Multigenerational households are on the rise. While the phenomenon is typically cast as a product of hard economic times, the growing trend for multigenerational living situations is much broader than unemployed boomerang kids and has been growing since long before the Great Recession, according to a recent report put out by AARP as well as a separate study released last year by the Pew Research Center.

While both reports found that declining economic conditions in the latter part of the 2000s led to a spike in multigenerational households, the Pew Research Center found that the trend has been growing since 1980. The Pew report, titled “The Return of the Multigenerational Family Household,” found that between 1980 and 2008, the number of Americans that lived in a household with at least two adult generations or a grandparent and another generation rose from 28 million, or 12% of the population, to 49 million, 16% of the population.

Although AARP’s definition of a multigenerational household is more restrictive than the Pew study’s (AARP defined a multigenerational household as one in which three generations are living under the same roof as well as instances where the householder lives with their parents or with grandchildren; the Pew Research Center extended that definition to include instances where adult parents were living with an adult child age 25 or older), according to AARP, in the year 2000, 5 million U.S. households were multigenerational, making up 4.8% of total households in the nation. By 2008, that number had grown to 6.2 million households, or 5.3% of the nation’s total. In 2010, 7.1 million households in the U.S. were multigenerational, making up 6.1% of total households in the U.S.

The trend has been especially pronounced among the elderly. By 2008, one in five Americans aged 65 or older lived in a multigenerational household, compared to 17% in 1990, according to the Pew Center’s research. More than 2.7 million Americans aged 65 or older lived in a household in which one of their children was the head of household. By 2010, nearly 3.5 million American householders shared their home with a parent, according to the AARP report, “Multigenerational Households Are Increasing.”

The trend is likely to continue to grow simply “because there are so many Boomers,” says Nancy Thompson, senior media relations manager at AARP. “This trend started back before the recession, and Boomers are just reaching their retirement years. The first Boomers are just reaching 65 this year.”

Beyond the obvious physical needs of elderly parents who develop disabilities as they age, the Pew study also found more subtle health reasons for multigenerational living. Regardless of gender, race, age, income, and education level, “older adults who live alone are less healthy and they more often feel sad or depressed than their counterparts who live with a spouse or with others,” the study found.

Another factor driving the growth in multigenerational homes for the past two decades—and unlikely to reverse anytime soon—is the influx in immigrant households in the U.S. Minority Americans are far more likely to have multiple generations living under the same roof, the Pew study showed. While 13% of whites live in a multigenerational household, that number rises to 22% of Hispanics, 23% of blacks, and 25% of Asians. And as of the 2010 Census, the Hispanic population was the fastest growing in the nation.

At a time when builders could use a bright spot, it’s clear that the number of Americans in need of housing that can accommodate multiple generations is growing. And fueled by retiring Boomers and fast-growing minorities, that trend doesn’t look likely to change.

Claire Easley is senior editor, online, at Builder.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Greenville, SC.