Georgia sees an increase in multigenerational households

It’s a growing trend great-grandma would recognize: Georgia is seeing a resurgence of a way of life in which three or more generations live under one roof.

In part, demographers say, it’s because people are living longer; in part, it’s because the anemic economy is stressing household finances; and in part it’s because emerging population groups are importing their cultural traditions.

The state had more than 181,000 multigenerational households in 2010, a 39 percent jump from 2000, according to figures released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The core metro counties of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett saw a combined increase of 31 percent, to more than 60,000 homes.

Expanded households can foster tighter bonds across generations, those who live in them say, but they can also fuel family tensions. (Insert your own mother-in-law joke here.)

The recession has fed the trend, analysts say. Many families are saving money by moving aging parents into their homes.

Meanwhile, many young adults known as “boomerang kids” come back home to live because of slim job prospects, said Jan Ligon, an associate professor in the Georgia State University School of Social Work.

“The recession is having a big impact on housing,” Ligon said. “This can be a very wise thing to do.”

In census terminology, a multigenerational home must have at least three generations of people directly descended from one another. Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews or cousins don’t count. Despite the strong growth in such homes, they still represent only about 5 percent of all households in the state.

The trend is far more prevalent in some areas and among certain groups than others, census figures show. African-Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to be in a multigenerational home, with Hispanics and Asians even more likely.

Ligon said whites still tend toward the belief that they need to “launch their children” out into the world to lead independent lives.

In the five metro counties, the number of multigenerational African-American households grew 29 percent during the decade, accounting for more than half the overall increase. Asians, a much smaller group, accounted for almost 20 percent of the overall growth.

Gwinnett County experienced the greatest increase among the five counties, with a 94 percent jump, to a total of almost 16,000. That correlates with a major influx of Latinos, blacks and Asians, noted Mike Alexander, research division chief at the Atlanta Regional Commission.

“Gwinnett has become the county for anybody to move to,” Alexander said.

Joon Lee, whose heritage traces back to South Korea, sees his multigenerational home as an extension of family tradition. “I have lived with my mother all my life,” said Lee, 40, of Buford. “My parents lived with my grandparents.”

He said it would be very hard for his mother to live alone in metro Atlanta, since she does not speak English well and cannot drive. Moreover, he appreciates learning from her experience.

His wife, however, doesn’t always see it that way.

“There’s a generation gap,” he said. “But they accept it.”

Christine Fisher of Conyers said bringing her mother into the household helped the family hold on to their home during tough times. Fisher had lost her job as a nurses’ assistant in 2008 and her husband was finding less work as a trucker.

Her mother came in and took care of the children, which allowed Fisher to take on more piecemeal jobs.

“It helped out a lot,” Fisher said. “And the kids get to know their grandmother. They love her cooking.”

It’s a trend experts only expect to increase as the baby boomers age.

“These nursing homes and assisted living facilities can be very expensive, so it can be less expensive to keep them at home,” Ligon said.

The trend isn’t just among struggling families.

Realtor Charles Gerrick recently showed a 7-bedroom, 8-bath, three-story Buckhead home with an elevator listed for $5 million to a man in his 40s whose parents would be moving in with him.

Colby Craig and his wife purchased and renovated a 5-bedroom, 5-bath home in Brookhaven in 2008 to create separate living quarters for his mother, who had recently lost her husband.

Craig is glad his three kids have grown closer to their grandmother. Still, he said, “it’s a challenge to live with anybody. You could live with the pope and it would be difficult.”

Sometimes it’s the younger generation that moves in with their elders.

Housing market analyst Eugene James said his company, Metrostudy, has noticed more young people returning home to wait out the economic downturn and save money for a down payment.

“What I hear is [young people are] just afraid to take on more debt,” James said.

While a shared living space can bring a family closer emotionally, conflicts may arise over privacy, lifestyles and control of the household. When college graduates return to the nest, they don’t want to be treated as kids. Married men might not feel comfortable parading around in their boxers in front of their mother-in-law.

When Nancy Jones divorced in 2005, her mother moved down from Connecticut to help care for Jones’ young daughter. They didn’t always agree on how to do it.

Jones recalled one time in which she made it clear that her daughter was not to eat in her room. She left the house only to return to find her daughter doing just that. An argument ensued.

“At the end of the day it’s my decision,” Jones said. “But she’s still going to give her opinion.”

John Perry contributed to this report.