The number of young couples starting lives together lodging with their parents or in-laws has soared in the last decade due to rising property prices and a squeeze on earnings, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). New analysis of returns from the 2011 census shows that the number of couples or single parents living under the same roof as another family has increased by 70 per cent over the last ten years. Overall, there are an estimated 289,000 families living in another family home in England and Wales – most of them under the age of 35, according to the statistics.
Interestingly, the figure does not include millions of young adults still living with their parents or who have moved back in after university - the so-called “boomerang generation”; a phenomenon that we talked about in a previous column. Nor does it include single, elderly parents living with their children’s families, often in ‘granny flat’ arrangements.
The issue is highlighted in a study by ONS statisticians which identified so-called “concealed families” – those living as family units but who would not show up on statistics as a household in their own right because they live under the same roof as another family. Although they represent just under two per cent of all families, the ONS said they were a vital indicator of housing demand in Britain.
The more generalised growth in the number of extended families living together mirrors that played out in many cultures. For example, extended family and kinship are central pillars of the Indian family unit. While culture is at the heart of why many families members choose such close-knit living arrangements, increasing numbers of younger family members, particularly single parents, are opting to live within the extended family. According to the Census data, almost two thirds of them are couples, including 41,000 with children of their own. There are also 84,000 single parents with children, living with other families, often the children’s grandparents. In just over half of cases the ONS’s “reference person” for the family – often whoever filled in the census form - is under the age of 35.
Family ‘concealment’ could be a growing societal change influenced by such factors as housing availability and its cost in relation to employment and earnings. It can also be seen to reflect cultural changes in society. However, it should be considered a symptom rather than a cause of any great shift in general living arrangements. Triggers for this shift include, perhaps most importantly, the lack of affordable housing stock and the lack of any great success of government schemes aimed at getting people on the housing ladder.
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