Skip to main content

Growing Parental Economic Power in Parent–Adult Child Households: Coresidence and Financial Dependency in the United States, 1960–2010


Research on coresidence between parents and their adult children in the United States has challenged the myth that elders are the primary beneficiaries, instead showing that intergenerationally extended households generally benefit the younger generation more than their parents. Nevertheless, the economic fortunes of those at the older and younger ends of the adult life course have shifted in the second half of the twentieth century, with increasing financial well-being among older adults and greater financial strain among younger adults. This article uses U.S. census and American Community Survey (ACS) data to examine the extent to which changes in generational financial well-being over the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have been reflected in the likelihood of coresidence and financial dependency in parent–adult child U.S. households between 1960 and 2010. We find that younger adults have become more financially dependent on their parents and that while older adults have become more financially independent of their adult children, they nevertheless coreside with their needy adult children. We also find that the effect of economic considerations in decisions about coresidence became increasingly salient for younger adults, but decreasingly so for older adults.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. The U.S. Census Bureau’s change in 1980 from “head of household” to the less sexist “householder” term has no effect on our definition of multigenerational households because our determination is based on comparing the relationships of all household members with the designated householder.

  2. Because our focus is on the relative resources of adults (aged 25 or older) living in multigenerational households, we do not consider other extended household forms (e.g., adult siblings who live together) even though they may be important in groups such as recent immigrants. For the same reason, we also do not control for the presence of dependent children, even though they may influence both the need for and desirability of coresidence.

  3. We selected the 40 % threshold because it was sufficiently below the 50–50 mark and would therefore indicate an unequal sharing of financial support by the two generations. We explored other thresholds (e.g., 10 % and 25 %), but there were few differences, either in trends or determinants.

  4. Throughout the period from 1960–2010, in only 15 % to 20 % of multigenerational households is financial support shared relatively equally (i.e., with between 40 % and 60 % of income provided by each generation).

  5. In no more than 15 % of multigenerational households do other adults contribute more than 25 % of household income. However, the income of other earners has no effect on our intergenerational comparisons because we focus only on income from the adult children and their parents (and spouses, if any).


  • Alwin, D. F., Converse, P. E., & Martin, S. S. (1985). Living arrangements and social integration. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 47, 319–334.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bean, F., & Tienda, M. (1987). The Hispanic population of the United States. New York: Russell Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burch, T., & Mathews, B. (1987). Household formation in developed societies. Population and Development Review, 13, 495–512.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Choi, N. G. (2003). Coresidence between unmarried aging parents and their adult children: Who moved in with whom and why? Research on Aging, 25, 384–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, P. N., & Casper, L. M. (2002). In whose home? Multigenerational families in the United States, 1998–2000. Sociological Perspectives, 45, 1–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Costa, D. (1999). “A House of Her Own”: Old age assistance and the living arrangements of older nonmarried women. Journal of Public Economics, 72, 30–39.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Easterlin, R. (1978). What will 1984 be like? Socioeconomic implications of recent twists in age structure. Demography, 15, 397–432.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Furstenberg, F. F., Jr., Kennedy, S., McLoyd, V. C., Rumbaut, R. G., & Settersten, R. A., Jr. (2004). Growing up is harder to do. Contexts, 3(Summer), 33–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Glick, J., & Van Hook, J. (2002). Parents’ coresidence with adult children: Can immigration explain racial and ethnic variation? Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 240–253.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goldscheider, F., Biddlecom, A., & McNally, J. (1994, August). Dependency, privacy, and power in intergenerational households: Changes in the living arrangements of the elderly in the U.S., 1940–90. Paper presented at the 1994 annual meeting of the America Sociological Association, Los Angeles, CA.

