Intergenerational Coresidence and Economic Opportunity of the Younger Generation in the United States, 1850-2000

Steven Ruggles, University of Minnesota

In the mid-nineteenth century, about 70 percent of persons aged 65 or older resided with their adult children; by the end of the twentieth century, only about 12 percent did so. Analysts of this massive change in living arrangements have focused on increasing economic independence of the aged. This paper reexamines the issue by shifting the focus from the economic circumstances of the aged to the economic opportunities of the younger generation. Using newly-available census microdata, I estimate that rising income of the aged since the introduction of Social Security in 1936 can only account for about 30 percent of the long-run change in living arrangements. The growing economic opportunities of the younger generation—as measured by their shift from agriculture to wage labor and growing educational attainment—appear to have had a significantly more powerful impact on the independent residence of the aged.

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Presented in Session 168: Historical Transitions and Demographic Responses