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.
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.