Why you should care
Because multigenerational households may make for better students.
Within a year of moving in with her parents, Hope Oriabure-King had replaced the toilet she shared with her four children three times. Her little boys would flush Transformers and other stuff down the drain and clog the pipes, and though she says she can laugh at it now, at the time it was awful for her and her parents.
Such arrangements are becoming increasingly common in the U.S. — a record 60.6 million people lived in multigenerational households in 2014, a Pew Research Center study found. Oriabure-King’s experience reflects the challenges of this type of cohabitation, but living with extended family may provide potential educational benefits. According to a 2015 Urban Institute study:
Persistently poor children in multigenerational households are more likely to complete high school and college than economically challenged children who live with parents.
These improvements could result from a more structured environment that provides additional supervision, guidance and help with studies, theorizes the report, which used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. However, the study’s authors also emphasize the vital influence family conflict, or lack thereof, has on determining how children respond to multigenerational living.
In the case of Oriabure-King, she decided to move her family into her parents’ house in 2014 after getting laid off from a web design firm. Along the way, she encountered a series of growing pains that accompanied squeezing seven people into 1,800 square feet. But in some respects, the situation ended up proving invaluable. Oriabure-King’s father supervised the children after school, while her mother, a high school teacher, helped them understand their schoolwork. In addition to saving her almost $1,500 per month in rent, the added layer of accountability was huge, Oriabure-King says.
She’s in a better financial place now. She owns a child care company in Garland, Texas, called Black-Tie Babysitting, and she lives with her parents primarily to take care of her father.
Living in a multigenerational household can present a huge benefit in the form of child support, says Jennifer March Augustine, University of South Carolina assistant professor of sociology. At the same time, she cautions, though the need may be met across the board, children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may not get the same care that promotes cognitive development as a child being raised in a wealthier or more educated family. “It’s really contextual,” she says. “It depends on the characteristics of the family, how long they’ve been co-residing and the circumstances under which they are choosing to live multigenerationally.”
Augustine says she hopes to see more research on the advantages and disadvantages of multigenerational living, especially since several factors — increasing nonmarital childbearing, stable women’s labor force participation and rising costs of living — indicate the trend will become increasingly common.
Oriabure-King says accomplishments achieved at school are proudly displayed on the front of the family’s refrigerator, the same as they were when she was a kid. She consults her parents about educational decisions, but she says she still hopes to move out within the year. “It’s not that it hasn’t worked, but when you live in this household some of your control diminishes,” she says. “I have two high school-age kids … and I just want to give my kids my principles, my methodologies, my philosophies before they leave my household.”