One of the more prevalent demographic story lines of the recession has been that of adults packing together into households in order to save money. New data from the Census Bureau show that the trend may be subsiding.
According to a brief released today, the share of households with "additional adults" ticked downward in 2011 after growing steadily from 2007 to 2010. In 2010, 19.4 percent of households — around 22.2 million — included an adult who was not the householder and was neither married to nor partnered with the householder. In 2011, those figures slipped slightly, to just over 22 million households, or 19.2 percent.
Still, the number of adults living under other people's roofs remains high, and the trend hasn't turned around entirely. Just over 17.3 percent of Americans over 18 were "additional adults" in 2010, a figure that grew to 17.9 percent in 2011. That also represents substantial growth from 2007, prior to the recession, when the number was just 16 percent.
Yet there is reason to believe that the decline in shared households will continue. That decrease is an important number to watch, says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
"I guess you could say that's a leading indicator of more to come," he says. Frey points to Florida and Nevada, two states whose economies were hit hard in the recession, and both of which saw the percentage of shared households decline significantly from 2010 to 2011.
"The fact that they're coming down over the last year does send a signal that maybe we have turned a corner or are beginning to turn a corner."
The report suggests that there is a very strong economic component to these recent cohabitation trends. Among the "additional adults," there is an official poverty rate of 15.8 percent. But if those adults are measured as separate units, their individual poverty rate is a whopping 55.5 percent. As the Census Bureau's report explains, "many more additional adults would be living in official poverty if not for the resources of the householder or the householder's family."
In large part, the householders in these shared homes go by the titles of "mom" and "dad." Of all of the "additional adults" in other people's households in 2011, nearly half — 47.1 percent — were adult children living with their parents. Only about 20 percent were not related to the householders. Just under 10 percent, meanwhile, were parents moving in with their adult children.
The additional residents were also overwhelmingly young. Just over 35 percent were 18 to 24 years old in 2011, and an additional 30.5 percent were 25 to 34. This is a dynamic that could change in coming decades, however.
"I think over the longer haul older folks, they start getting disabilities, they have to count on their families more for support because maybe they don't have the Cadillac insurance plans and disability plans," says Frey. While the recession drove many youngsters back to the nest, the recovering economy may reverse the trend. Meanwhile, a large population of boomers aging together could eventually accelerate the trend of parents moving in with their children, Frey adds: "I think that's going to be a trend that's probably more of a pervasive trend than the trend toward younger people staying at home."
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Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter @titonka or via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.