Photo: Birgit Loit, from unsplash.com
Reede, 14 Mai 2021 19:00
Estonian Life No. 19 2021 - Vincent Teetsov
The 2021 Canadian Census has once again brought to mind how we define our households and the structure of our families. One demographic phenomenon we'll be able to examine more closely through the new data is the growth of multigenerational living.
According to Statistics Canada, at the turn of the 20th century, “census families (a couple, with or without children, or a lone parent with one or more children) were much more open to admitting people other than immediate family members into their homes, either for additional income or to give or receive care or financial support.”
Historically, around the world, many homes were occupied by family members of multiple generations; grandparents, parents, and their children all under one roof. Pew Research Center data shows that in the United States, in 1900, 57% of people over the age of 65 lived in a multigenerational household.
A Tallinn University study from 2009 described how “[Multigenerational] families were widespread in Estonia in the past, especially in the country-side.” So what is the situation now? The study asserts that multigenerational households have been largely replaced by nuclear families. In April 2019, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs noted that, across 137 countries, Estonia has the highest percentage (37%) of people over 65 living alone, rather than with extended family. Afghanistan had the lowest percentage, at less than one percent. In Canada, it was approximately 30%.
Meanwhile, Statistics Canada indicates that multigenerational households are increasing more than any other type in Canada. As of 2016, the province of Ontario had the third highest percentage of multigenerational households in the country, at 3.9 percent, Toronto being one place where this is more common. Statistics Canada attributes this to the city having a high proportion of immigrant families and also high cost housing.
When the 2016 Canadian census showed that the number of seniors surpassed children by 0.1 million, and Estonia has an over-65 population that is projected to double to 34% by 2050, the question is posed whether extended families living together might be required more often in the future, when the availability of retirement residences and nursing homes doesn't match the demand.
A debate on the pros and cons of multigenerational living is contentious. If grandparents are able to look after grandchildren, it could save money for parents by eliminating the need for daycare.
Financial resources can be pooled together in the payment of expenses like mortgage payments and property tax.
Seniors living with their grandchildren could benefit health-wise through strong family bonds and a sense of purpose. Moreover, the running of a household can be shared by more family members.
Yet, it can also be difficult because it requires extra space in a family's home. Construction and renovations (for instance, adding a ground floor bedroom and shower) are costly.
A multigenerational living situation can reduce privacy. It can increase stress if there are interpersonal tensions. Living with extended family may be completely unmanageable if specialized, around-the-clock care is needed. Solutions are as various as the circumstances families find themselves facing.
As early as 2014, the Netherlands came into the spotlight for a retirement home where university students could live rent-free if they were conscientious residents and spent 30 hours per month with elderly residents. In these hours, they provided small aspects of life that nurses and caretakers simply don't have time to give to every resident: sitting down and having a conversation, playing a game, going for a stroll, etc. Students benefited from potentially roomier accommodation, and the social connections with older residents. This is in a country which, in 2019, had the third lowest number of people over 65 living with extended family members (35.4 percent).
Regardless of how households are structured, the greatest benefits of all could be derived from encouraging more interaction between generations, in general; with meaning being exchanged between people in opposite points of life.
Written by Vincent Teetsov