The Extended Family Is Coming Back

By: Victor Normand
Published: August 2013

What do McMansions, boomerang kids, and the Great Recession have in common?  Think multigenerational housing and the days before WWII when it was common for several generations to live together under one roof.   Today over 50 million Americans, or 16.3% of the population live in households with more than two generations according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the trend is increasing every year, though far below the 25% of the population living as extended families in 1940.

The housing boom after WWII saw large tracts of land developed for housing in all parts of the country, and little of it was built for the extended family, just housing for parents and their 2.3 kids.  By 1980, the number of extended family households had shrunk to half of what is was, just 40 years previous.

Since 1950 the size of the average home has grown by 240% while the average family size has decreased by 30%.  According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average size of an American home has increased from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,349 SF in 2002 with the Northeast leading the way with an average of 2601 SF.

The housing plan envisioned by many Baby Boomers who bought all those big houses, involved selling that big house when the kids left the nest and downsizing to smaller quarters.  The flaw in that scenario is twofold.  Though the kids did leave the nest, often, very often, they came back, and flaw number two: where to find the smaller house to down size to?

Presently, there are 2,748 single family homes on the market in Middlesex County; of those only 203 have fewer than three bedrooms, and of those, only 37 were built after 1980.  The alternative is newer, age restricted developments that often do not provide all of the economic relief hoped for by retiring Boomers.

As for the Great Recession, it seems to have imposed a reexamination of the social benefits of the extended family.  Single and married children living with parents clearly has powerful economic benefits,  as does providing housing for elderly parents who can free themselves of their larger homes.  So, the problem of what to do with the big house may have its solution in accommodating some major social and economic changes.

Indeed a niche has developed among home builders who are designing homes to provide for the extended family.  Also, home owners are re-designing existing McMansions to provide interior living spaces for the comfort of the extended family members.  Now the challenge is zoning which often makes it difficult for homeowners and builders to create in-law apartments or accessory buildings.  Only California has a law which allows such housing by right.  But there are options in the marketplace and then, of course, there is a Resident Expertsm who can help with your multigenerational needs.