Multigenerational households on the rise

Hayley Elroumy, 10, her mom, Caron Elroumy and Hayley Elroumy, 10, her mom, Caron Elroumy and grandmother, Linda Copenhaver all live together in a mobile home in Riverhead. (Nov. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Driven by necessity, Caron Elroumy and her two children moved to Riverhead two years ago, joining her mother in the older woman's 12-by-60-foot mobile home.

"I had nowhere else to go" other than perhaps a shelter, said Elroumy, 41, a stay-at-home mom who formerly lived in Quogue. Her marriage had faltered -- she's seeking a divorce -- and with it her economic standing.

There's no question that space is tight in the two-bedroom mobile home, which is easily cluttered. But as she and her mother, Linda Copenhaver, said in unison: "We're squished together but we're happy."

They illustrate what a recent U.S. Census Bureau report called "multigenerational households," where three or more generations live together. Those households, the report said, are on the rise -- increasing from 3.7 percent of households nationally, or 3.9 million, in the 2000 census, to 4 percent, or 5.1 million, in the 2010 census.

The report does not provide local data, but the 2010 census showed Suffolk County had 29,125 households consisting of three or more generations, while Nassau County had 27,348. The bureau did not provide such county-level data for the 2000 census, a spokesman said.

Living this way means making adjustments, said Copenhaver, 64, as she sat at the kitchen table in the open kitchen/living room area just feet from the sofa that has become her bed.

"Brandon has his own room," she said of her 15-year-old grandson. "Caron sleeps with Hayley," Copenhaver's granddaughter, 10. "And I sleep on the couch," she said, laughing.

"I miss a bed, yes. But you know what? You do what you have to do to help family," said Copenhaver, who has leg ailments. "You love your family and you put up with what you have to put up with. You do your best."

The rise in multigenerational households is likely the result of "economic distress," high housing costs and housing shortages in some regions that "force families to double up," the report said. It also noted the "relatively high percentages of children born to unmarried mothers who live with their children in their parents' homes."

In addition, multigenerational households may be more likely in areas where new immigrants live with relatives, the report noted.

Local observers weren't surprised by the findings.

"There are multigenerational families living together simply because they can't afford to live independently," said Karen Boorshtein, president and chief executive of the Family Service League, a Suffolk-based nonprofit human services agency. "It really crosses all households. It's not just single moms who've been divorced."

"It's probably the economy," said Susanne Bleiberg Seperson, chair of Dowling College's sociology department and director of the college's Center for Intergenerational Policy and Practice. "Kids are moving back home after college"; others have lost jobs and can't afford to live on their own. She noted there are cultural reasons, as well.

 

Revealing statistics

The report found multigenerational households among 3.7 percent of non-Hispanic whites; 9 percent of blacks and Asians; 10 percent of Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives; and 13 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

A separate report by the bureau found that among foreign-born Asians in 2011, more were likely to live in multigenerational households -- 9.4 percent, versus 4.9 percent for the native-born.

The Wong family of New Hyde Park is among them.

Kenson and Peggy Wong are the parents of 9-year-old Eliana. Kenson Wong's parents, Evan and Shu Wong, have lived with them since 2009. They are retirees who for more than 40 years lived in Brazil, where Kenson was born.

"One day they came to visit us, the three of us, and they saw how difficult it is to have both [parents] working and take care of our daughter," said Kenson Wong, 47, a civil engineer for New York City. His wife is an internal auditor for a private real estate firm in the city.

Peggy Wong, who hails from Hong Kong, said her in-laws' presence is "very helpful. I get to enjoy more family time with my daughter after dinner."

Her husband added, "And you can trust them. That's a big thing."

Another plus is that little Eliana has become fluent in Cantonese, her mother said.

"She's our English teacher and we're Chinese teachers for her," said her grandfather, Evan Wong, 76.

Family ties run deep, as Shu Wong, with her daughter-in-law translating, explained, "It's not a burden. It's all done by love."

You also may be interested in: