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A Houston woman describes the cultural tradition behind her multi-generational home


Over the coming weeks, we're hearing from young adults living in multigenerational households, people in their 20s and 30s living with their parents and grandparents. For many families, it's a cultural tradition. It's a custom that's also broadened in recent years. To understand why, let's hear the story of one woman in Houston. Here's NPR's Claire Murashima.

CLAIRE MURASHIMA, BYLINE: Growing up in Houston, Jennifer Moreno and her dad often butted heads. He was always in survival mode, and she was more level-headed. He'd get frustrated when she'd translate his Spanish for others, what she had to do frequently - when she was paying the renters insurance, for instance, or handling her brother's Social Security paperwork. Jennifer went away for college but moved home after graduating. Then, her grandmother started staying with the family intermittently. Before Jennifer's grandmother died, she told stories about her son, Jennifer's dad, that he'd never shared.

JENNIFER MORENO: He's not just my dad. He was also, you know, somebody's son. He was also somebody who grew up in rural Mexico and had all these random adventures that I didn't realize he had.

MURASHIMA: Learning about his past has helped them form a deeper relationship, and it helped Jennifer and her dad finally see each other as adults. And that's a big deal to her because living with her parents is about more than just housing. It's her full-time job.

Jennifer is 29 and looks after her brother, who was diagnosed with autism late in his childhood. After her mom had a fall at home, Jennifer also became her full-time caregiver and took over her duties as a head of household. She makes sure everyone's awake in the morning, cooks them dinner every night, and everything in between. On top of that...

MORENO: (Speaking Spanish).

MURASHIMA: That's Jennifer warming up her vocal cords for one of her side hustles. When she's not looking after her mom and brother, she freelances as a writer and translator to help make ends meet. Her family lives paycheck to paycheck.

Natasha Pilkauskas is an associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. She studies children living in multigenerational households.

NATASHA PILKAUSKAS: In terms of multigenerational households, the kind of people who tend to live in them tend to have fewer economic resources. It's also much more common amongst nonwhite families.

MURASHIMA: These setups are also higher among immigrant families like Jennifer's, whose parents both came to the U.S. from Mexico.

PILKAUSKAS: It's very surprising to me in some senses that it hasn't kind of plateaued so far.

MURASHIMA: A 2021 Pew Research study found that 1 in 4 Americans live in multigenerational households, which they define as two or more adult generations living under the same roof. It's been on the rise for the past 50 years, and this trend is growing fastest among those between ages 25 and 34.

Jennifer was never explicitly asked to look after her mom and brother.

MORENO: It's kind of like they avoided the subject because they didn't want to force that idea on me. They were just kind of hoping that I'd willingly take care of them.

MURASHIMA: Pew also told us that almost a quarter of people 25 to 34 living multigenerationally (ph) say that caregiving is a major reason for their living arrangement.

MORENO: At the end of the day, I took on the role because I felt like that's what I had to do in terms of I'm the only person my mom trusts with her care. And it seemed really mean to not be there for her.

MURASHIMA: So until the day comes when they no longer need her care, Jennifer is staying put in her parent's home.

Claire Murashima, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF APERTIF'S "MANDOJA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 8, 2022 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier version of this story stated that Jennifer Moreno was 29 years old. She is 30.
Claire Murashima
Claire Murashima is a production assistant on Morning Edition and Up First. Before that, she worked on How I Built This, NPR's Team Atlas and Michigan Radio. She graduated from Calvin University.