As housing woes continue, an old trend is re-emerging in American households: the extended family. The nuclear family, two parents and their children in an independent household, became a social standard in the United States and much of the westernized world for over a century. It was the symbol of the American Dream: a marriage, a home, and another generation to grow up, move out, and repeat the process.
In other parts of the world the nuclear family is not only far less common, it is far less desirable. Extended family structures provide increased income by centering more income-earners in a single household, making them much more resilient and resistant to financial hardships; the loss of an income is less devastating, while the addition of an income allows a far greater overall increase in financial well-being. The cost of a single house payment, one set of utilities, one TV and internet contract, etc., even when the household’s cost is increased by additional members, is still typically less, and in many cases much less, than dividing those costs into multiple households.
Millennia of human existence have seen this additional benefit of the extended family model: better living conditions for both children and elderly. The older generations help to raise, teach, and care for the children and provide leadership, advice, and emotional support for the family unit. As the aging become elderly, growing children and other family members are well-placed to transition into caretaking roles. Extended families provide significant support in task-sharing, from child-rearing to chores, letting many hands make lighter work, increasing individual standards of living and life-enjoyment.
Living in closer, denser family units does have its drawbacks. Power-distribution is a typical struggle, as grown children and their parents clash over decision-making, prompting the nightmare echoes of “as long as you live under my roof” back to haunt both parties. Unresolved conflicts and emotional upheavals are magnified by the close proximity, making it much harder for some people to cope. Others feel the weight of responsibility to their family members-become-housemates as restrictive to their personal goals, beliefs, and lifestyles. “I love my family, but if we lived together we’d kill each other,” is a fairly common sentiment, preventing some people from considering the extended family model.
Still, economic change prompts social change. People are more focused on their financial wellbeing, spending less, saving more, and reducing and avoiding debt at higher rates than they were six years ago. For adult children, living with mom and dad is beginning to lose the stigma it once held, especially for those with young children of their own or whose parents are aging and need more assistance. The extended family model may never take precedence in America over the nuclear family ideal, but for some households, becoming an extended family may be one of the best decisions they’ve ever made.
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