The Blog

More Seniors Living With Adult Kids, But Don't Blame Economy

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

The last few years have seen an increase in multigenerational living. Young adults became far more likely to live with their parents during the recession than before and haven't really started to move out. On the other side of the life cycle, seniors - specifically adults 65 and older - are also more likely to live with relatives than in the recent past. That means fewer Americans today need to go "over the river and through the wood" to see Grandma and Grandpa for Thanksgiving than they did 20 years ago. (Yes, the original poem is actually "through the wood," not "woods," and to grandfather's house. We've been singing it all wrong. Have you?) But the reasons that seniors are increasingly likely to live with relatives are totally different from those that lead young adults to live with their parents.

Why are More Seniors Living with Relatives?
According to the Census (2012 ACS), 9% of seniors live in a household headed by their children, children-in-law, or other relatives (other than their spouse). Another 2% live in a household headed by people they aren't related to, and 3% live in "group quarters" like nursing homes. The other 85% live in their own home.

Another survey, the Current Population Survey's American Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC), shows the share of seniors living with their children or other relatives has grown over the past 20 years, from an average of 6.6% over the years 1994-1998 to 7.3% in 2013. These data are volatile year to year, but the overall trend is clearly upward, as the "unadjusted" line in the chart below shows. (Confusingly, different government surveys report seniors' living arrangements differently. See note at end of post for all the details. But don't worry: all of the trends and comparisons in this post are based on apples-to-apples analyses.)

Note: based on CPS ASEC 1994-2013, via IPUMS site. See longer note at end of post.

The rise in seniors living with relatives isn't due to the recession or to changing attitudes: rather, it's because of demographic shifts. For instance, the share of seniors who are 80 or older grew from 22% in 1994 to 25% in 2013. Furthermore, the share of seniors who were born outside the U.S. grew from 8% in 1994 to 13% in 2013. As the next section will show, older seniors and foreign-born seniors are much likelier to live with relatives than other seniors are.

Adjusting for demographics, including age, marital status, sex, race, ethnicity, and nativity, the trend in seniors living with relatives is actually slightly downward over the past two decades. That means that a senior with particular demographics - say, a widowed 74-year-old white woman born in the U.S. - is no more likely to live with relatives today than someone with the same demographics twenty years ago. In other words, the changing demographics of America's seniors explain why more of them are living with relatives.

The next section looks closely at how demographics affect which seniors live with their children or other relatives.

Will Your Parents Be Moving In with You?
Which seniors are most likely to live with their adult children and other relatives? Going deeper into the raw Census data (ACS 2011 5-year PUMS - see note), we found that the seniors that are more likely to live with relatives are:
  • Older: just 6% of the youngest seniors - those aged 65-69 - live with relatives, compared with 10% of 80-84 year-olds and 15% of seniors 85 and older.
  • Not currently married: just 3% of married seniors live under another relative's roof (remember, spouses aren't relatives in this sense), versus 13% of never-married seniors and 16% of widowed seniors.
  • Women: 11% of women 65+ live with relatives, versus 5% of men 65+, but some of that difference is because women live longer.
The biggest difference between seniors who live with relatives and those who don't, though, is whether the elders were born in the U.S. or abroad. Among foreign-born seniors, 25% live with relatives, compared with just 6% of native-born seniors - that's four times as likely!

Furthermore, among seniors born abroad but now living in the U.S., the likelihood that they live with relatives varies hugely by country of birth. Close to half of seniors born in India (47%) and Vietnam (44%) live with relatives, while seniors born in Germany (6%) and Canada (5%) are slightly less likely than U.S.-born seniors to live with relatives. These large differences by country or region of birth persist even after accounting for other demographics.

