More families, friends move in together

USA TODAY | September 30, 2010
By Haya El Nasser

The Grundy family seemed to be headed down the conventional path followed by American families: Daughter goes to college, graduates, gets a job and her own apartment.
Then something happened.

"She lost her job," Vel Grundy says about daughter Monika, 25. "She kept looking and got very, very discouraged. She moved back home."

Grown children returning home. Brothers and sisters moving in together. Families taking in grandparents. Friends living in the basement.

Fueled by the dismal economy and high unemployment, more Americans — friends and families — are doubling up.

From 2005 to 2009, family households added about 3.8 million extended family members, from adult siblings and in-laws to cousins and nephews. Extended family members now make up 8.2% of family households, up from 6.9% in 2005, according to Census data out this week.

"Clearly, a big part of that is the economic recession and housing costs," says Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-profit research association. "We're seeing a shift away from the 1950s and 1960s mentality against extended families," when "modern" women did not take in aging parents for fear of hurting their marriage.

There are also signs of a shift from family households. For the first time in more than a century, more than half of people aged 25 to 34 have never been married.

The number of people in non-family households — those whose members are not related — grew 4.4% from 2005 to 2009, faster than the 3.4% growth for family households.

"It's a realistic recognition that while a good, healthy nuclear family is a valuable thing to have, it's not the only family form people are going to live in all their lives," Coontz says.

Financial needs often trigger unconventional arrangements. How some are coping:

Memphis. Vel Grundy's daughter, Monika, moved back home when she couldn't find work in Jonesboro, Ark., where she had graduated from Arkansas State University. She has a job now but can't afford to live alone.

Her parents don't mind.

"She has been a really big help and it's nice to have her back," says Vel Grundy, 52, a sales assistant for Clear Channel Radio. "It's affected her more than me because she's used to being by herself."

Vel and husband, Arthur Grundy Jr., are bracing for their other daughter, a senior at Arkansas State, to move back, too. And if Vel Grundy hadn't found a job after being laid off last December, they might have all had to move in with Vel Grundy's mother, who has taken a part-time job to supplement her retirement income.

"We'll be like Dynasty— everybody living in the same house," Grundy says.

Watkinsville, Ga. —Christine Burgoyne's daughter and her four children moved a lot and often stayed with her parents between moves.

When her daughter settled down with her current husband, Burgoyne and her husband decided to find a house they could all live in.

"First thing we did is we made a list of what our criteria would be," says Burgoyne, 59, a program coordinator at the University of Georgia in nearby Athens. "We wanted separate quarters … (and) a neighborhood where the kids could play outside."

Burgoyne found a 2,600-square-foot home that has a large, well-lit basement. She and her husband turned it into their apartment, including a kitchen and work room.

"So far, it's been really good," Burgoyne says. "I don't spend much time upstairs at all but the kids spend an awful lot of time downstairs."

Sylvania, Ohio — Jane Korte's son and daughter-in-law couldn't keep up with their mortgage when he was laid off from his well-paying job as a construction superintendent. They sold their home at a loss. Korte, a widow, was happy to let them, their two kids and three dogs move in.

"I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason," says Korte, 56, an administrative manager. "Overall, it's been a really good experience. … I have a wonderful relationship with my son."

Milwaukee ——Jonathan Lewis, 45, left home in 1984 for Atlanta. He went to college and later worked as a mortgage broker. In 2008, he lost his job — and his house to foreclosure. He searched for work for two years before selling his car and moving back in with his mother in his childhood home.

"I came back feeling like a failure," Lewis says. 

Eight days later, he found a job in the health care industry and is regaining his financial footing.

"It kind of was a breath of fresh air," says Lewis, who is staying in his sister's old room. "It's given me an opportunity to reconnect" with his mother, he says. "It's cool. We have breakfast together. … I take her shopping."