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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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).

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Correspondence to Joan R. Kahn.

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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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-013-0196-2

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Keywords

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