Is living with your parents the new American dream?

Would you live with your parents to pay off $105k of debt?
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Tae and Monica Kim began their marriage with over $100,000 dollars in student debt.

It’s an albatross around the necks of many young Americans: how to pay down debt, create savings, afford to start a family — childcare, food, clothing — and own a house? 

“We couldn’t afford a house,” Tae, a financial blogger, says. “We couldn’t afford childcare. It kind of felt like you got one or the other.”

A decade after beginning their life together, however, the Kims have two children, a Golden State home of their own, and no more debt, having cleared the ledger in just three and a half years. 

The key for them was to not be beholden to the classic vision of the American Dream — strike out on your own, find a home, begin a family — and to instead find and live their version of the American Dream. 

And what does that dream look like?

“I’m a 40-year-old guy living with my mom.” 

Tae Kim

Multigenerational Living

The Kims live with Tae’s parents, an arrangement which allowed them to afford to keep both of their careers, put them in a house of their own, and provided access to childcare. Financial burdens were lessened — one set of utility bills, one mortgage, a whole kitty to help pay for groceries — and social support was  built right into the arrangement.

Such multigenerational living arrangements — where multiple generations of families live together — have been increasing in popularity in the U.S. for years.

According to the Pew Research Center, multigenerational living in America hit its nadir in 1980, when only 12% of the population had multiple generations under one roof. Since that low point, however, Americans have been moving back in with their parents, with 20% of the population — 65 million people — living in multi-gen households by 2016.

The rates rose across racial, ethnic, and gender lines, Pew found. And the increase has only continued. In 2020, it is estimated that one in six American adults live with extended members of their family. 

Recognizing the affordable housing opportunities and social support multigenerational living can create, programs like Boston’s Nesterly, which matches older residents with room to rent — and bills to pay — with long-term tenants are moving beyond families.

While intergenerational living is in an upswing, the idea is far from new, or uncommon. As recently as the 1950s, over 20% of Americans lived with their extended family, an arrangement even more common as one travels back in time. 

And among certain cultures — for example in the Navajo Nation — multigenerational households have long been the norm. 

The Benefits of Living With Parents

Tae’s father had grown up in South Korea, and among many Asian cultures, multigenerational living is traditional, he points out. 

“So, for my, for my dad, he didn’t think it was anything abnormal, he saw our situation and he asked us, “Hey, like, have you thought about what you guys are gonna do with childcare?,” Tae says. 

His parents had already paid the down payment on their home, but the cost of maintaining the house was expensive for them. His father’s solution? Merge families. 

“He said ‘you guys can have the house,’ just, we get to come with the house — forever,” Tae laughs. “In perpetuity.” 

The financial benefits of multigenerational living are obvious: you’re not paying two sets of utility bills, multiple mortgages, and can split up the financial burden when it comes to groceries. 

Another crucial benefit goes beyond saving money (although it certainly saves a lot of it): access to free, trusted child care.

Having Tae’s parents be able to watch the children allowed him and Monica to both continue working in their careers. With two incomes coming in, the Kims were able to live off one of their salaries and dedicate the other to paying down their debts. 

But having their grandparents deeply involved in the children’s lives also spoke to something deeper for Monica, who had spent a lot of time with her grandmother when she was young and her parents were both working full-time.

“I feel like with grandparents, they give you … a different type of love, kind of an unconditional love in a way,” Monica says, and that grandparents have the ability to slow down and “kind of embrace them.”

The Challenges of Living with Parents

But the financial and emotional benefits do come with costs of their own. 

Choice is a major factor in multigenerational living, Tae says. 

“For both my parents and I, we could have lived independently, but with more limitations,” he says. “But then, when we started living together, it opened up some of those limitations. It opened up more options.

“What it comes down to is there are trade-offs in order to gain the benefit.”

It’s not hard to imagine some of the tradeoffs of a multigenerational household. 

There can be a lack of privacy, and the kinds of interruptions that happen anytime one shares their home with someone else. And differing views on how to raise children and unsolicited advice can add a sharper edge when your roommates are your family.

“To be honest, we’ve had countless times where we’re actually looking for apartments or homes,” Tae says. 

There is, as well, the pressure to live up to that “normal” American Dream: the hero’s journey, from parent’s place to your own, from single to spouse to your own family. It can be a vision difficult to shake; a cultural construct turned cultural constriction. 

“I think there’s also a stigma towards a multi-generational household, that it’s something that we are embarrassed about,” Tae says. “Like, hey, if I’m living with my mom, a lot of times it’s because I don’t have a choice in it.”

But families who live together can help each other, too, the tight bonds cutting both ways in crisis.

“Monica and I, the way we define the American Dream is the freedom and the flexibility to be able to pursue our version of what [that] dream is.”

And for the Kims — and millions of others — that dream looks like living with mom and dad.

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