Under one roof: How multi-generational living can work for everyone

One in five Australians live in a multi-generational household and it is a growing trend. Avoid these pitfalls so you don’t outstay your welcome.

Multi-generational living isn’t a new trend, but it’s definitely one that is becoming more common in modern Western society.

Whether it’s having your elderly parents move in or your adult children returning home, there’s bound to be some tensions and teething problems, but it’s a situation that can be beneficial for everyone.

Multi-generational living has long been the norm in numerous countries around the world where elderly parents live with their grown children because they can no longer live alone safely or they have the capacity to help raise their grandchildren; or adult children choose to continue to live with their parents well into their 30s and even older.

In Australia about 20 per cent of the population is now choosing this path for a number of reasons, but according to Edgar Liu, a senior research fellow at the UNSW’s City Futures Research Centre, the main factor is financial.

A 2022 Finder study found 13 per cent of Australians – about 858,000 households – have had an adult child move back home in the past 12 months due to cost-of-living pressures.

“From our research, the primary reason for multi-generational living was finance, which encompasses a range of things like housing affordability and finding better value in combining costs,” Edgar explains.

“It also reflects our changing social and economic structures, so people in unstable work situations find it harder to sustain stable housing, whether to rent or buy.

“There were other push factors as well, such as the real and perceived lack of quality of residential aged care, coupled with the government’s push for people to age in place within the community rather than in care homes, and that can be costly for the individuals who need to co-pay for support and services.”

Why children stay at home longer

A more recent trend in multi-generational living is children staying in the family home longer, which Edgar says could be attributed to the growing expectations and costs of higher education, or relationship breakdowns.

The latest Census data from 2021 found 456,543 people aged between 25 and 34 still lived with their parents, a 17 per cent increase since the Census in 2016.

“We’re staying in school and uni longer, or returning to learning more often, and that can delay or limit some people’s ability or desire to afford independent living,” he says.

What are the pitfalls?

Relationships Australia NSW chief executive Elisabeth Shaw says communication and setting boundaries are imperative in making this situation work and everyone has to be on the same page.

“If a family moves in together because of duty or obligation rather than preference, then there are many ways that this arrangement can go wrong,” Elisabeth says.

“There may be some available benefits, for example, built-in childcare, but is this fair and reasonable?

“Everyone needs to be open about what sort of life they want to lead and what needs they have.”

Making multi-generational living work

Elisabeth says it’s important to discuss expectations before moving in.

Some key discussion points should include:

  • Older generations should vocalise if they have limitations or need a space to retreat.
  • Sharing the load and managing parenting responsibilities.
  • General privacy ground rules.
  • How children’s behaviour is to be managed.
  • Cost-sharing arrangements.

She says it’s also important to discuss how long the arrangement will continue.

“The agreed time to live together might drift on and the initial generosity and goodwill can wear thin,” Elisabeth says.

“A healthy routine would be to have a family meeting once a week or so to just reflect on how everyone is going, what is working and what could be better.

“Express gratitude where possible, be open to feedback and be prepared to negotiate.”

Written by Andrea Beattie.