Originally published Friday, September 2, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Number of multigenerations living under same roof grows, census finds

Recession, cultural preference behind surging numbers.

Bloomberg News

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When advertising executive John Gallegos wanted to promote a new package of Spanish-language channels for client Comcast, he put together a spot featuring the fictional Gutierrez clan gathered around television sets at home.

A smiling grandfather hands out popcorn in the ad. Gutierrez women weep along with a soap opera. A younger family member looks up words in a Spanish-English dictionary. And everyone shouts when a girl tries to change the channel during a soccer match.

"It's a snapshot of all the different extensions of what a Hispanic family could be," said Gallegos, chief executive of Grupo Gallegos in Huntington Beach, Calif. The U.S. is experiencing a surge in the multigenerational households that were once a common feature of American life, and Hispanic and Asian families are driving the trend, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in August.

The number of such households, defined as those with three or more generations living under one roof, grew to almost 5.1 million in 2010, a 30 percent increase from 3.9 million in 2000, the data show.

They hit 2.9 million in 1950 and didn't top that again until four decades later, according to the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. At the 1980 low, multiple-generation homes represented just 2.9 percent of all U.S. households, down from 7.8 percent in 1900.

In Washington state, the number of multigenerational homes rose from 57,193 households (2.5 percent) in 2000 to 83,283 in 2010 (3.2 percent), according to the Census Bureau.

The cities in Washington with the highest percentages of multigenerational households in 2010 were in Eastern Washington and with large Hispanic populations: Grandview (9.2 percent), Sunnyside (9.0 percent) and Pasco (5.8 percent).

In King County, the cities at the top were mostly places with high immigrant and minority populations: Tukwila (5.6 percent), SeaTac (5.5 percent), Covington (5.2 percent), Kent (4.8 percent) and Federal Way (4.5 percent). Seattle was near the bottom of the list with 1.6 percent of all households (or 4,418).

Although the term multigenerational invokes images of grandma churning butter on a pioneer farm or turn-of-the-last-century immigrants crammed into tenements, today's extended families are more likely to live in suburbs. Among large cities, the one with the highest percentage of multigenerational households, at 16 percent, is Norwalk, Calif., a collection of largely single-family homes 15 miles south of Los Angeles.

"Many conservatives are locked into this 1950s paradigm of the nuclear family," said Joel Kotkin, author of "The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050," a book about demographics. "Boomers are aging in place. Immigrants move in with their cousins. The suburbs are changing."

Job losses and the difficulty of purchasing a home make young people more likely to live with their parents, according to D'Vera Cohn, a senior writer with Pew who has studied the trend. Longer life spans and growth in the Hispanic and Asian populations keep older folks in the house.

The nation's two fastest-growing ethnic groups are 50 percent more likely to live in multigenerational families than are whites, according to Pew research.

"Among immigrants, it's the way their lives were lived in their home countries," Cohn said in an interview.

Corporate America is figuring out ways to create products for, and market to, these multi-income, multifaceted families, Gallegos said.

Homebuilder KB Home is seeing increased demand for what it calls double master suites, two large bedrooms with attached bathrooms to accommodate parents living with their adult children, according to Cara Kane, a spokeswoman for the company, which is based in Los Angeles.

All 10 of the largest communities in the U.S. ranked by their percentage of multigenerational households were within an hour's drive of Los Angeles. All had populations of more than 100,000.

Asians, as well as Hispanics, are increasingly gathering under one roof. The state with the largest percentage of multigenerational households was Hawaii at 8.8 percent, twice the national average of 4.4 percent.

The 50th state owes its large percentage to high real-estate prices and the 47 percent of its population that is of Asian or Pacific Island descent, according to Sarah Yuan, a sociologist at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.

Her research on the state's Filipino residents found multigenerational households are most common among the poor, who live together so they can pool their resources, and the rich, who have the space.

"A lot of times it's for economic reasons," Yuan said. "Other times it's just cultural preferences."

Seattle Times news researcher Justin Mayo contributed

to this report.

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