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Adults moving into parents' house are not just cheapskates

Grandparents, parents and children living together is becoming more common. (Image: Getty)

Australian adults, with their children, are moving in with the grandparents, a new study has found.

Multigenerational living arrangements, which are common in other parts of the world, now apply to one-in-five Australians, according to findings from the UNSW City Futures Research Centre.

The rate rises to one-in-four for Sydneysiders.

UNSW City Futures Research Centre senior research fellow Dr Edgar Liu said housing affordability is driving many Australians to live with their grandparents or their grandchildren.

"You have young people who, increasingly, are unable to afford to leave home, and at the same time, you have [their parents and grandparents] experiencing perhaps similar financial stress," said Liu.

But financial pressures are not the sole reason for multigenerational cohabitation.

"People like having their family around, and having that companionship and support," Liu said.

"It's a way for families to stay connected, and allows for greater intergenerational connections… especially for the older generation, they can be closer to the family and spend more time with the grandkids."

For older Australians, there is a reluctance to move into institutional care.

"The fastest-growing age group for multigenerational household members is the over 65s," said Liu.

"There’s an aversion to moving into aged care for obvious reasons we see now, with the Aged Care Royal Commission, and policy-wise, the government doesn’t want people to move into institutions. They want people to live in the general community. So, more families are considering providing that care and support themselves."

Disadvantages of multigenerational households

It's not necessarily all giggles for those families though.

"For some, particularly the middle generation, it can leave them feeling burdened," said Liu.

"There can be an assumption by their siblings that the elderly parents are just completely taken care of so they don’t need to help out, which is not necessarily the case."

The design of modern housing can cause privacy and noise problems.

"A lot of the housing we have is open-plan living, so there’s no audio and visual privacy. It’s not very pleasant if the only place you might be able to get privacy in your home is your bedroom."

And an outsider might assume free childcare is on tap, but this isn't the reality either.

"You can’t just keep using your parents to babysit because they have their own life to live as well," said Liu. 

"And of course, if your children are being looked after by your own family, you don’t get any government support, and it still costs money to run the household."

Policy changes needed for big families

The rise of multigenerational households demand a rethink from both the government and the private sector, in areas like urban planning and aged care.

For example, according to Liu, the building industry is not constructing the types of homes suitable for multigenerational families.

"At the moment, much of the new housing we see is provided as apartments, and they are typically small with one to two bedrooms, which is not really suitable to most family arrangements."

"It’s quite hard to find a house with enough bedrooms that’s affordable, has reasonable access to jobs and services appropriate to the needs of each generation."

The housing shortage in Australia's big cities will persist if new dwellings don't fit what potential buyers need.

"Wider recognition that these households do exist and are on the rise is needed so that policy-makers can accommodate for the increases in demand for services and support these households require," said Liu.

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