Multigenerational Living: What’s old is new again

loving family chatting during dinner in garden

Multi-Generational Living: What’s old is new again

Humans have lived multi-generationally since time immemorial but looking at most American homes, you’d never know. That’s starting to change.

If you’re already a part of a household with more than two generations living together, you may remember your elders’ stories of what it was like back when less square footage and more people was more common. You may have even told a few stories yourself. 

These days, more and more Americans are getting familiar with the idea of consolidating households. Living with family, chosen or unchosen, is a decision people around the world make all the time. Some main reasons include:

  • aging in place or child care
  • it makes financial sense
  • cultural reasons and personal preference

Multigenerational households offer so many advantages, but the struggle to balance proximity and privacy is real. 

With the recent wave of “boomerang kids” moving back in with parents, an aging US population, and less new households, the math says we’re all gonna have to figure out how to live together. 

Depending on the unique needs of your multigen household, living together doesn’t necessarily mean living under the same roof. 

Multigenerational living- by the numbers

Back in 1900, the most common size of a household in the US was around 7 people. Think parents, a few children, grandparents, and an extended relative or two, all together, under one roof, with less than 1,000 square feet to share. That’s less than 150 square feet per person. 

As of 2010, that number is 2.58 people per household, while the average square footage of the American house rose to 2322 square feet and 900 square feet per person. The 2020 Census preview report has interesting data that show this trend is reversing as more and more young people are moving back home during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Not only are multigenerational setups becoming more common in the US, but according to another Pew Research study, the average size of households is increasing, too. And at the same time, the percentage of U.S. residents ages 65 and older is increasing at the fastest pace in U.S. history, 

For a successful multigenerational setup, a thoughtful site plan will make it possible to live together and apart at the same time. Just like emotional boundaries are healthy for strong relationships, ADU’s can be affordable, practical structures that reflect those boundaries. 

Aging in place + accessibility

Aureliano Segundo visited her frequently and he brought her clothing which she would place beside the bed along with the things most indispensable for daily life, so that in a short time she had built up a world within reach of her hand.

– 1,000 Years of Solitude 

ADU’s are a great option for care, by and for all ages. 

With the right planning, space can be adjusted in all sorts of creative ways to suit people’s needs. Every single detail of their house plans can be customized for accessibility from cabinet height preference to full-on ADA compliance. 

Having one’s own roof over their head can help with maintaining a sense of dignity, privacy, and autonomy for folks who would benefit from living close to family or caretakers. An ADU can even empower a family to more easily take care of eachother, reducing the stress that dispersed living can cause as social or physical needs change. 


When the 2008 market crash hit, the number of young people moving home to save money skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of multigenerational households increased by more than 50%, reaching 64 million in 2016.

The 2020 Census will reflect the latest wave of young folks, now only somewhat charmingly referred to as “boomerang kids,” and the COVID-19 pandemic that is causing young people to move back home in droves. There is growing cultural acceptance of the value of moving back home, and an awareness of the need to do it right.

Rent may or may not be part of the equation, but often much more than simply space and money are shared. Living as neighbors means more shared meals, more help with everyday tasks, caretaking, more laughs with grandma and grandpa. 

If you’re curious to learn more about the economics of building an ADU, read this post. If you think you might stick around for a while, it might be worth it. 


It’s not that complicated. Some people just want to live together- whether they’re related or not. 

Census Bureau defines any household other than single-person, “stem” families, and nuclear families as “complex housing.” That includes multiple families sharing an address, friends or coworkers living together, and even multigenerational families. 

Globally, “complex” housing is seen as an ordinary living arrangement. 

In my home country, Croatia, families have no personal boundaries. None. It’s no wonder that the most common type of housing involves one house divided into multistory apartments where each generation of a family lives on a different level. Wouldn’t you know it- it works pretty darn well! 

And at the end of the day, loving your people and needing your own boundaries is a real thing. People choose to cohabitate in all sorts of ways, without sacrificing their privacy or individuality to family dynamics. 

A note about personal privacy

ADU’s are a new take on an ages-old housing tradition. Done thoughtfully, they can make taking care of ourselves and each other more comfortable than ever. 

Even if they’re close to home, they make it feel like you’ve left the nest. Nobody said you had to fly very far! In cultures around the world, multigenerational living setups are considered commonplace. They’re not just accepted, they’re celebrated. 

For those considering making the move back to your hometown, or those contemplating welcoming a new roommate (or a few), ADU’s can be a simple alternative to the frequent car trips, the stresses, and the often heart wrenching distance between loved ones. 

Sometimes we just need to have our own roof over our heads, even if we still only live a few feet away.

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