Kip Dawkins

Our Meritage reNEWable Living Home initiative, unveiled to builders and the public in early January in Orlando at Meritage's Estates at Parkside community, drew a bright line in the sand on how different home buying customers are than they used to be.

Many builders and developers continue to design homes and communities to a spec that's a figment of their imagination, the married-with-children below the ages of 18 "nuclear" family that dominated household make-up well into the 1970s.

Now, who and what makes a household is--more than four out of five times--different.

Pew Research here revealed that 19%--almost the same share of married-with-children under 18 households--of all U.S. households are multi-generational homes, with two or more adult generations living under a single roof.

Which means, by my reckoning, 55+ means 55+ plus. How many 55+ floorplans can accommodate an elderly parent or two and/or a not-yet-launched 30-something or two, with room for privacy, sanctuary, and the like?

Here's a piece I wrote this past summer that argues for intentional design, engineering, and construction aimed at a growing multigenerational opportunity. I wrote:

Tight supply of for-sale inventory continues to put pressure on prices in more and more economically strong markets. At that same time, aging Baby Boomers are starting to enter their "grandparenting" years in droves. Boomers have tended to remap and remake markets at every turn and life stage as consumers, and among their priorities right now is real-time on-demand access to grandchildren.

It makes sense to us to believe that, for a host of reasons that are only growing more compelling and pervasive--economical, health-wise, culturally, and socially--multigenerational living will get more and more traction, especially since new construction is so hard to bring online and is therefore so expensive.

However, multigenerational households--as common as they're becoming--are not the only new household types builders and community developers should focus on, see opportunity in, and build for.

The "family" household has changed dramatically over the past 25 years, and while marketing and sales efforts have recognized some of those differences, design, land use, and community planning and programming have not caught up with that fact.

Data this week from Pew Research adds surprising new insight into women's rates of having children, which we tend to assume means a male and female parent with a child in the household. Good news here is that the total share of women who've reached their early 40s who are mothers has gone up since 2006, from 80% to 86% in 2017, and they're having more children to boot. But look at the reality here of many of their households.

A. Women are having children later in life, the median age shifting from 23 years old to 26, as fewer than 40% had their first child by the age of 24 in 2014, versus more than half had their first child by that age in 1994.

B. There has been a substantial increase in motherhood over the past two decades among women who have never married. As in the U.S. population as a whole, the share of women at the end of their childbearing years who have never wed has risen – from 9% in 1994 to 15% in 2014. Among these women, a majority (55%) have had at least one child. This marks a dramatic change from two decades earlier, when roughly a third (31%) of never-married women in their early 40s had given birth.3 At the same time, the share of women who become mothers among those who have been married remains high: 90% in 2014, compared with 88% in 1994.

If design, engineering, and community development can't wrap its head around the fact that four out of five households in U.S. communities everywhere are made of of a "non-traditional" family, hopes of expanding the universe of buyers are slim.

One more piece from Pew Research here speaks directly to this change in household family composition. Young children are in all kinds of family households, and, what's more, single-person households remain the fastest-growing household type, and--other than apartment communities--for-sale developers haven't really yet grasped that opportunity. Here's a couple more observations from Pew that may be helpful.

Two-parent households are on the decline in the United States as divorce, remarriage and cohabitation are on the rise. And families are smaller now, both due to the growth of single-parent households and the drop in fertility. Not only are Americans having fewer children, but the circumstances surrounding parenthood have changed. While in the early 1960s babies typically arrived within a marriage, today fully four-in-ten births occur to women who are single or living with a non-marital partner. At the same time that family structures have transformed, so has the role of mothers in the workplace – and in the home. As more moms have entered the labor force, more have become breadwinners – in many cases, primary breadwinners – in their families.

As a result of these changes, there is no longer one dominant family form in the U.S. Parents today are raising their children against a backdrop of increasingly diverse and, for many, constantly evolving family forms. By contrast, in 1960, the height of the post-World War II baby boom, there was one dominant family form. At that time 73% of all children were living in a family with two married parents in their first marriage. By 1980, 61% of children were living in this type of family, and today less than half (46%) are. The declining share of children living in what is often deemed a “traditional” family has been largely supplanted by the rising shares of children living with single or cohabiting parents.

We focus on household incomes, ages, and education levels as primary drivers of motivation and insight with respect to design, pricing, and community development, but more attention to household composition--the rapid rise of the "new" nuclear family, is an opportunity area still largely untapped in the business of residential development and construction.

If many multigenerational households could be characterized as "55+ plus," given that the primary adult family has older or younger adults living under the same roof, maybe another--single-person household type customer--might be regarded as a 55+ minus customer segment.