Multigenerational living is an area of established international interest, with house builders developing homes for this market in the USA, Asia and parts of Europe. In contrast, in the UK this market sector is not well-understood and there has been little development of new home designs to suit the needs of families that might wish to live in a multigenerational household. This research contributes to a better understanding of the market for multigenerational homes in the UK. It analyses the scale and types of multigenerational households currently found in the UK and explores the experiences of British families living in this way. In addition, multigenerational living was also discussed with a range of house builders to understand their perspective on this market, in terms of their perception of both opportunity and risk.
Defining a multigenerational household
In this research households are defined as multigenerational where there are:
three or more generations of the same family living together, or
two generations of the same family living together, consisting of parents and one or more adult children (over the age of 25), or
two generations of the same family living together consisting of one or more adult children (typically middle aged) and their elderly parent(s).
The data suggests that nearly 7% of UK households are multigenerational, which is roughly equivalent to 1.8 million households.
The number of multigenerational households in the UK has been increasing, driven by greater numbers of adult children (aged 25 or over) living in the parental home.
Four out of five multigenerational households in the UK are White British, although some ethnic groups (predominantly Asian families) are more likely than White British people to live in multigenerational households.
The research shows that multigenerational households tend not to be large. Approximately one-quarter of households with grandparent(s) present contain three people, just over 20% contain four people and a similar proportion contain five people. Two-adult-generation households are generally smaller and are most likely to comprise just three people. Averagesized homes may therefore provide satisfactory accommodation for many multigenerational households.
Multigenerational households are most likely to live in three- or fourbedroom homes that they own, and the households, in general, are not living in poverty.
Some house builders already have home designs that could suit, or be easily adapted to meet, the needs of multigenerational households.
Multigenerational households predominantly live in ‘standard’ properties, and not all have annexes or extensions to accommodate household members separately.
The main drivers of multigenerational living were identified as:
pooling resources to buy larger, more expensive properties
allowing younger household members to save money, e.g. towards a wedding or a home of their own
helping with childcare
helping to provide support for older family members
responding to unexpected life changes, such as death, illness or divorce in later life
specifically choosing to live as an extended family because it is a positive experience.
Multigenerational living may be a planned choice for some families, but for others it is unplanned, often in response to major life events, such as divorce or the death of a family member.
Multigenerational living is not purely driven by housing affordability problems or care crises. Living together does not replace a need for formal childcare or care for elderly household members. Rather than providing formal care, household members offer support, ad hoc care and company, which may extend independent living for older relatives or those with certain types of illness.
Financial and inheritance arrangements relating to multigenerational living can be informal and based purely on goodwill. The research found that there was little formal consideration of the future impacts of these types of living arrangements on inheritance issues in particular.
There were great benefits of living in a multigenerational household for family members. However, it was not a deliberate choice for all of the people interviewed. The level of enjoyment of multigenerational living experienced by individuals seemed to be linked to the degree of choice over the living arrangement.
Households informally or formally arranged their homes to provide a mix of private and communal space for household members.
This research provides evidence that challenges some myths about multigenerational living in the UK: it is not just ethnic minority families who choose to live in multigenerational households; it is not just a response to care needs or housing affordability problems; and it is not just about living in properties with annexes.
The evidence on multigenerational living offers a range of opportunities to house builders: from marketing existing home designs to multigenerational households, to adapting current designs (possibly to include an extra bathroom or downstairs bedroom), to designing new homes with flexible layouts to suit different household compositions throughout the life course.