The Rise of Multi-Generational Living
Updated: Apr 9, 2019
A new (and perhaps surprising) sociocultural trend is on the rise in the UK: an increasing number of families are choosing to combine several generations under one roof and adopt a multi-generational living lifestyle. ‘Surely not!’ you might quite justifiably respond, considering the undesirable stigma that is often attached to young adults that live with their parents beyond childhood. However, it appears that change is on the horizon – and with good reason.
What could possibly possess Generation X to pack up and move their families back in with the parents, or for Millennials to forego flying the nest at all post-education? A multitude of unpleasant prospects come to mind: a loss of independence as younger generations are made to feel like guests in their own home, heated arguments over day-to-day tasks, or the functionality of the home being overturned with every new addition to the family. These concerns are certainly valid (and sensible!); nobody wins when the family feuds – perhaps if disagreements are rife within your family, multi-generational living is not the lifestyle best suited to you. Nonetheless, more and more families in the UK are acknowledging the benefits, as demonstrated by the annual demand for multi-generational homes reaching 125,000 in 2017 (NHBC, 2017).
In today’s inflated housing market, multi-generational living allows families to pool their resources together to buy a larger property that can cater to their individual needs far more aptly than several separate properties could. Parents of young children can depend on grandparents to offer childcare and easily keep an eye on any elderly family members that are in poor health, therefore saving money on care at both ends of the age spectrum. Often the financial benefit is a necessity rather than a welcome extra: an increasing number of young adults cannot afford to buy their own property outright, whilst older generations cannot afford to downsize because they do not hold enough equity in their own homes. As the housing market fails to meet their needs, generations both young and old are adjusting their lifestyles accordingly.
The evolving composition of households in the UK has created a pressing need for significant adaptation from architects and real estate developers. Despite over 60% of people in the UK believing that multi-generational living is the solution to the ageing population, only 16% deem their current house as suitable for the lifestyle (NHBC). There is a huge discrepancy between consumer demand and the supply of properties on the market, which clearly indicates a need to move away from the construction of small, cramped, box-like houses and instead develop flexible layouts that suit changing lifestyle trends in both existing houses and new builds.
It is possible for architects to incorporate design features that allow for the potential challenges and changeable nature of a multi-generational household. For example, the creation of sub-divisions or self-contained accommodation is an easy way to adapt existing properties; providing secure, accessible and flexible accommodation that can easily be reutilized should the household composition change. Accessibility is a very important aspect of the design: maintaining privacy and independence is key in the success of a functioning multi-generational household, therefore separate entrances to parts of the house occupied by different factions of the family are highly preferable. Architects can also design facilities that are both practical and desirable for all generations. Spa-style wet rooms can be both aesthetically pleasing to younger generations and suitable for older generations, as they are wheelchair-friendly and have fewer trip-hazards, and can be fitted with hand-rails and units with rounded corners (also ideal for families with young children).
Is this multi-generational living lifestyle trend here to stay? Many facts suggest so: there are a rising number of ‘boomerang families’ (in which Britons return to the family home for economic or care reasons) in the UK, the housing market is failing to fulfil the needs of both the youngest and oldest generations, and the lifestyle’s widespread success in many other cultures indicate that it is a sustainable lifestyle with potential for success. Perhaps it is time that the government implemented measures to encourage real estate developers, architecture firms and other influential groups in the property market to design flexible homes that are more suitable for current and future consumer needs.