Household Composition in Hard Times: Historical and Current Patterns and Explanations

Brent Berry, University of Toronto

Recessions strongly influence household size and composition. Fertility decisions are delayed and moves (and/or delayed nest-leaving) tend to create more combined than new households. Recent U.S. Current Population Survey data have shown that millions of jobless have moved in with family or doubled up with non-family to make ends meet. This paper examines changes in household size and composition in North America during the recent 2007-2009 recession compared to the 1973-75, 1981-82, and 1991-92 recessions. I evaluate several explanations for the differences in household change during these periods, including the level of unemployment and job quality, housing supply and costs, population age structure, marriage/divorce, birth rates, norms around household sharing, and parent-child proximity. I conclude with hypothetical projections of aggregate debt payment and savings potential under different household formation/consolidation scenarios.

Presented in Session 101: Economics, Families, and Well-Being