In the 1991 comedy-drama “Fried Green Tomatoes”, Kathy Bates portrays a dissatisfied, 40-ish-year-old housewife who befriends Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly woman with a fascinating story, but no one with whom to share it.
In one remarkable scene, Bates’ character explodes in a burst of assertive confidence and, brandishing a sledgehammer, proceeds to destroy a wall in her house as her befuddled husband watches from a distance. She is making room to invite her lonely friend to have a home again.
It is interesting how cultural trends tend to go in circles. Until the mid 1900’s, multi-generational living was as common as farming. Today, it is common for grandma and grandpa to live on their own, in senior-specific communities or facilities. This was, perhaps, a natural outcome, one that many seniors embraced and actually cherish. After all, independence is a crucial part of one’s sense of dignity.
A March 2010 report published by The Pew Research Center reveals major changes in family living arrangements. Over the past three decades, the report reveals, there has been a revival of the multi-generational household.
The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan “fact tank”. It produces information on the attitudes, trends and issues that shape America and the world. Their findings, based on public opinion surveys and U.S. Census Bureau data, can be summarized as follows:
- In 2008, an estimated 49 million Americans lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generations. In 1980, 28 million Americans lived in such a situation.
- This 33% increase represents a sharp trend reversal. From 1940 to 1980, the share of Americans living in such households had declined by more than half.
- At a time of high unemployment and a rising foreclosures, the number of households in which multiple generations of the same family live under the same roof has spiked significantly.
- From 2007 to 2008, the number of Americans living in a multi-generational family household grew by 2.6 million.
- About one in five adults ages 25 to 34 now live in a multi-generational household. So do one-in-five adults ages 65 and older.
According to The Pew Research Center, “Older adults who live alone are less healthy and they more often feel sad or depressed than their counterparts who live with a spouse or with others. These correlations stand up even after controlling for demographic factors such as gender, race, age, income and education.”
According to a May 1, 2011 AARP article, “As baby boomers age, and family care giving needs increase, we will continue to see these numbers rise. They will also grow as our country’s multicultural segments increase, many of which have strong traditions of multigenerational living.”
Last, but most assuredly not least, this means that more grandparents have an opportunity to step in and help raise their grandchildren.