One Roof, Many Generations

Three years ago, Ana Lemus was a single mother with a baby. Unable to afford a home of her own, the 28-year-old decided to move into her parents’ apartment and all their lives improved.

Lemus is part of a growing trend among Hispanic Americans: multigenerational living. Multigenerational households — defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as three or more generations living under one roof — are increasing steadily. A Pew Research Center study found that Americans living in multigenerational households rose from 46.5 million to 51.4 million during the recession from 2007 to 2009. The sharpest growth in multigenerational households was among Hispanic-Americans at 17.6 percent compared to 8.5-percent growth in the non-Hispanic white population.

Divorce or widowhood, sickness, childbirth, unemployment, poverty, home foreclosure and recent immigration are common reasons why several generations may initially choose to live together, according to a Census Bureau report, but families in multigenerational households also experience lower poverty rates and enjoy more familial support. In Hispanic and Asian cultures, for example, caring for the elderly is considered an important duty; multigenerational living helps facilitate caregiving for both children and older family members.

Multigenerational living may benefit a family’s emotional and physical health in addition to its financial security. A survey conducted in rural China found that families in multigenerational households reported greater life satisfaction and less depression than their counterparts in single generation households, according to a study published in the September 2006 issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

When Angela Tunales’ parents separated, she invited her mother to move in with her in Dallas, Texas. Today, 39-year-old Tunales provides her mother a rent-free home in exchange for help with groceries, cooking and childcare. Tunales and her son are both overweight. Her father has diabetes and her mother has high blood pressure and is a breast cancer survivor. Tunales credits her mother with the good eating habits the family has adopted. Tunales’ mother now prepares healthier Mexican and American dishes for the entire family.

“We used to eat white flour tortillas. Now we eat wheat. And we don’t eat fast food. My mother makes most meals from scratch,” says Tunales. “We have replaced processed foods with more organic ones.”

Lemus’ parents are both in their early 60s and have high cholesterol. Lemus says her parents have adopted healthy eating habits, which they have passed down to her 3-year-old daughter. “Now we see a lot more greens on the table,” says Lemus. “My daughter sees the broccoli, the green peas and she still sees the carrots. That’s what she likes.”

Lemus and Tunales face challenges living in the same home with their parents and children, such as a lack of privacy and living space, but the benefits outnumber the difficulties. Both families are building stronger relationships, enjoying better health and getting ahead financially.

Neither family plans to change their living arrangements any time soon. Tunales says for now her 68-year-old mom will stay with her. “I didn’t think it was going to be permanent. It just turned out that way.”

Rebecca Aguilar
Rebecca Aguilar is a freelance writer.