What Is a Multigenerational Household?

By Carol Levine

Copyright © 2014 AARP. All rights reserved.

Multigenerational living is a common answer to long term care for elderly relatives. The Pew Research Center, which studies social and demographic trends, identifies several different types of households. Which one describes your family now and which one would describe it if you all lived together?

  • One generation: A one-generation household consists of people of the same age group: a married or cohabiting couple, a single person, siblings, or roommates. These people are not necessarily young. A married couple may be in their 80s, and older siblings may live together.

  • Two generations: A two-generation family household includes a parent or parents and their child or children under age 25. It may include stepchildren from different marriages. A two-generation household can also be made up of a person over 60 and a parent in his or her 80s or 90s.

  • Multigenerational: A multigenerational household can include

    • Two generations: Parents or in-laws or adult children aged 25 or older; a person from either generation can be the head of household.

    • Three generations: Parents or in-laws, adult children (and spouse or children-in-law), and grandchildren.

    • Skipped generations: Grandparents and grandchildren whose parents are dead or unable to care for them.

    • More than three generations: The ages in the household can range from infancy to extreme old age.

The more generations living together, the greater the opportunities for sharing knowledge and history. Many families find that they enter the arrangement for economic or caregiving reasons but remain in it because they enjoy the closeness of family interactions.

But possibilities for friction and dissension also exist. The multigenerational households of older times were not necessarily happy with the arrangement or unaffected by intergenerational or interpersonal strife. Who inherited the family farm in 19th-century America could be just as contentious as current disputes over non-landed assets.

Addressing early on the ways in which everyone’s needs will be met and everyone’s responsibilities clearly stated will go a long way toward ensuring a cooperative arrangement.