Classed as more than two generations of a family living in the same household, multi-generational living is a common practice in many countries but in the western it saw a steep decline after the end of World War II, when newly affluent youngsters began to take advantage of mortgages and fly the nest earlier. Now, however, the tough economic climate is leading to a swift return to the traditional, multi-generational home.
In the US, according to the Pew Research Center, some 28 million Americans (12% of the population) lived in multi-generational households in 1980. By 2008 the figure had risen to 49 million, or 16% of the population. 2009 saw it jump further – to 51 million – a staggering increase of 10.5% from the 2007 figure.
The UK figures mirror those in the US. According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of multi-generational UK households has risen 30% in the last decade. Research from the Intergenerational Foundation think tank has found that 500,000 households in the UK now contain three or more generations of family, with the figure expected to rise to 556,000 by 2019.
Across Europe, particularly in countries with less strong welfare state systems, families are stepping in to act as a buffer between their children and the forces of the global market. Katherine Newman, dean of the school of arts and sciences at Johns Hopkins University and author of “The Accordian Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents and the Private Toll of Global Competition,” observed a recent surge in the number of young adults staying with their family well into their late 20s and early 30s. Using Italy as an example, Newman found that 73% of Italian males aged 18-34 lived in their parent’s home in 2007. Of those, 37% were aged 30-34.
Having lived in the US, UK and Italy during the past two decades, Dawn Cavanagh-Hobbs and husband Michael Hobbs have observed the benefits multi-generational living in all three countries. Now settled in Italy’s Le Marche region, Dawn and Michael live with their son Sebastian, while their daughter India, son-in-law Charlie and grandson Lucas live just around the corner.
Dawn comments: “The global economic situation has led to many more families choosing to live together to support each other. The social benefits are wonderful as well. While we don’t live in the same household as our grandson, we are only a few doors away, meaning we get to spend a wonderful amount of quality time with him. It’s also great for India and Charlie, as we can babysit Lucas whenever they need.”
Although they no longer live in the same household, Dawn and Michael have founded a multi-generational business with their family. Their company – Appassionata – runs two fractional ownership properties on the idyllic Estate Giacomo Leopardi in Le Marche. India and Charlie help Dawn and Michael manage the business, while grandson Lucas loves nothing more than to help with harvesting the produce from the estate’s vineyards, olive groves, lavender plantation and truffle orchard. India explains,
“Running a family business with three generations involved is a wonderful endeavour. It’s great to work together with the people you love to build something for the future. For Appassionata, it’s also lovely to see several generations of our owners’ family coming out to Italy to enjoy their holidays together.”