On a Sunday evening a few weeks back, Shobana Ram was loading the dishwasher in her kitchen in Queens when her 85-year-old father-in-law rose from the dinner table, carrying his cane in one hand and an empty plate in the other.
“From the corner of my eye, I saw him stumble and lose his balance,” recalled Ms. Ram. “I saw the cane fly out of his hand. His head hit the corner of our granite countertop.”
She dialed 911 and thought, not for the first time, how fortunate it was that in 2016 she and her husband sold their house and bought one big enough to accommodate six people: themselves, their two teenagers and his ailing parents, plus the family dog.
Her mother-in-law, who has dementia, would not have been able to phone for help. In this case, after emergency room scans, her father-in-law was “miraculously OK,” said Ms. Ram, 48.
But, she added, “there’ve been so many incidents where we’ve felt if they’d still been in their apartment on their own, God knows what would have happened.”
In an Indian-American family, a household encompassing three generations isn’t uncommon. “There’s an understanding that parents could be living with us at some point,” Ms. Ram said.
Yet her family’s decision also reflects a growing change in the way Americans, including older people, are choosing to live.
A brief backward look: After the late 1800s, as two economists pointed out in a landmark 2000 study, most elderly widows lived with one of their children — so common a practice that it developed a nostalgic sheen, enshrined as the way things ought to be.
In 1940, however, that arrangement started crumbling. The proportion of older widows living with children declined from about 60 percent that year to 20 percent by the 1990 census.
Did Americans stop loving their mothers in 1940? No, but their parents began receiving checks from a just-enacted New Deal program called Social Security and no longer had to rely financially on their families.
“As elderly people’s income increased, they chose to live independently,” said Kathleen McGarry, an economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and co-author of the study. “When they could afford it, they purchased privacy.”
A decade or so ago, as demographers began reporting an uptick in shared and multigenerational housing, the trend again looked to be economically driven, this time by the Great Recession.
Read more at The New York Times.