  • Goldscheider, F., & DaVanzo, J. (1989). Pathways to independent living in early adulthood: Marriage, semiautonomy, and premarital residential independence. Demography, 26, 597–614.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goldscheider, F., & Goldscheider, C. (1987). Moving out and marriage: What do young adults expect? American Sociological Review, 52, 278–285.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gustman, A. L., Steinmeier, T. L., & Tabatabai, N. (2010). What the stock market decline means for the financial security and retirement choices of the near-retirement population. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 24, 161–182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kobrin, F. (1976). The fall in household size and the rise of the primary individual in the United States. Demography, 13, 127–138.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kochhar, R., Fry, R., & Taylor, P. (2011). Wealth gaps rise to record highs between whites, blacks, Hispanics (Pew Research Center, Social and Demographic Trends). Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kotlikoff, L., & Morris, J. (1990). Why don’t the elderly live with their children? A new look. In D. Wise (Ed.), Issues in the economics of aging (pp. 149–169). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Krivo, L. J., & Mutchler, J. E. (1989). Elderly persons living alone: The effect of community context on living arrangements. Journal of Gerontology, 44, S54–S62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Levy, F. (1999). The new dollars and dreams. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lopata, H. (1973). Widowhood in an American city. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman.

    Google Scholar 

  • McGarry, K., & Schoeni, R. (2000). Social Security, economic growth and the rise in elderly widows’ independence in the twentieth century. Demography, 37, 221–236.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mutchler, J. E., & Burr, J. (2003). Living arrangements among older persons. Research on Aging, 25, 531–558.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • O’Rand, A. M., Ebel, D., & Isaacs, K. (2009). Private pensions in international perspective. In P. Uhlenberg (Ed.), International handbook of population aging (pp. 429–443). Rueil-Malmaison, France: Springer Science + Business B.V.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Pampel, F. (1983). Changes in the propensity to live alone: Evidence from consecutive cross-sectional surveys, 1960–1976. Demography, 20, 433–447.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pew Social and Demographic Trends. (2010). The return of the multi-generational family household (Report). Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

  • Preston, S. (1984). Children and the elderly: Divergent paths for America’s dependents. Demography, 21, 435–457.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Robinson, J. G. (1988, April). Perspectives on the completeness of coverage of population of the United States decennial censuses. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, New Orleans, LA.

  • Ruggles, S. (2007). The decline of intergenerational coresidence in the United States, 1850 to 2000. American Sociological Review, 72, 964–989.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ruggles, S. J., Alexander, T., Genadek, K., Goeken, R., Schroeder, M. B., & Sobek, M. (2010). Integrated public use microdata series: Version 5.0 [machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

    Google Scholar 

  • Santi, L. (1990). Household headship among unmarried persons in the United States, 1970–1985. Demography, 27, 219–232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schmertmann, C., Boyd, M., Serow, W., & White, D. (2000). Elder-child coresidence in the United States. Research on Aging, 22, 23–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schoeni, R. (1997). Reassessing the decline in parent–child old-age coresidence during the twentieth century. Demography, 35, 307–313.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Speare, A., & Avery, R. (1993). Who helps whom in older parent–child families? Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 48, S64–S73.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tolnay, S. (1997). The Great Migration and changes in the northern black family, 1940 to 1990. Social Forces, 75, 1213–1238.

    Google Scholar 

  • United Nations. (2005). Living arrangements of older persons around the world. New York: United Nations, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

    Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Census Bureau. (2001). Preliminary estimates show improvement in Census 2000 coverage. Retrieved from

  • Ward, R., Logan, J., & Spitze, G. (1992). The influence of parent and child needs on coresidence in middle and later life. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54, 209–221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • White, L. (1994). Coresidence and leaving home: Young adults and their parents. Annual Review of Sociology, 20, 81–102.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wiemers, E. (2012, May). The effect of unemployment on household composition and doubling up. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the Population Association of America, San Francisco, CA.

Download references


This research was supported in part by funds provided to the Maryland Population Research Center from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Child Health and Human Development Grant R24-HD041041. The authors gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments from the anonymous reviewers. They also acknowledge the unpublished work by Goldscheider et al. (1994), which formed the conceptual basis for this article. Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Washington, DC, and 2011 annual meeting of the Social Science History Association, Boston, MA.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joan R. Kahn.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.


(PDF 221 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kahn, J.R., Goldscheider, F. & García-Manglano, J. Growing Parental Economic Power in Parent–Adult Child Households: Coresidence and Financial Dependency in the United States, 1960–2010. Demography 50, 1449–1475 (2013).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Living arrangements
  • Intergenerational coresidence
  • Multigenerational households
  • Financial dependency