Multi-generation households in Australian cities

16 February 2012

There has been a significant increase in the number of adult offspring continuing to reside in the family home in Western societies, especially in major cities. Multi-generational households tend to be larger in size than other household types and are demanding large dwellings. They have sought to reduce costs by locating mostly in fringe areas of major cities. Most seek to own rather than rent their properties, and there is a high propensity to ‘knock-down’ and rebuild their dwellings.

 

Multi-generational cohabitation is more common in other societies, especially Asian and middle eastern cultures. In Australia, it might be partly explained by the increased prevalence of such cultural groups. However, it has also been understood in terms of delayed family formation decisions that are partly due to financial or economic constraint, or lengthening participation in education. These trends are also complicated by the coincident trend of the ageing of the population (with older age groups depending on the younger). Even so, in Australia there has not been a more comprehensive rethink of how this practice affects family relationships, nor how this might affect how these households think of ‘family’ and ‘home’ in the Australian context.

The authors argue that there is scope for further examination of this issue and point to possible policy concerns. For example, planning policy needs to recognize the demand for properties that better meet the needs of multi-generation households, including apartment properties in the context of urban consolidation. Also, reflecting the fact that the composition of multi-generational families is often fluid (with people cohabiting for periods of time before moving off to independent living), housing forms might need to be adaptable to meet the changing needs of households (e.g. this might further justify the use of universal or adaptable design).

Planning for the provision of aged-care services will also need to take into account the complexities of multigenerational households. Provision of aged-care in multi-generation households will often be within a setting which provides opportunities for mutual help and support. This might provide opportunities for the promotion of family-based models of aged care, as are already common place in many other countries.

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