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AdAge this week looked at the “accelerating trend of multigenerational households” and what it might mean for marketing to Baby Boomers, their parents and their adult children.  The evolution of multigenerational households already has fundamentally changed the nature of active adult communities (50+ age-qualified).  If this trend continues, it will call into question the viability of age qualified communities as we know them today.

But first, some context and a walk down memory lane.

Rising Numbers of Multigenerational Households

As AdAge notes,

Today 49 million Americans — more than one in six people in the U.S. — live in households with three or more generations, according to the Pew Research Center. The percentage is even higher for age groups 25-to-34 and 65 and older, where one in five, or 20%, live in these extended families.


While much of the increase in multigenerational households can be attributed to the recession, there is also an increased appreciation for the value of family. I grew up with my grandmothers living with us for a combined 10 years.  I know how much I benefited from their involvement in my life. From playing games … to hearing the same stories again and again … to having people who had the time and desire to focus all their energies on a child … to learning to be patient and help my elders … Growing up in a multigenerational household was a gift.

A Trend Already Impacting Age-Qualified Communities

Creating Results has marketed 52 active adult and age-qualified communities in 12 states over the course of 10+ years.  At first the communities were marketed to empty nesters and the vast majority of people who lived in the community were in their 50-70s (Baby Boomers and Silent Generation). Gradually, we began to see parents moving in with their adult children. These moves were prior to the economic downturn and were motivated by a desire to be with family.

Of course, the introduction of people in their 70s-90s had programing implications for our clients’ Lifestyle Directors.  How to make these new residents feel welcome? How to accommodate the desires of these older residents to stay active, even though they frequently had more limited mobility than younger residents?  Lifestyle Directors introduced a new set of fitness activities, outings and social opportunities.

Then, we began to see the younger adult children of older Boomers and Silent Generation residents moving into the age-qualified communities in greater numbers. Previously, it had been a rare exception for a 20- or 30- something to live in the community for anything longer than a temporary basis. But now, these young adults were moving in.

Part of this trend was motivated by the strong value that active adult communities offered even as the real estate market appreciated beyond reason. Parents and their adult (and childless) children purchased homes together and began requesting dual owner suites. It was a small percentage, 6 – 14%, but significant enough to cause changes to product design and programing. Interestingly, this percentage is quite similar to the percentage of multigenerational households in the country as reported by the Pew Research Center.

cp_ad3REV_whtMany members of the Baby Boomer or Silent Generations are grandparents.  While children are restricted from being permanent residents at an active adult community, a growing reality is that the grandparents are providing the majority of childcare.  One of our clients – Central Parke at Victoria Falls – responded with special activities for grandchildren in recognition of the number of grandchildren who frequented the community.  We also responded with advertising that reflected the extended family.

As multigenerational households have evolved and grown in number, we’ve seen that the marketing, programming and design of communities have been impacted.

What has your experience been?  Do you see this trend as a threat or opportunity for 50+ communities as they exist today?

About The Author

Todd Harff

Insights from agency Founder Todd Harff have been shared in Brand Week, Ad Age, Marketing Charts, The Wall Street Journal, The Journal on Active Aging, 50+ Magazine, and Selling to Seniors and from podiums at international conferences. He is the co-author of three national studies/eBooks (Photo Finish; Social, Silver Surfers 2010 & 2013). Todd also developed programs on marketing to Baby Boomers and seniors for George Mason University, Lasell College/ E.L.D.E.R. and NAHB’s University of Housing.

  • Kay Van Norman

    Kay Van Norman • I think it’s an opportunity. Historically generations lived together to mutual benefit. It really is an artificial model to segregate people according to age. The article I wrote for ICAA last year (Creating Purpose Driven Senior Living Communities) was reprinted in a couple of places and seems to have hit a nerve. I’ve heard from over 50 people (many seniors) who were motivated to email me with enthusiastic comments. I’ve never had that happen before.

    This generation (my generation) has no intention of fitting ourselves into an existing model. They will seek – or create – their own. One woman told me she was going to start looking for a couple of people who were passionate about the same causes she was, find a house, and create a co-op arrangement where they could share expenses, share efforts toward a cause, help each other and hire things done when necessary. Kay

  • Katherine Askew

    I do not see it as either a threat or opportunity, but rather as a natural evolution. I call it Retribing. There are so many reasons for clans to unite in order to share resources and abilities–two working parents with young children, aging parents who do not have the resources for a luxury retirement facility, families with frail elders who do not have the resources for in-home care, out of work people of all generations affected by unemployment, 78 million baby boomers for whom there will never be enough resources for aging-related issues. I see it as the only way to manage the challenges we face as a society in regards to work, childcare, and eldercare. Families used to do this naturally. We need to relearn the art of doing it well. Threat or opportunity? It is what we make it.

  • Amy Martino

    This “new reality” is an opportunity for active adult communities and ALL communities. The need for Multigenerational living is a tremendous opportunity. Older parents moving in, older children returning to their parents’ home, siblings and friends living together, and grandchildren living with their grandparents are realities of today and the future! Opportunities for separate suites and alternative floor plans, remodeling existing homes (Is that living room really needed?) and separate small “accessory” “apartments” in the rear yard or over the garage are in demand and can create a solution for many families. Great article Todd!
    I wrote this on Linked In also..

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  • Katrice Malek

    This is a useful article. We’re always looking for valuable resources to share with my coworkers, and your piece is definitely worth sharing!