The perks of multigenerational living.  Photographer: Michael Temchine/For The Washington Post via Getty Images
The perks of multigenerational living.  Photographer: Michael Temchine/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

It turns out millennials really do live in their parents’ houses -- at least according to a Pew Research Center report out today.

Almost 57 million people in the U.S. -- 18.1 percent of the population -- lived in a multigenerational household in 2012, including almost one in four 25- to 34-year-olds. This provides needed context to the "millennials living in the basement" phenomenon, and, well, stereotype.

Of course, "multigenerational household" is not synonymous with "millennial living in the basement." Pew's definition of the former term is more expansive than the one used by the U.S. Census Bureau (whose data Pew analyzes in the report). There's more detail in the report, but here’s the Sparknotes version:

A multi-generational household is a household that includes at least two adult generations (for example, parents and adult children ages 25 or older where either generation can be the household head) or two non-sequential generations (for example, grandparents and grandchildren of any age).

So these numbers don't capture the entire millennial basement-dweller population: The 22-year-old graduate who leaves campus to move in with mom and dad isn't in there. In addition, the elders among that 25-34 set aren't millennials, at least if you use Pew's definition as those born after 1980.

As it happens, 1980 was the year the U.S. reached “a post-World War II low" with 12.1 percent of the population residing in multigenerational households, according to the report. By 2007, it was up to 15.5 percent of the population. A surge occurred during the recession, and then the trend continued, though at a slower rate, hitting 18.1 percent in 2012.

Are millennials the cause?

Young adults ages 25 to 34 have been a major component of the growth in the population living with multiple generations since 1980— and especially since 2010. By 2012, roughly one-in-four of these young adults (23.6%) lived in multi-generational households, up from 18.7% in 2007 and 11% in 1980.

Source: Pew Research Center 
Source: Pew Research Center 

Previously, folks 85 and older were most likely to live in multigenerational households; by 2012, 25- to 34-year-olds had edged past them. Gender matters, too. Women are more likely than men to live in multigenerational households overall, but among 25- to 34-year-olds it’s more common among men (26 percent of men compared with 21 percent of women in 2012).

Why are so many young adults living with parents or extended family? The usual suspects: a tough labor market, delayed marriage, prolonged schooling, a slow (or stalled?) journey to adulthood. We might as well add high student-debt burdens and the lingering effects of a brutal recession.

Still, living with mom and dad -- and/or grandma and grandpa -- doesn't mean you're broke or immature or lazy. In fact, some multigenerational households are headed by young adults. But not many. Eighty percent of 25- to 34-year-olds living in a multigenerational household in 2012 were children of the head of household.

A more diverse America also entails new cultural and familial expectations and ideals. “Racial and ethnic minorities generally have been more likely to live in multi-generational family arrangements, and their numbers have grown with increased immigration since the 1970s,” the report noted. According to a March Pew report, 43 percent of millennials ages 18 to 33 are non-white; Census predicts that minorities will become a majority in 2043.

Source: Pew Research Center 
Source: Pew Research Center 

Living arrangements convey more than clues on the financial status of Americans. They also provide insight about the changing nature of the family and makeup of the country. “I learned on my first campaign,” said Vice President Joe Biden yesterday at Generation Progress’s Make Progress National Summit, “that parents and grandparents listened more to their children and grandchildren about political issues than you listen to them.” Listening is a little easier when everyone is gathered at the same dinner table.

To contact the writer of this article: Zara Kessler at zkessler@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net.