Category Archives: children

The Multigenerational Garage

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Multigenerational households are growing in number and that’s a noteworthy trend for an aging population. But, the multifamily garage may be the source for the most vital trend. Today, about 20% of seniors live in a multigen household and their travel patterns do not fit the norm. A travel behavior specialist uncovered an unusual pattern.

But, first, what is leading different generations to live under one household?

On the surface, generations living side-by-side are “made-for-TV”,  like the fictional Ewings of Dallas who lived under one roof on the their expansive Southfork ranch. A recent WSJ story reinforces the growing demand from the well-to-do. They  are remodeling their “Next Gen“ homes with dual kitchens and side-by-side amenities.

MULTIGENERATIONAL TRENDS

But the reality that drives most multigenerational housing is less glamorous.  The rate of household formation among those 18 to 24 and 25-34 has been declining for some time- probably, say researchers at  Pew Social Trends, due to lower paying jobs or the lack of jobs. Meanwhile, the marriage rate in the U.S. has declined steadily, and single people are more likely to “stay at home.” A third factor driving the multigenerational household is immigration- modern immigrants are more inclined to live under one roof.

The number of multifamily homes is growing. In 2008, about 16% of the U.S. population lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generation or a grandparent and at least one other generation (Pew). By 2012, the rate was 18%, and Pew notes that it continues to rise, even as the economy recovers.

The multigenerational household may be a good trend for aging Baby Boomers, but for the current cohort of elders, the signals are mixed. Most analysts have been looking upstairs, and writing about the economic and cultural factors that bring these families together.  But the most interesting story may be in the garage.

ARE MULTIGENERATIONAL ELDERS MOBILE?

Do multifamily households tend to share transportation and does it become easier for the oldest member of the household (seniors) to keep their mobility?

According to travel specialist Nancy McGuckin  transportation in the multigenerational household is quite distinct from other household travel patterns.  She analyzed data from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey- approximately 8% of the sampled households qualified.

A key finding is that compared to all people 65 and older, the elderly parent in a multi-generational household is more likely to have a medical condition that makes it difficult to travel and is unlikely to be a driver. Although over one in five (21%) aged 65 and older do not drive, that rate is three times higher for elderly parents living with their adult children.  In the multigenerational household, 64% do not drive.

The reason these older people do not drive seems to be health related. In the multi-generational household,  51.5% report a travel disability, a medical condition that makes it difficult to travel outside the home. That number is nearly double the 26.7% percentage in the general population.

OF HEARTH, HEALTH, AND HOME

McGuckin’s transportation study points us to an interesting,  but hidden, link between health and home. If the elderly parent owns the multi-generational home, i.e. has title to it, there may be further complications. It would disrupt the younger generation to sell, so these elders will be less able to afford assisted living, a nursing home or additional medical care. In more than one way, they lack for alternatives and are literally, more housebound.

Hence, it would be useful to map the geographical locations of these multigenerational household.   A post World War II suburban home, with a sprawling layout and ample square footage, is likely to be beyond the reach of public transit and the Dial-A-Van. But, it might appeal to a large family needing schools and access to highways (for jobs).  An earlier style of multigenerational housing, the triple decker, often found in New England mill towns, might be closer to a bus stop and walking distance to a hospital.

 

Age and Autonomous Cars

 

The autonomous car may be diffusing itself into the hearts and minds of Baby Boomers, even before it makes its first, mass-market debut.

In a poll done by Pew Research in 2014,

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there was no age-divide when respondents were asked about their willingness to ride in an autonomous car. Fifty-two (52) percent of those 18-29 agreed, 50 percent of those ages 30-49, 48 percent of those ages 50 to 64, and 45 percent of those age 65 and older. The associate director of research, Aaron Smith at Pew commented, “We didn’t highlight the age findings because there weren’t any real generational differences to speak of.”

DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION AND AGE GROUPS

This is a very unusual finding. Traditionally “diffusion of innovation” studies find that younger age people are more likely to be early adopters. The literature lists myriad reasons but it is generally held that younger people are more exposed to more messages and information,  find it easier to be at “risk” with new innovations, and  enjoy “bragging rights” from being first (a vital dimension for social media).

Cell phones, GPS navigation, and social media use are recent examples of innovations that  began with young people and then trickled up to older cohorts. Since  24% of the US population is 18 or younger, and another 36% are ages 18 to 44 (total <44= 60%)  a really big innovation needs to filter up to the other 40 percent.

BOTH ENDS OF THE AGE SPECTRUM

The autonomous car might be the innovation that captures both ends of the age spectrum.  For younger users, it holds numerous advantages: It promises mobility for teens and young adults without the hassle and costs of getting a license and owning a car. People under 25 have difficulty renting cars because they do not have a driving record. Oft times they live at home, on campuses, or in urban areas where parking is limited and expensive. The autonomous car could remove these hassles for young people, and let them focus on their schooling, or jobs…and even getting to work or school if they do not own a car.

For older people at the other end of the age spectrum, the autonomous car may be the orange “life preserver” we provide to keep them healthy and actively engaged. In earlier blogs we have written about the need for seniors to keep healthy and connected. When they give up driving older people report feeling isolated and helpless, particularly if they are beyond the reach of public transportation and affordable taxi services. This is a problem of proportion, since nearly 70% of the Baby Boomers in the US have settled in far-flung suburbs served primarily, and sometimes exclusively, by personal household vehicles. The suburbs might have been a fine place to live when they were young and raising families, but they will be the first cohort to test “aging-in-place” when “place” is  car-dependent suburbia.

THE UNIMAGINED…DIFFUSES!

People notoriously underestimate the role of new technology…until it well, just happens. Take, for example, the transition from the corded phone, the one with a curlicue cord plugged in at the wall, to the cordless one. If you had surveyed 35 years ago, and asked people their opinion about a “phone you could take from room to room”…they would have looked puzzled. And next, they would ask why they needed one and they could possibly do with it.

It is unusual, and exciting, that people intuitively understand the need for a futuristic,  autonomous car. The explanation goes something like this: “Imagine a car that you could take from place to place even if you are not feeling too well today, not quite up to driving, or you are simply too old, or too young, to have a full driver’s license.”

 

What about the Kids?

 

LONGISLAND

What about the kids?…and why a map of Long Island?
Most urban planners and transportation analysts know  a lot about Levittown. One of  the reasons that it was so popular was that parents wanted a superior place to raise their children.  J. Llance Mallamo*, a Suffolk County Historian, writes that in the 1950’s and 1960’s there were numerous fantasy and youth related establishments there . “At one time Long Island boasted a seemingly never-ending host of childhood delights including Syosset’s Lollipop Farm, Frank Buck’s Zoo and Monkey Mountain, and Harveys…”.

What changed? Mallamo says demographics but could it really be The Houses of Boom? In the 1980s and 1990s  we built McMansions that turned child raising inside and inward.

*see Long Island Architecture, ed. Joann Krieg, 1991