By Anna Sangster - Program Manager, International Federation on Ageing
In southern Europe, many parts of Asia and the Middle East, it’s perfectly normal for extended families to live together, however for many people in western society, the notion of intergenerational living can be overwhelming and unappealing. The sacrifice of privacy and independence is often a driving force behind this distaste. Despite the stigma often associated with this type of living arrangement, intergenerational living is undoubtedly on the rise in western society.
Such appears to be the case in Canada, where the latest data from a 2016 census illustrates a significant spike in the growth rate of multigenerational households showing a 37.5 per cent increase since 2001 with approximately 2.2 million people (6.3 per cent of the population) living in private households with at least three generations under one roof. Similar trends can be seen in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
As discussed in a recent article entitled “Family embrace: the rise of multi-generational living in Australia”, with affordable housing becoming increasingly difficult to find, and the precariousness often associated with balancing dual careers and child rearing, more and more young people are rethinking the idea of intergenerational living. This, combined with the reality that approximately 25% of older adults live alone, many of which struggle with issues of social isolation and apprehension about having to leave their homes and enter residential facilities, intergenerational living has become not only a viable option but an appealing one.
Happy home: children Manning and Audrey with mother Zoe Flanagan-Field, Zoe’s parents, Robin and Warwick Mosman, and father Craig Field, outside the home they share in the Blue Mountains. Credit: Jennifer Soo
This is not to say that multigenerational living is completely straightforward. In an article entitled “Multigenerational living is on the rise – here's how to get the balance right” many factors and considerations underlying successful multigenerational living are explored. These considerations range from the physical building design and construction where architects building generational homes stress the importance of ensuring mobility and autonomy for older adults. This can include prioritizing main floor living arrangements for older adults and independent living space where possible to encourage socialization.
Other considerations include developing social contracts, which can be crucial in mitigating tensions around boundaries and independence. As Robert Wilson, architectural director of Granit architects, explains “It’s easier to navigate these dynamics if you’ve discussed arrangements in advance.” Zoning the space, sorting out technology and even investing in plenty of chairs are all additional considerations to help further support success.
While intergenerational living may not be everyone’s cup of tea, to many it represents a new reality which not only allows for a future that may otherwise have been out of reach, and an opportunity to foster meaningful intergenerational relationships. To learn more about intergenerational living and connections contact IFA expert Donna Butts, Executive Director of Generations United and don’t forget to register here or the IFA 15th Global Conference on Ageing where age-friendly environments will be featured prominently.
Ms. Donna Butts Executive Director
Ms. Butts frequently speaks on intergenerational connections, grandparents raising grandchildren and policies effective across the lifespan.