More Likely to Move in with Another Generation?

Just as America emerged from the Great Depression in 1940, approximately 32 million Americans lived in multi-generational homes. Today, 57 million Americans reside in multi-generational homes, reflecting 18.1 percent of the total U.S. population. This is almost double the number of Americans who lived in multi-generational homes in the 1980s. As of 2012, the breakdown of multi-generational housing occupants looked something like this:

  • Elder Adults, 85 and older: 22.7 percent
  • Young Adults, 25-34: 23.6 percent (a huge jump up from 18.7 percent at the start of the recession)
  • Women: 19 percent
  • Men: 17 percent
  • African Americans: 24.6 percent
  • Asian Americans: 27 percent
  • Hispanics: 24.4 percent
  • Non-Hispanic Whites: 14 percent

In 1940, almost 68 percent of those in the 85 and older age group lived in multi-generational housing; however, with advances in medicine, home health care, and retirement communities, elder Americans are far more likely to continue to embrace their independence for much longer than ever before. The increase in the average life span is similarly reflected in the trend for older Americans to continue to live independently. The Social Security Administration provides the following numbers for American life spans:

1940: Male life expectancy was 60.8; female life expectancy was 65.2.

Today: A 65-year-old male can expect to live to 84.3; a female who is 65 years old today can expect to live to 86.6. Of these, 25 percent will live past age 90 and 10 percent will live past age 95, significantly outliving their predecessors of just a couple of generations ago.

Based on these numbers, one in six Americans live in multi-generational homes! Though Pew shows that young adults now outnumber older adults moving into multi-generational homes, with the Boomers increasingly entering retirement, those numbers may soon shift. MetLife’s Mature Market Institute Survey found that in 2012, the average annual cost of nursing home care was between $81,030 (semi-private room) and $90,520 (private room) per year, which is up from an average of $72,000 in 2009, reflecting soaring rates for long-term care that the average American family simply cannot afford. Not only is long-term care expensive, but also long-term care insurance is expensive, too, and so many simply choose to not purchase this pricey item, which may result in undue financial burdens in the future. As a result, multi-generational housing with home health care or a part-time nursing assistant can typically prove a far less costly, and thus increasingly more attractive option, for helping to care for aging parents.

Military Families Living in Multi-Generational Homes for Short Periods versus Long Periods

Many members of military families may, at some point or another, consider living in a multi-generational home for a period. This may include either the duration of a spouse’s deployment or a geo-bachelor assignment to a remote location that would not be conducive to having all members of the family move overseas, too. For example, in the case of a family with a specific health care need for a child, a tour of two years to a small island such as Guam may simply be out of the question; however, for the service member, that particular assignment may help significantly improve his chances at avoiding a future Reduction-in-Force board, and thus ensuring that the family can continue to afford and provide the necessary medical care for the child. In such a case, the spouse and children may choose to live with parents or in-laws for additional support while their service member serves overseas.

In the case of a short-term multi-generational housing situation, the family would likely not make either many or any modifications to the home. For a longer term situation, such as having elderly parents move in, the need to modify the home is not only more likely, but also more necessary. For instance, while a young or middle aged adult with children may be able to "make do" with whatever rooms and space are available in the home for the duration of their stay, an older adult may have mobility issues that will only continue to progressively worsen over time; therefore, a first floor apartment space may be necessary, and additional modifications to usable living spaces such as bathtubs may also be necessary.

Also in the case of a long-term multi-generational living situation, a separate living space, such as an in-law suite with its own entrance, den, and kitchen may also be a requirement. This situation may help ameliorate some of the tensions of living in such close quarters when each family has lived separately for so long. This may help create a stronger bond of living together without having any one generation feel as if they are imposing on the living space of another.

Military Families with "Boomerang" Children

As repeated studies show that the U.S. military reflects a general cross-section of the entire American population, for more seasoned active duty families with children who are 25 and older, the number of families with young adults returning back to the nest are likely similar to that of non-military families, though we could find only anecdotal evidence but no studies to support this fact at the time of this writing. Assuming, then, that as with the rest of the U.S., approximately 23.6 percent of young adults aged 25 to 34 are moving in with their families, then a small but significant number of our military families are facing these challenges. According to MilitaryOneSource’s most recent military demographics report, 9.1 percent of all military members are over the age of 41, for a total of approximately 61,000 officers and 65,000 enlisted members. Taking into account the assumptions that:

a) The average age of having a child less than three decades ago was only 21, and

b) 43.6 percent of service members have at least one child

We can then assume that of those 41 and older, at least 60,000 service members have a minimum of one child who is, if not already 25 or older, then at least approaching the age of 25. Unfortunately, the military demographics report only tracks military children up to the age of 22, so we do not have the actual statistics readily available.

Given the data that at least 60,000 service members likely fall into the position of having a young adult in the 25-34 year old age bracket, we can then assume that almost one-quarter of those (based on the numbers from the Pew Research Report) have their kiddo living back at home. That means we can estimate that at least 15,000 American service members have young adults, aged 25 to 34, living back at home.

That’s a lot of young adults moving back in with military families!

Though cultural reasons may encourage many to return home, the main reason that Pew cites for these young adults, both male and female, returning back to the nest is finances. One in four of those who return home in the 25 to 34 age bracket are unemployed; the unemployment rate in this age group has a direct correlation with the lack of a bachelor’s degree, the report cites, so many in this group are returning to either save or to pursue a degree. They also report that younger Americans are marrying later—an average of 27 for women and 29 for men—and so they are more likely to return home than they are to move in with a spouse who can help share the burden of bills.

For the military family that has had an empty nest for several years, though, the return of a child for an extended period may cause undue strain on the family’s relationship. The child may expect that the family relationship may revert to the experience he or she had prior to leaving the home where mom cooks and does laundry while dad pays the bills; the parents may also expect that the child reverts to family obligations, such as sitting down to dinner each night and attending church with the family on a weekly basis. Given multiple years of living apart, it may be challenging for each member to affirm his or her expectations.

In order to avoid some of the strain of multi-generational living, make sure to use our Guide to Surviving Your Multi-Generational Housing Experience to help begin the conversation that you need to have whenever a child or parent moves into your home.