I was talking to a colleague today about housing in different countries. She had just returned from a trip to Germany and had commented on the popularity of multi-generational housing and the interesting way that the different generations move through the house over time.
One aspect that really stuck with me was the fact that it is very common, particularly in towns and villages outside of the urban centers, for families to reside in 2-3 story-houses with the older generation living on the ground level, and younger generations above. Commonly, each floor of the house can be self-contained, including at a minimum a bathroom, kitchen, dining room, and living spaces. There seems to be a wonderful movement that has been finely choreographed over many generations- as one generation ages and ultimately passes, the next moves down into the first floor, making room for the new adults to take over the top floor(s) as their first apartment.
Of course, this relies on the assumption that each generation will stay in their home-town, but absences such as college, or short-term employment abroad are common and have made this multigenerational household less common. This, adding to the greying society (Germany’s birth rate has slowed and experts predict that, by 2050, 60+ Germans will constitute more than 50% of the population), creates an ideal environment for a new model: the non-familial multigenerational house.
As an example, I looked to an Ashoka Fellow (Ashoka is a leading promoter of social entrpreneurship) who has taken her ow
n experience and transformed it into a multi-generational housing model that brings isolated groups (only children, single parents, the elderly) together for a collaborative-living community. These communities are striving to mimic the established intergenerational support structures within families that have been eroding in modern Germany. Check out more information here.
So how common is multi-generational housing in the U.S.? I looked at the Pew Research Center’s studies on the trends of multigenerational housing in the U.S. and was surprised by the results.
Multigenerational housing made up 16% of household types in 2008, but the downward trend in this household type is reversing, with more generations coming together for economic and social reasons. For reasons why, check out the Pew Center’s article, “The Return of the Multi-Generational Family Household.”