Academic journal article Demographic Research

Three-Generation Family Households in Early Childhood: Comparisons between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Three-Generation Family Households in Early Childhood: Comparisons between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Demographic shifts over the last 40 years, away from marriage, toward increased cohabitation and non-marital childbearing, have resulted in increasingly complex living arrangements. The simultaneous aging of the population is likely to increase reliance between generations (Bengtson 2001), leading to more three-generation family households, in which a child lives with their parent(s) and one or more grandparents. In the United States, three-generation households have increased in prevalence over the last decade (Dunifon 2013; Kreider and Ellis 2011), but less is known about peer countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, and research documenting these households cross-nationally is lacking.

Understanding the prevalence of three-generation households is important, as family structure is closely linked with family wellbeing. Although three-generation coresidence is associated with lower levels of material hardship (Mutchler and Baker 2009), evidence about the effects of these households on child wellbeing is mixed (Dunifon 2013). As living arrangements affect the resources available for child development, such as income or supervision, we focus on the prevalence of three- generation households in early childhood, when coresidence is most common (Fields 2003) and the family context is most strongly linked with child development (Demo and Cox 2000).

Using data from three nationally representative longitudinal birth cohort studies, we document the cross-national prevalence of three-generation family households in early childhood (from birth to age five) in the US, the UK, and Australia. Cross- national studies of household structure put demographic trends within countries into context within the broader scope of differences in social and cultural norms, housing preferences (availability and cost), and social policies that may encourage or discourage independent living arrangements. In addition, understanding the cross-national prevalence of three-generation households may also help researchers understand variation in child development across contexts. We study the US, the UK, and Australia because although all three countries are increasingly diverse English-speaking countries with large immigrant populations, they vary in terms of social policies and benefits available to families. These three countries have also experienced similar demographic shifts toward non-marital childbearing and have aging populations.

Relatively few studies have used longitudinal data to document the prevalence and characteristics of three-generation family households cross-nationally (Glaser et al. 2010). One study documented cross-national estimates of the percentage of children in three-generation households in Europe in 2007 (Iacovu and Skew 2010). Other cross- national studies of multigenerational households (including two or three generations) have focused on the living arrangements of individuals over 65 (Smeeding et al. 2008); however, excluding individuals under 65 omits many three-generation households where the oldest generation is younger (Mutchler and Baker 2004). In the US, three- generation households have been increasing in prevalence since the 1980s (Taylor et al. 2010) and about 8% of children lived in a three-generation household in 2011 (Kreider and Ellis 2011). Studies of the UK have found that three-generation family households have declined in England and Wales since 1981 (Glaser and di Gessa 2012), with 3.4% of UK children living in a three-generation family household in 2007 (Iacovu and Skew 2010). Figures from Australia show that multigenerational coresidence increased by 27% between 1981 and 2001 (Liu and Easthope 2012) and about 60,000 Australian children lived in a three-generation family household in 2001 (Brandon 2004).

Cross-sectional estimates of prevalence provide point-in-time estimates of the number of children in three-generation family households but they cannot capture the significance of this family structure in the lives of children over time. …

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