“We’re at peak multigenerational” housing?

Pew recently reported on the increase of Americans living in multigenerational households:

In 2014, more young people were living with their parents than with a romantic partner. And a lot of these millennials’ parents were cohabiting with their own parents.

A new Pew Research Center analysis finds that a record-high number of Americans—60.6 million, to be exact—were living with with grandma and grandpa that year. In terms of share of the U.S. population, these people made up 19 percent in 2014. That’s almost as high as back in 1950, when 21 percent of the population, or 32 million people, lived in such an arrangement.

Money—or lack thereof—helps explain why this housing arrangement is back in style. The economic woes of the late-2000s brought millions of young adults boomeranging back to their childhood homes. But the trend also has to do with immigration and diversification of the U.S. population.

Two quick thoughts:

  1. If indeed money is a motivating factor, we might expect these numbers to drop when the economy improves or when younger adults do better in the job market and move out of such arrangements. Or, does this uptick herald a long-term interest in living in multigenerational settings regardless of financial imperatives?
  2. As noted later in the article, whites are the least likely (15%) to live in such settings. Will such differences persist in the future or will such arrangements decline in non-white groups as (1) their financial prospects increase and (2) more recent immigrants spend more time in the United States?

In other words, how exactly do we know that this is a peak? There is certainly a trend upward of more households with multiple generations and a higher percentage of such households overall. If the discussed causal factors remain fairly static – sluggish economy, high levels of immigration – then the rise may continue. However, circumstances could change and the trend line in the next few years could rise, plateau, or fall. And, these factors don’t account for changing cultural values where multigenerational or communal living may just become more popular regardless of those two factors. (In other words, perhaps we could see a reaction to the long-term trend from the 1950s to the early 2000s of wanting to get away and own one’s own single-family home.)

Stay tuned for another peak that may not be one.

“Have We Reached Peak Road?”

With the decline in driving, perhaps it is time to consider whether we have reached peak road:

At his Transportationist blog last week, University of Minnesota scholar David Levinson pointed out that Department of Transportation estimates of public roads and street mileage in the United States — paved and unpaved alike — leveled off between 2008 and 2011 (the latest year given, with data missing for 2009 and 2010). Levinson charted the plateau (the y-axis mileage is in thousands)…

Like vehicle miles traveled, paved road mileage steadily increased for decades, from roughly 1.23 million miles in 1960 to 2.6 million in 2011. (Unpaved roads followed the opposite trend, declining over time as many became paved.) The paved peak might have occurred in 2008, when mileage reached above 2.7 million. The 2011 mileage, meanwhile, is about the same as that of 2005.

Given that the statistical peak coincided with the Great Recession, it’s probably too early to call things. It’s also important to keep in mind that there are multiple ways to measure a road. There is its end-to-end length (known as “centerline miles”) and there is also its total capacity (known as “lane miles”) — the latter calculated by multiplying the length by the number of lanes….

Levinson thinks the following factors will guide whatever subsequent shifts occur in centerline and lane miles: rural gravelization (converting paved roads into unpaved ones to reduce maintenance costs), tearing down urban freeways, designing complete streets and implementing road diets, and converting general lanes into exclusive bus lanes. Even further ahead, autonomous cars should enable cars to use the existing roadway far more efficiently.

I wonder how much this is tied to sprawl and population growth. Opponents of sprawl would want denser cities and suburbs and this doesn’t necessarily require adding new roads. But, expanding metropolitan regions can lead to new roads and highways.

The call here to use existing roads more efficiently ignores one overarching concern that may be on the mind of a number of local officials as well as taxpayers: who is going to pay for new roads? Here are the pieces involved:

1. Building the roads in the first place. If these roads are constructed in dense areas, the costs rise sharply in order to purchase land. If major roads are desired, we may see more public-private partnerships or toll roads.

2. Maintaining the roads for a long period of time. These costs include everything from filling potholes to adding capacity to complete rebuilds.

If we have reached peak road, perhaps we should continue to celebrate the massive highway building project the United States embarked upon and successfully completed in the second half of the 20th century.

One final thought: when exactly can we declare peak anything? If the data shows not much change over an eight year period, is this enough knowledge to predict no more future growth? I would be very hesitant to stake a lot on such a claim…