Even among the seniors born in the U.S., the racial and ethnic differences in living with relatives are substantial. African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic seniors are all twice as likely as whites to live with relatives:

In all: you're most likely to be inviting your parents, in-laws, or other older relatives to live with you if they were originally from India, Vietnam, and Haiti, and least likely if they're Canadian-born or U.S.-born white. Furthermore, the demand for housing that works for multigenerational households depends most on how the demographics of seniors change. Immigration policy, for instance, could change the demographic mix of seniors in the U.S. - and could affect the demand for in-law units more than macroeconomic forces like the recession and recovery.

Where Seniors are Already Home for the Holidays
As Thanksgiving and the holiday season approach, families are gearing up for travel. But in some local markets, the elder generation is more likely to be living with relatives than in other markets. Where are the grandparents living under the same roof, instead of over the river and through the wood?

Again, demographics are the key: country of birth, race, and ethnicity shape seniors' living arrangements, and metros vary widely in the demographic mix of their seniors. As a result, more than a quarter of seniors in the Miami metro area live with their children, in-laws, or other relatives, compared with less than 5% in Omaha:

Going further, we checked whether there are other reasons - aside from demographics - why seniors in some metros are far more likely to live with relatives than in other metros. Here's one thing that didn't matter: home prices. There was no statistically significant difference between more and less expensive housing markets in whether seniors live with relatives, after accounting for demographics.

Here's what did matter: whether the metro has a lot of seniors. After adjusting for demographics, seniors were less likely to live with relatives in metros where more of the population is 65 and older - instead, they're more likely to live on their own.

Why should the prevalence of seniors affect whether they live with relatives? One reason is that in metros with more seniors, we should expect to see more senior communities, independent-living housing, and other services that cater to seniors - so seniors in metros where there are more seniors might have more options for living on their own. Another reason is that metros with lots of seniors - like North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota and Cape Coral-Fort Myers, both on the west coast of Florida - are retirement destinations that seniors move to, so seniors there might not have local relatives to live with even if they wanted to.

What do these patterns mean for housing in the future? As people live longer, and if the share of foreign-born seniors continues to rise, we could see an increasing share of seniors living with relatives - and more demand for homes that can accommodate multi-generational households (i.e., in-law units). However, the metro-level analysis shows that in areas where seniors are a larger share of the population, a higher share of those seniors live on their own. This is a reminder that as the population ages, developers and other businesses will have a stronger incentive to create communities and services that give more seniors the choice to live on their own if they want.

Will you live with your kids or other relatives when you're older? Will your parents or in-laws come live with you? These can be some of the hardest housing discussions families have. The answer depends less on how the economy is doing today or tomorrow than on where you or your parents were born.

Note: this post relies on multiple government data sources, each of which is best suited to different parts of the analysis.

The Current Population Survey's Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) is the source of the 1994-2013 trends. These data are based on too small a sample for metro-level analysis but have the advantage of being annual and current. We used regression analysis on the ASEC microdata (person-level records) to adjust for demographic shifts. "Living with relatives" includes people identified as the parent, in-law, sibling, or other relative of the householder. The ASEC does not include people living in group quarters. The ASEC reports a lower level of seniors living with relatives and a higher level of seniors who are foreign-born than the American Community Survey. The data were obtained through the IPUMS-CPS database, which requests to be cited as such: Miriam King, Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Sarah Flood, Katie Genadek, Matthew B. Schroeder, Brandon Trampe, and Rebecca Vick. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Current Population Survey: Version 3.0. [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

The American Community Survey (ACS) 2012 1-year summary file is the source for seniors' living arrangements overall at the national level (9% with relatives, 85% on their own, etc.). The ACS 2012 3-year summary file is the source for the metro-level shares of seniors living with relatives. The ACS 2011 5-year Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) file is the source for the comparisons among demographic groups, including country or region of birth, race, and ethnicity, as well as the metro-level regression analysis on whether metro-level factors affect seniors' living arrangements, adjusting for individual demographics. The most recently published PUMS data are from 2011, and the 5-year file is the largest sample available. Unlike the ASEC, the ACS does include respondents living in group quarters, such as nursing homes.

Popular in the Community