The Return Of The Multigenerational Household: Is It A Step In The Right Direction For Sustainability?

The multigenerational household is making a comeback. Since 2007, multigenerational households in America have increased by 10 percent. According to estimates by Generations United, there are now 51.4 million Americans living in multigenerational homes. This has intensified during the last year as the pandemic instilled vital sustainability lessons. For some families, the desire to keep their family generations under the same roof stems from an affordability factor. For others, it is the desire to age in place and be close to family. It is not just the senior population moving in with their older children either. More millennials are choosing to move back home after college, as they contend with the rising rental, homeownership and living costs. The concept of multigenerational living is not a new one by any means. In fact, the average apartment sold in China normally has 3 rooms- for the children, parents, and grandparents. In India, joint homes are the norm. However, when it comes to sustainability, is multigenerational living the right move to conserve resources?


A Larger Home Does Not Necessarily Mean A Greener Home

One of the key influences in a sustainable household is the behaviour of its inhabitants. Practicing sustainable energy consumption in the home like conserving water or improving the energy efficiency of the home takes key actions from the inhabitants. Another point to note is that larger homes can use more energy overall.

In fact, a past Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) has shown that while homes have become more energy-efficient since 2000, a 30 percent increase in home size nullifies these benefits.  Families with more than one generation living under the same roof often seek larger homes to accommodate their growing household- and in some cases, may prefer additional space to balance the need for privacy. There are also the potential costs of making the space suitable for the needs of all inhabitants. For instance, younger homeowners may face the costs of creating a safe environment for their aging parents if they have a mobility disability. This includes implementing disability friendly household safety systems to promote independence and security.


Intergenerational knowledge about the environment

Multigenerational living can also help with the sharing of intergenerational knowledge. Younger Americans have had more exposure to the climate change conversation, and many have grown up being more vocal about the need to embrace sustainability. However, while younger generations may be more clued in about the latest sustainable trends and technologies, older Americans spend more on sustainability and significant improvements like home renovations to reduce energy consumption. This can partially be attributed to the higher income brackets of older consumers. For instead, the average income for those aged 55 and older is often higher than that of 24-year-olds. This means they can afford more sustainable changes like ESG investing and home renovations. Equally, there are some things that older consumers can learn from younger generations.


Merging Households Can Present More Opportunities For Sustainable Practices 

Another positive note is that multigenerational living can foster a closer bond for families by presenting more opportunities to do activities together. Generation United’s recent study, Family Matters: Multigenerational Living Is on The Rise And Here To Stay, found that the number of Americans living in multigenerational homes quadrupled during the pandemic. More so, 7 in 10 of them said they plan to continue doing so for the long term. Interestingly,79 percent said that the living arrangement has led to improved bonds and relationships amongst family members. From an environmental point of view, this can reduce the impact on the planet. For instance, multigenerational living makes carpooling much more feasible. In fact, generations living together may find that they can reduce the number of cars they own. Carpooling to events or downsizing will in turn reduce the amount of carbon emissions attributed to your household.

While the overwhelming motivations driving the rise in multigenerational living have been financial and health-related, there is no denying that there is an argument to be made for the sustainable impact that multigenerational living can create. The extent and direction of that impact, however, will depend on the family’s approach to the living arrangement- and their conscious, collective commitment to cultivating a more sustainable household.

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