Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reinventing the Family

A hallmark of American society for the past century has been the atomization of family life as Americans first embraced the nuclear family of mom, dad and kids in place of multi-generational households and then busted up the nuclear family through divorce. In a recent column published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jim Bacon opined that the phenomenon of shrinking household size appears to be reversing itself. Key quotes:

There are many ... reasons to believe that households will grow larger, such as the prolonged adolescence of Gen Y. Whether young people simply refuse to grow up (the premise of the movie, "Failure to Launch,") or they're so saddled by student loans and so stymied by the high cost of housing, many are deciding that living in their old room with the twin beds and study desk isn't a bad alternative to poverty.

Meanwhile, members of the Silent Generation are resisting the idea of being shunted into impersonal nursing homes. Seniors want to stay connected with family and friends -- and an increasing number of middle-aged families are accommodating their parents. Subdivision builders report a spike in demand for granny flats and other detached dwelling units for the grandparents. Baby Boomers are even more repelled than their elders by the prospect of living in "old folks homes." After letting their adult Gen Y children back into their homes, they may well expect the Gen Ys to return the favor some day.
To those dynamics add a nascent trend toward quasi-families, as noted last year on this blog, in which divorced and/or widowed Boomer women live together, share expenses and form committed friendships. We don't know if anyone has coined a name for such a household -- there's a Ph.D. dissertation for a budding sociologist -- but one is needed.

Since the publication of "Reinventing the Family," we came across an article written by ABC News. From 1990 to 2000, the network reported, homes in which three or more generations live together grew more than 38 percent. As lifespans lengthen and four- and five-generation families become more common, an increasing number of those family members will likely choose to live together. Also driving that trend, omitted in our column, is the increasing number of immigrant families from cultures where multigenerational living is the norm.

(Photo credit: ABC News.)

1 comment:

Nancy Dailey, Ph.D. said...

I always enjoy reading your blog. Ten years ago my book, When Baby Boom Women Retire, was published. My research wasn't good news for boomer women. It showed that fewer than 20% of baby boom women will achieve financial security as they move toward senior status. Ten years later, the situation has not changed, has actually gotten worse. As for living arrangements for boomer women in retirement, divorcees will have a tough time. Many will be "bag ladies" but the difference is their bags will be suitcases with wheels as they carve out living arrangements with family and friends. You're right - the topic would make a great dissertation!

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