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More families bringing the generations under one roof

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 2, 2015


PITTSBURGH — At 80 years old, Jack Beiber loves having his family back under one roof.

His two grown daughters help buy groceries and cook meals. His two granddaughters — ages 15 and 13 — and a 27-year-old grandson are responsible for household chores such as dishes and taking out the trash. With all those relatives around, their mom has never had to worry about babysitters or someone to drive them to school or skating practice.

Three generations, plus a Husky-Lab mix named Stitch, live together in Beiber’s home. That means there is hardly a dull moment, something that helps fend off loneliness and much of the depression Beiber has felt since his wife, Ruth, passed away eight years ago.

"I wouldn’t know what to do without them if they weren’t here," Beiber said.

Multigenerational living has become the new normal for many families.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 51 million Americans, or 16.7 percent of the population, live in a house with at least two adult generations — or a grandparent and at least one other generation — under one roof. Pew researchers also reported a 10.5 percent increase in multigenerational households from 2007 to 2009, which would have been the height of the Great Recession.

In such situations, family members are able to share living expenses.

It can be a trade off, according to a new study by Minneapolis-based Allianz Life Insurance Co. The families may end up living together because of lost jobs or divorces. Some who arrive are struggling with debt and can’t contribute a lot toward the household’s food or utility bills.

But it can also bring families closer.

More than a third of multigenerational and boomerang family types — 41 percent and 34 percent respectively — said they often felt financially-burdened by the number of family members living in their households. Boomerang families are defined as those whose children leave the house, but come back between ages 21 to 35 to live in their old room as adults, often with children of their own. Multigenerational families have three or more generations living in the same household.

While both types of families acknowledge the potential financial issues created by their living arrangements — most notably having less money available for retirement savings — they still felt having an extra adult family member at home was a positive aspect of their day-to-day life.

"Boomerang families and multigenerational families may not have a lot of options but to invite that family member back into the home," said Katie Libbe, vice president of consumer insights at Allianz Life. "A lot of times that extra adult will help grandparents with chores or watch the kids, but they may bring expenses that are pretty costly. They may bring some debt and may have medical expenses.

"In boomerang families, a lot of them already had one or two people retired," Libbe said. "And when an adult kid comes back to the house, they might bring with them debt from college, or maybe they have been through a divorce and have other issues."

Multigenerational families were a common way of life during the Great Depression. The lifestyle was a key feature in a 1970s television series following the lives of the Walton family, which had three generations living together in the Virginia mountains during the Depression.

After World War II — once people began to rebound economically with the help of Social Security and Medicare — older adults were in a better position to live on their own. But following the Great Recession of 2008, the pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction.

"It just really underscores the fact that families are closer than ever," Libbe said. "Boomer parents want to help their kids and multigenerational families want to help their parents. But both groups need to not lose sight of a plan (to secure their financial futures)."

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Beiber lives on a pension earned through his work as a parking lot attendant for 30 years. On the side, he creates acrylic statues and refrigerator magnets to help pay the bills. Although both his daughters work, he says money often is tight.

His oldest daughter, Anne Beiber, 54, moved back home in 1984. A relationship fell apart and she struggled to make ends meet as a single mom working as a server in a restaurant. She now works in retail. She has two daughters and a son, Mark, 27, who also live in the home.

Another daughter, Ellen Beiber, 48, has never moved out. She works as a branch manager for First Commonwealth Bank.

The six of them share the six-bedroom house with 2.5 baths.

All of the household bills have gone up, including the gas bill and electric bill — partly because of so many people using utilities and partly because the cost of everything has gone up. Property taxes for the home Beiber and his wife bought in 1966 were $315 a year 48 years ago. Now he pays more than $2,000.

"I probably wouldn’t keep the house if I didn’t have my family here," he said. "I would venture to say without my family the past eight years I’d probably be with my wife."