As rents and mortgage payments rise, is multigenerational living the secret to thriving in these tough economic times?

Considering the possibility of taking out a large mortgage to buy a house they could barely afford, Luke Saliba and his wife Claire Gooch decided to try something different.

Instead, the young couple moved in with Claire’s mother, Sylvia, and took out a much smaller mortgage to renovate her home.

“The idea of ​​the disconnected nuclear family in the suburbs [feels] like it’s been forced on us for the last 100 years,” Luke said.

“I feel like we’re challenging this, on this small level, is almost getting back to how things should be.”

Luke says having a European background means there’s “no stigma attached to living with grandparents”.(ABC News: Rhiannon Stevens)

The lifestyle allowed Sylvia to stay in her home which was becoming too expensive for her alone to maintain.

“I can stay in a house that I like, in an area where I’ve made friends – that meant I wouldn’t have any problems,” she said.

Sharing the house has also benefited Luke, Claire and their two young children.

Claire said having a small mortgage of around $350,000 and living in a well-served area meant they were better able to manage their finances as the cost of living rose.

“My daughter needs surgery for her carnations, adenoids and tonsils,” she said.

“If we didn’t live like this, it would be a problem and we would have to make choices between food, rent and the medical care the children need.”

Three generations of women sitting on a sofa read a picture book to the youngest, who has a pacifier in her mouth.
Claire says living with her mother is a great choice, but acknowledges that not everyone has the opportunity to tap into generational wealth in this way.(ABC News: Rhiannon Stevens)

Having another adult at home also meant that she and her husband could turn to her mother for advice.

“My mum is very different from who I am and that’s really good because my kids get things that I couldn’t do with them. [and] I have ideas that I wouldn’t have had.”

The lifestyle worked because they tried to behave like roommates, not mother-daughter, she said.

“It’s a group home where we’re related, and because we have similar backgrounds…we can probably live together a little easier, but living with my daughter isn’t always easy, but it’s okay in both ways, right? said Sylvia.

Luke, who is the grandson of Spanish and Macedonian immigrants, said having a European background meant there was no stigma attached to living with grandparents, and he appreciated the presence of a older generation in the house.

“If one of us is having a bad day, we don’t have to travel to go and touch base and provide that family support. We have it in-house,” he said.

A man, his mother-in-law and her young child sit on the back step of their house in the sunshine.
Sylvia likes to be involved in the daily life of her grandchildren.(ABC News: Rhiannon Stevens)

Growth of multigenerational households

Edgar Liu, a senior fellow at UNSW’s City Futures Research Center, said economic circumstances were often the driving factor for people choosing to live in a multigenerational setting.

Dr Liu, who has studied multi-generational living over several years and defined them as households with more than one generation of adults, said data from the UK and US showed that the economic shock The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) has increased the number of multi-generational households in these countries.

photo of a man smiling at the camera and wearing glasses.
Edgar Liu says multigenerational households are increasing.(Provided UNSW)

“From the United States, in particular, there is evidence that [showed] a normal growth rate was around 1.5% for this type of household,” he said.

“[That] doubled to around 3% when GFC first appeared, then continued for a few years before dropping back down to the normal rate of 1.5%.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has provided new data to the ABC on households comprising three generations.

It showed a slight increase in three-generation lifestyles in recent years, from 275,000 in 2016 to 335,000 in 2021.

But Dr Liu said the biggest growth in Australia had been in households where two generations of adults lived together.

While finances, especially the cost of care for the young and old, influenced people’s decisions to form multi-generational households, Dr Liu said family connection was the most often cited benefit once that people had lived through such living conditions.

But he said in Australia there was still a stigma attached to this lifestyle.

“The acceptance was very conditional, you had to have a reason for doing it, you can’t just want to do it,” he said.

“[For example] your mother was in a wheelchair so she had to live with you,” was considered an acceptable reason, Dr Liu said, but if someone just liked living with their mother, that would raise questions.

A father, his two children and his parents are seated around a low table playing cards.  There is a plate of snacks on the table.
Cards are one of Irina’s favorite family activities.(ABC News: Rhiannon Stevens )

The solution to isolation

Irina Kawar has always lived surrounded by generations of her family, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Irina believes that a “joint family”, as it is known in India, can solve much of the isolation and loneliness experienced in Australia today.

“It’s a really good solution for people who feel isolated because isolation is just as big an issue in older people as it is in teenagers,” she said.

“It’s a win-win for everyone, single teenagers, single grandparents – together they’re happy.”

For Irina, living with her in-laws, husband and two daughters also makes financial and emotional sense.

A girl husband and wife drink tea at a table.
Irina says living with anyone – child, partner or parent – involves sacrifices, but the benefits outweigh the challenges.(ABC News: Rhiannon Stevens)

She said she never felt lonely or frustrated learning to parent when her children were young because she always had family around to support her.

As migrants to Australia, having grandparents at home also helped her children maintain a connection to Indian culture and language, she said.

“[The grandparents] follow daily religious practices so I don’t have to go the extra mile to incorporate that [the girls’] life, they can grow around these practices as naturally as my husband and I did,” she said.

“If it was just the two of us raising our daughters, we would need to make the conscious effort to speak to them in Hindi but living with grandparents – they just learn Hindi naturally.”

For those who have never tried living beyond the nuclear family unit, Irina understands there might be some apprehension.

But she said sacrifices are made with whoever you live with, be it a partner, child, parents or extended family.

“A small sacrifice is enough, but the benefits are great.”

an elderly woman and her daughter in her 60s sit at an outdoor table with cups of tea.
Nina Xarhakos moved in with her mother Maria and became her primary carer.(ABC News: Rhiannon Stevens)

Take care of Maria

Decades after she last lived with her parents, Nina Xarhakos moved in with her mother Maria in 2020.

At 92, Maria suffers from mobility issues and found herself isolated after the death of her husband and several close friends, as well as the closure of her Greek social club due to COVID-19.

“I worked in the community sector with older Greek-speaking people, [so] I am very aware of the prevalence of depression and anxiety in older people,” Nina said.

She said she respects her mother’s desire to stay home as long as possible.

“It’s satisfying for me to be able to make that kind of contribution to his quality of life and I think it also strengthens our relationship.”

Nina said her mother would feel less comfortable receiving care from outside providers and it was becoming increasingly difficult to find caregivers with the language and cultural skills to care for someone like her. mother whose English was limited.

“I was born in Greece and came to Australia when I was seven years old. I am the daughter of immigrants, I am bilingual and bicultural,” she said.

“I have a better understanding than, say, a 20-year-old born here who has limited Greek language skills and an understanding of Greek culture.”

As she enjoyed this time of life with her mother, Nina said carers made big sacrifices and received little financial support.

With a grown daughter and no partner, Nina said she was able to become her mother’s caregiver and the living conditions benefited them both.

“I learn some skills from my mother, she passes on customs and traditions that are dear to me as well. So there is a lot to learn from someone with such wisdom and ability.”

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