Monday, March 01, 2010

The Boomer Home In 2010: A Multi-Generational Boarding House

Written by Stephen Reily (Monday, March 1, 2010)

In a recent survey we conducted, nearly two-thirds of the female Boomer respondents reported that one or more of their adult children has returned home to live. Of those adult children, nearly half have brought one or more of theirchildren with them. And that's on top of the 13% of Boomer women who report that their parents or in-laws are living with them as well.

Last week in this space, Matt Thornhill cited important new data suggesting that the recession has hit Boomers hardest. One reason may be that Boomers are footing the bill for the children, grandchildren and even parents who have moved into their own homes.

Our survey -- fielded from the smart, successful women 50+ whom we gather -- suggests that Boomers are assuming multi-generational housing responsibilities to a degree unknown since perhaps the Great Depression (remember "The Waltons"?).

Forty-one percent of our respondents report that they returned to live with her parents at one point or another. But 63% say that an adult child is living with them now. And 70% of those blame the economy for this outcome. Two-thirds of them even expect their adult child to remain with them for more than a year.

The result? Increased stress on the Boomer mom. While grateful they can support their children, 39% report that the experience has either strained or greatly worsened their relationship with the adult child they are hosting. They also told us that the experience has affected their available discretionary income, their marriage, and how much they can eat out or travel. (Interestingly, more of them than I would have guessed are getting some of their costs reimbursed. Twenty-seven percent are charging their adult children rent in excess of $500 per month.)

We know that becoming an empty nester can be heart-breaking for many Boomer moms. But we also know that, sometimes after clearing out the child's bedroom to make way for a new home office, the empty nest offers a host of new opportunities to the Vibrant Boomer Woman. These opportunities are lost when the children move back in, and 71% of our respondents reported that living in a multi-generational household will make it harder for them to achieve their personal goals.

How should marketers respond to these facts? First of all, they should be supporting this woman as the overtaxed innkeeper she is, offering solutions to her multi-generational challenges, whether they involve food preparation, household cleaning, legal services, or financial planning.

Second, they should remember that she needs a break, and remind her how they can help her achieve personal goals in spite of the crazy environment around her. Hotels and day-spas should present affordable ways to give the Boomer mom a break from boarding-house management. Colleges and other educators may want to suggest that this mother consider returning to school herself as a way to get away from her children. She doesn't want to put those personal goals on hold forever.

Like the recession itself, these trends are powerful enough to suggest that the new, "full" nest will be with us for a while. Marketers should not consider it a temporary phenomenon, and the companies who win over this Boomer mom will be the ones who line up to do business with her first, right next to her adult children, grandchildren and parents.

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