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More Americans now live in multigenerational households

More people than ever before are bunked together in multi-generational households across the United States, with a record 49 million (16.1 percent of the population) sharing close quarters either permanently or temporarily, according to a report out Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

Since 1980, the share of Americans living in such households jumped 33 percent. That represents a sharp reversal from earlier recent trends in which kids grew up, left home and didn't return except for a visit, and grandparents retired to sunny spots or stayed put in their own homes.

Over the 40 years between 1940 to 1980, Pew found the proportion of individuals in multi-generational households had declined by more than half - from 25 percent in 1940 to 12 percent in 1980.

"Our cultural norms shifted," says Paul Taylor, director of Pew's Social & Demographic Trends project, which analyzed Census data as well as its own surveys for the report.

The new growth, according to Pew, is a by-product of various factors - from momentary high unemployment and mounting numbers of home foreclosures to demographic changes such as increased immigrants in the population and the rising median age of first marriage.

About one in five Americans 25-34 and one in five of those 65 and older live in households in which at least two adult generations, or a grandparent and at least one other generation, share the same roof, Pew found.

The economic downturn most definitely accelerated the trend. Pew found that between 2007 and 2008, the number of Americans living in a multi-generational family household grew by 2.6 million.

And since last year, President Barack Obama's family also made it chic, with Marian Robinson, the president's mother-in-law, moving into the White House, creating a multi-generational first family.

Generations United, a national organization based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on intergenerational programs and policies, has seen soaring numbers of people downloading the Web site's fact sheet about multi-generational households.

The economy has taken a real toll on retirees, forcing many to move in with adult children, says Donna Butts, the group's executive director.

"Older people who had planned for a comfortable retirement lost a pretty serious chunk of their capital and don't have the potential to earn it back the way somebody in their 50s can," she says.

And, Butts says, the retirement community approach to life is not as popular as it once was.

"We don't think it's healthy for older adults to just live with older adults," Butts say. "All they do is talk about who's died, what hurts and what medication they're on."

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