Gutkowski’s are making room in their home for the in-laws.
Most in-laws visit for a weekend or a holiday. Tom Gutkowski’s in-laws are about to move in — for good.
This summer, his mother- and father-in-law will settle into a 1,200-square-foot attached apartment Gutkowski and his wife are completing on their Roxbury Township home. In return for room and board, the younger couple will get help raising their two young children, Derek, 3, and Taylor, 2.
It is a living arrangement Gutkowski never envisioned he’d welcome as a working adult, much less a married 40-year-old. But the practical benefits, he insists, far outweigh any inconveniences.
“Obviously, I can’t walk around the house in my underwear,” said Gutkowski, a manager for a plumbing distributor in Harrison. “But what most people would say is a privacy issue — I look past it.”
After falling out of favor for much of the past century, the multigenerational American household is staging a strong comeback. Driven partly by rising job losses, home foreclosures and health care concerns, more extended families are choosing to live under one roof.
About one in six Americans in 2008 — a record 49 million people — were living in a family household of at least two adult generations, or a grandparent and at least one other generation, according to a study released this month by the Pew Research Center. That is compared with just one in eight Americans, or 28 million people, living in such households in 1980.
It marks a reversal of the trend toward independent living that began after World War II, when a rise in the health and financial well-being among older adults prompted more of them to live on their own.
While the multigenerational family has gradually rebounded over the past few decades, the recession has accelerated the trend as “boomerang” children return home due to limited job prospects, while the older generation — who are living longer than ever — harbor uncertainty about their economic future, the study said.
Gutkowski’s in-laws, retirees Arthur and Eileen Arnold, say they have struggled with that uncertainty since 2008, when Arthur Arnold, then a warehouse manager, suffered a stroke and heart attack that forced him to retire.
Since then, finances have been tight. Of the combined $2,600 the couple receive in Social Security and disability payments each month, nearly half goes to paying utilities and property taxes, they said.
Bidding farewell to their cozy Parsippany home of 38 years won’t be easy, but Eileen Arnold, 64, said she and her husband, 65, are thinking long-term. By moving in with their daughter’s family, they’ll actually have a larger living space — complete with their own bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen and deck — without having to pay a single penny.
“We’ll be financially better off, because all the money coming in will be ours,” she said. “We’ll go on vacations and enjoy our life before it’s too late.”
CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN
It isn’t hard to see why many families are choosing to go the same route. Incomes are falling. Medical costs are rising. Near-retirees aren’t saving enough.
In New Jersey, the economic forecast is particularly onerous, said Jeffrey Otteau, a real estate analyst. Most private-sector jobs are being replaced by lower-paying public-sector jobs, and the state’s high-tax climate is squeezing residents.
“The natural solution to all of this is that it’s cheaper to live by the dozen,” said Otteau, president of Otteau Valuation in East Brunswick.
Mike Flower, a financial planner in Fairfield, says his average client couple retires with around $700,000. But with nursing homes costing about $100,000 a year per person — and an average stay of three years — they can quickly burn through that amount.
However, with the Baby Boomer population passing through middle age, experts say, there is now a larger pool of grown children to play caregiver to their elderly parents. That might be why over the last decade the share of older adults in nursing homes has fallen to 4.9 percent, from 5.7 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.
Bob Roseboro said he and his wife, Amelia, had always shunned the idea of sending her 86-year-old mother to a nursing home. So, 10 years ago, they added a suite to their Berlin Township home and invited her to move in. When they relocated to Hammonton in 2008, they did the same.
“In case anything happens, she’s right here. That’s the main thing,” said Roseboro, 57.
New Jersey home builders say they began noticing a demand for multigenerational homes even before the recession.
The New Jersey Builders Association attributes the increase to aging boomers and a rise in immigrants, who are more inclined to live in extended households, spokeswoman Amy Whilldin said.
Don Dyrness, the builder who worked on the Gutkowski’s $175,000 addition, said until five years ago, his Roxbury business focused solely on building single-family homes. He has since completed two dozen multigenerational additions, which now comprise the bulk of his business.
Demand for such additions has held steady even as housing starts have declined, said Greg Gallaher, a home builder in Hammonton who specializes in “in-law suites.”
Gallaher said his additions range from $125 to $150 per square foot and include features like wide doorways and showers to accommodate wheelchairs. He also installs separate heating and cooling units in the suite because he has found “older people like it warmer, younger people like it colder,” he said.
Municipalities, however, have yet to adapt, he said. Zoning laws in many towns still ban separate entrances for additions on the grounds they might later be used as rentals.
Sharing living space can present a delicate situation.
The thought of arguing with his wife in front of her parents, for example, makes Tom Gutkowski uncomfortable because “I have to keep in mind I’m talking about their daughter,” he said.
Meanwhile, Eileen Arnold admits she worries about imposing on her daughter’s family. As for disagreements, she can already foresee a few. Her son-in-law, for one, is a die-hard Jets fan, while her husband roots for the Giants.
“They’ll have to watch the games on separate TVs,” she said.
Multigenerational homes can also lead to family feuds about inheritances, said Karin Barkhorn, an attorney specializing in trusts and estates.
Children who house their parents can feel entitled to inheriting more than their siblings, she said. Often, the parents agree, which can breed sibling rivalry.
“There are certainly kids who take advantage of the situation and who might get Mom and Dad to give them more,” said Barkhorn, of the Manhattan law firm Bryan Cave.
But multigenerational homes can also help foster filial piety and loyalty, values that have taken a backseat to democratic-driven ideals like independence and individuality, said Karen Sirota, an assistant professor of social work at Rutgers University.
Or, as Eileen Arnold puts it: “It’s kind of nice actually, getting back the family. Because no matter how old you get, you do miss them.”