More moms are doubling up in homes to make ends meet

by Karen L. Willoughby |

((FILE) REUTERS/Jim Young)Delores Leonard (R) helps her daughter Erin with her homework at the breakfast table before heading to work at a McDonald's Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois, September 25, 2014. Leonard, a single mother raising two daughters, has been working at McDonald's for seven years and has never made more than minimum wage.

SALEM, Ore. (Christian Examiner) – Kristi Gilbert had a plan: Beauty school to learn a trade so she could support herself through nursing school, and so she could use cutting hair as a ministry during her annual mission trips with her church-builder dad to Brazil.

She did not plan on getting pregnant.

"Having a baby at this age isn't ideal but after having her I wouldn't change it for the world," Gilbert told Christian Examiner. "Thanks to my mom and dad, we have a roof over our heads and it's all good."

Gilbert, 20, has become part of a growing trend across America: Moms who are single, or cohabitating, and even married are "doubling up" with others to cut expenses. While she would prefer to be in her own home, she cannot afford it, so she is living with her daughter in a home with her parents, two sisters and grandmother, where she does not have to pay rent.

Dina ElBoghdady detailed the phenomenon in a Dec. 31 article in the Washington Post.

Citing a study in the journal Demography she said doubling-up provides a valuable safety net for families with kids.

The research, which tracked 3,000 children born between 1998 and 2000 in 20 large cities across the United States, discovered that 49 percent of those youngsters lived in doubled-up homes at least once during their first nine years of life.

"Doing so saved their families more than $4,000 on average each year, a substantial sum given that the mothers who were interviewed for the study earned $15,000 on average," ElBoghdady wrote.

While $4,000 was the average savings, married moms saved $5,300, cohabitating moms, $4,450, and single moms, $3,500, according to the study. The authors postulated that additional adults in the home accounted for the increase in savings.

Other studies have shown about 20 percent of young moms lived with others, but those studies captured a single point in time, rather than the multi-year study for Demography.

"I would never have expected that half would double up during a nine-year period," said Natasha Pilkauskas, co-author of the study and a professor at Columbia University in New York City. "That's surprisingly high."

Pilkauskas and her colleagues in the study—Irwin Garfinkel of Columbia University and Sarah S. McLanahan of Princeton University in New Jersey—expected most of the young moms would move into other peoples' homes. But it turns out that more than half of these moms, 56 percent, were bringing other people in to live with them. The percentage was even higher—76 percent—among married mothers.

Notably, the majority of the moms interviewed were renters with only 16 percent owning homes.

The main takeaway from the study—which interviewed the mothers at the baby's birth, and ages 1, 3, 5 and 9—is that families rely on doubling up in general, Piklauskas told the Washington Post.

"The reality these days is that many families and individuals are struggling to pay for housing, whether they own or rent," ElBoghdady wrote. "As a rule of thumb, housing costs should not eat up more than 30 percent of a household's income.

"Yet more than a third of U.S. households paid more than that in 2012, according to a report released in 2014 by Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies," she continued. "That's an increase of more than 9 million people compared to a decade earlier. About 5.8 million of them put more than half of their income toward housing."

Gilbert, who took a leave of absence from beauty school when her daughter was born Dec. 23, anticipates starting work as a cosmetologist when she finishes that part of her education in July. The U.S. government's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median hourly wage for cosmetologists in 2012 was $22,500 a year, plus tips.

Nursing school is on hold until her income improves.