Bridging the generation gap

Adam Hartley
In times gone by, multiple generations living under one roof would have been the norm. Do we need a new approach to living this way?

In the UK we are obsessed with segmenting people by age and life stages, and the residential market has responded accordingly. Policymakers and developers have created homes defined by a demographic – student accommodation, family homes, retirement living, care homes. Polarisation has become the norm—young people mostly in cities and older people more likely in towns and villages—and day-to-day contact is decreasing.

Loneliness in old people is a serious and well-documented issue, but it’s on the increase in younger people too. A recent BBC survey found that 40 per cent of 16-24-year-olds reported feeling lonely ‘often or very often’ compared to 27 per cent of over 75s[1]

The youngest and oldest in our society are facing the greatest housing challenges today. For young people, there’s not only a lack of housing stock, but almost a third of homes are headed by a person of retirement age.

In some of our leading housing markets, home ownership for young families has halved since the 1990s, and the Local Housing Allowance rate freeze makes rented homes virtually inaccessible in some parts of the country. At the same time, we have a rapidly ageing population who are ageing better and living longer but have very limited housing choice in terms of tenure, location, size, affordability and the type of care/support available. 

Could intergenerational living be the answer?

Intergenerational living has been happening for many years around the world, in particular across Europe, Canada and the US, but has never gained traction in the UK. The market data, however, suggests the demand is there and will continue to grow. ONS estimates that the number of households with three generations living together rose from 325,000 in 2001 to 419,000 in 2013. Similarly, a 2016 Aviva study indicates that the number of intergenerational households will likely increase to 2.2m by 2025 – a rise of more than 30 per cent[2]. The Aviva study also found that while only 42 per cent of people in general think it’s advantageous to live in an intergenerational household, this rises to 66 per cent among those actually living in one.

This upward trend is largely due to young adults returning to live with their parents, often while they save for a mortgage deposit – particularly in expensive regions. Not only is it cheaper for families to live and eat together, it can help with childcare, and can prevent older people from feeling lonely.

The current solution seems to be adaptation of existing homes. Around 125,000 are adapted for intergenerational living each year, and this is expected to increase[3]. Loft conversions, basement conversions and extensions can all increase living space, as can separate annexes which allow greater privacy and independence.

A call to arms

The housing market needs developers and architects to create well-thought-out models of intergenerational living. Good design can mitigate the pressures of three—or even four—generations living under one roof.

New-build UK examples are limited, but there are a few. Intergenerational housing will form part of a new neighbourhood being built near the Olympic velodrome in Queen Elizabeth Park, east London. Their design is for a three-storey townhouse with a separate two-storey annexe connected by a courtyard, each with their own front door.

Further examples include the Linkages scheme in Cambridge and The Kohab model in which young and old adults live together, with the young adults paying reduced rents in exchange for organising community events and activities.

For continued growth in this sector, there has to be greater support from planning policymakers and major house builders, as well as good design.

Faithful+Gould has many years’ experience of supporting stakeholders in the residential sector. We understand the different needs and drivers of private developers, land owners, PRS operators, local authorities and RSLs. Having worked across all sub-sectors of the residential market from student resi to later living, we understand the challenges of bringing forward intergenerational offerings and can support clients to do so.


[1] 2018, Qualter, P et al, The BBC loneliness experiment

[2] 2016, Aviva, Changing households

[3] 2017, NHBC, Multigenerational living: an opportunity for UK house builders?


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