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Beyond the Nuclear Family: Trends in Children Living in Shared Households

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Using data from the 1996–2008 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation and the 2009–2016 American Community Survey, we examine trends in U.S. children living in shared households (living with adults beyond their nuclear (parent/parent’s partner/sibling) family). We find that although the share of children who lived in a shared household increased over this period, the rise was nearly entirely driven by an increase in three-generation/multigenerational households (coresident grandparent(s), parent(s), and child). In 1996, 5.7 % of children lived in a three-generation household; by 2016, 9.8 % did likewise—more than a 4 percentage point increase. More economically advantaged groups (older, more educated mothers, married households) experienced the largest percentage increase in three-generation coresidence, although correlates of coresidence remained largely stable. Decomposition analyses suggest that the rise in Social Security receipt and changes in parental relationship status (less marriage, more single parenthood) most strongly explained the increase in three-generation households. Given the dramatic rise in three-generation households, more research is needed to understand the consequences of these living arrangements for children, their parents, and their grandparents.

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  1. Research has documented prevalence of particular types of shared living arrangements, such as extended-family households (children living with adult relatives; Kreider and Ellis 2011) or grandparent coresidence (e.g., Dunifon et al. 2014; Ellis and Simmons 2014), but has not examined trends comparing across types of shared living arrangements for children.

  2. We do not use earlier waves of SIPP (pre-1996) or the 2014 SIPP because changes in sampling and questionnaire design make comparisons difficult and inaccurate.

  3. Additional details on the ACS are available online (

  4. If a child is not living with the mother, we use information on the father.

  5. We checked for high correlations between the variables. Where we found high correlations, we ran extensions excluding those variables. The findings were unchanged.

  6. We do not use the ACS for our main analyses because we cannot distinguish as many household types, and the (nonpilot) data only start in 2005.

  7. Percentage/percentage point inconsistencies in the table are due to rounding.

  8. Mother’s education was not consistently related to coresidence, likely due to collinearity with income. In an extension, we exclude family income from the models and find that greater education is strongly and negatively associated with three-generation coresidence.


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The authors thank Liana Fox, Katherine Michelmore, and Mariana Amorim for their feedback and assistance.

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Correspondence to Natasha V. Pilkauskas.

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Pilkauskas, N.V., Cross, C. Beyond the Nuclear Family: Trends in Children Living in Shared Households. Demography 55, 2283–2297 (2018).

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