Changing Form of the American Family Requires New Thinking

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
Changing Form of the American Family Requires New Thinking

The idea of what makes up a family is shifting -- are homebuilders keeping up with the trend?

Today's family may not look much like the traditional nuclear family of two hetero parents and 2.5 children on average, and a family pet or two. Instead, more homes are trending multi-generational as parents share homes with adult children out of convenience or necessity.

According to Pew Research, 19% of all U.S. households are multi-generational homes, with two or more adult generations living under a single roof, which is also the same number of married-with-children under 18 households. In fact, the fastest growing household type is a single person home. Single-parent homes are also growing rapidly.

Homes Must Reflect Reality

Demographic changes — women having families later in life, with fewer children, more single parent homes, more 55+ plus homes with a primary adult and older or younger adults living under the same roof — mean the old-school house may no longer be serving the needs of buyers.

The homebuilding and community development industry must face the reality that 80% of U.S. household are actually non-traditional families.

Finding a home that will serve the composition of the household may be a bigger factor in the buying decision than pricing or the community.

Homebuilders Can Adapt

So are homebuilders offering models that take this reality into account?

Home spaces must be adaptable and take into account the trend toward aging in place as well. Small details -- levers for doors instead of knobs, for instance -- make it easier for older people to stay in the home.

Massive bathtubs surrounded by faux marble floors that take your breath away on the home tour could be a real slipping danger to elderly occupants. Narrow water closet doors and hallways could make it difficult to navigate for people using a walker.

Upstairs lofts, multipurpose rooms, gaming rooms and other adaptable spaces make it easier for different generations to co-exist in the same house without causing tension. Younger people can play video games in one room while the older generation consumes content via traditional TV. That way the latest Call of Duty game doesn't interfere with the nightly news.

Living the Trend

For a few months, my household grew to nine family members, ages four years to 75 years. We were fortunate that the house could accommodate the expansion from the usual four people.

In my case, we didn't have a new home -- it was a 40-year-old multilevel that had been added on to over the years. The tri-level home did not originally have a bathroom that you could reach without climbing stairs. But we made that a priority in the addition we had built for my wife's parents. The new space also included a full kitchen, so we had plenty of space to cook for holiday dinners.

It was not ideal, of course, but we had enough bathrooms and diverse sections of the home that people could have some personal space when needed. We were blessed to be able to offer a place to live to family members when they needed it and blessed again when they were able to stand on their own.

A new home could offer the same flexibility and foresight into multi-generational living for little to no extra cost.

It may be hard to spot the trends, as customers will buy only what's on the market. They may not understand what they need until they see a model in front of them.

As household composition continues to shift, homebuilders and community planners will have to develop new approaches to appeal to different types of families. The goal is to make a product that fit today's families, not make today's families fit yesterday's homes.

Topics: Going Green, Healthy Homes, Home Design & Plans, Interior Design, Sustainability Trends & Statistics, Sustainable Communities

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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