Human-ities · Public Space · Social/Politics

The Rise of Multigenerational and One-Person Households

Katherine S. Newman states her thesis plainly: “Global competition is the most profound structural force affecting the residential location of young adults in the developed world (or the under­developed world, for that matter)” — but one is impressed by her refusal to turn thesis into dogma. She acknowledges that different cultures define adulthood in different ways, with Americans tending to see it as “a process of self-discovery” and Europeans as “a station defined by the way one relates to others.” She also appreciates the mutual benefits of multi­generational households, as suggested by a survey showing that 76 percent of American parents of 21-year-olds say they feel close to their child, as opposed to a mere quarter of their own parents saying the same.

Still, Newman does not shy away from the larger effects of a child’s “failure to launch,” independently, into the world. Not the least of these is a generation’s failure to generate. At present there are four workers in Europe for every pensioner; by 2050 there will be only two workers for every retiree. Birthrates in the United States would also be falling if not for Mexican immigrants — yet another job they’ve taken on, along with those of lawn- and elder-care and favored scapegoat. But in Japan, the fastest-aging country in the world, where only 1 percent of the population is foreign-born, the future looks more bleak.

Newman also takes pains to show how accordion families shape up across class lines — the difference between an ­upper-middle-class family providing rent-free space to a child earning a law degree and a subsistence family hanging on to a child in order to make the rent. Part of this difference is that “working-class kids do not boomerang back into the family home” but “like their Spanish or Italian counterparts . . . do not leave home at all until much later in life.”

Excerpt of an article written by GARRET KEIZER, at the NYT

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