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The new American family – living with your grown kids?

Generations living together - one way American families are different today
Generations living together - one way American families are different today
Photo by Rick Diamond

We boomers are a million strong in the U.S. Not all of us are as financially set as we'd like to be - and some of our grown kids aren't doing as well as they'd like, either. These days, with rental rates skyrocketing in the wake of the real estate crash, commingled housing is looking to some folks like a viable solution.

It's one thing when your recent college graduate comes home to figure out what to do with his/her life. A surprising 51% of men 18 to 24 were doing just that in 2010; 47% of women, too. But what about when they've become full-fledged adults and have spouses and families of their own?

Could you live with your grown daughter and grandchildren? What about your son and daughter-in-law? I'd venture to say not many people would find that easy to do. The dynamics on both sides change dramatically when the generations share a home. Yet, according to recent article in AARP Magazine, more folks are doing it - up from 12% of households in 1980 to 17% in 2009 (last count).

Still, that's not a huge increase compared to some other really big changes in the American family profile. For example, marriage used to be the default state for families. Back in 1960 72% of all adults got married. In 2012 the rate had fallen to 51%. And of course the age at which people get married continues to rise - these days it's 26.6 years for women and 29 for men. Maybe you're one of us lady boomers who remembers when you were still under 20 and wailing to your friends, "Oh, no, I'm nineteen already! I'll never get married!" These are big shifts.

Remember when "out of wedlock" was a horrible stigma? Not any more. Many more women, not lost-soul teens but adult women who support themselves and who simply haven't found a mate they want to spend their lives with, are choosing to have babies on their own. Back in 1960 only 5% of births were to unmarried women. In 2012 the number was up to 41%. That's huge. There's even a holiday named for single women - it's called Single Working Women's Week (August 3-9 this year) and Single Working Women's Day (August 4 every year).

Add to this all the newly blessed same-sex marriages and the rising rate of interracial pairings and you're looking at a completely different picture of the American family than we boomers grew up with.

Then when you project all these types of changes out into society, it only makes sense that the number of households that consist solely of a married man and woman and their children has declined from a high in 1970 of 40% to an amazing low of 19% in 2013. Happily, there are more and more books coming out to help moms and/or dads explain to children that the family can be whatever we decide it is - not a narrow concept defined mainly by proscriptions.

Ah, how the times they are a-changin'.

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