Friday, September 7, 2001

Hawaii has nation’s
highest rate of
extended households,
census finds

Experts say geography and high
housing costs are 2 factors

By Pat Omandam

With its high housing prices and large immigrant population, Hawaii has a higher percentage of extended families living together than any other state, according to the latest data from Census 2000.

Art In its first look at family households with three or more generations of parents and their children, the U.S. Census Bureau said today there were 3.9 million multigenerational households nationwide in 2000 -- 3.7 percent of the 105.48 million households.

In Hawaii, 33,066 households, or 8.2 percent of the 403,240 total, are ohana homes, according to the census. That is more than double the nationwide percentage and well above the states with the next-highest percentages, California, at 5.6 percent, and Mississippi, 5.2 percent. North Dakota has the lowest percentage at 1.1 percent.

The bureau defines a household as a person or group of people who occupy a housing unit. A householder is a person in whose name the housing unit is owned, being bought or rented.

Census demographer Tavia Simmons, co-author of the study on households and families, said multigenerational families are more likely to reside in areas of recent immigration, where new immigrants may live with their relatives.

They also are more common in areas with housing shortages, high costs that may force families to double up on living arrangements, or with high rates of unwed mothers who live with their children in their parents' homes, she said.

Simmons said the report, which originated from a question in the Census 2000 questionnaire, says all those factors contributed to Hawaii's ranking but does not say which factor was the most prevalent.

Locally, experts on ethnicity, aging and family seem to agree that Hawaii's culture, high cost of living, housing and geography are why more kamaaina families are making room for grandchildren or grandparents in their homes.

"I think from a cultural perspective, you can see the practice of maintaining extended families or multigenerational families among various ethnic groups -- from Hawaiians to Samoans and other Pacific Islander communities, Filipinos and, although not as strong as before, Japanese and Chinese," said Dean Alegado, ethnic studies chairman at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

"For the more recent immigrants, the economic part is also very strong, but that's part of the strategy for survival for many of them," he said.

That strategy is visible throughout strong Filipino enclaves such as Kalihi and Waipahu, where rooms in large multifamily homes are rented to relatives or close family friends to make ends meet, Alegado said.

Also, he said, some ethnic groups have a practice of using informal credit systems so they can pool their money to obtain a bank loan or buy property.

Marilyn R. Seely, director of the state Executive Office on Aging, added it is not just new immigrants who feel this pinch, but also kamaaina families. She believes extended families here are a natural phenomenon born out of the state's slow economy and the shortage of affordable housing.

Young people cannot afford to buy homes, while older people bought them at a time when Hawaii prices were more reasonable, she said.



Read more about Hawaii's families in Sunday's special section, "Keiki to Kupuna: The People of Paradise." The 128-page magazine, inserted in the regular newspaper, uses the latest census data to delve deeper into the lifestyles of Hawaii residents, explaining who we are, what we do and how we got here.

"They know that the younger folks can't afford homes now, and so they all tend to live together, and the older folks wants to pass that home down the next generation," Seely said.

The report says about two-thirds of extended households consisted of a grandparent as the homeowner who lives with his children and grandchildren. The remaining third consisted of a parent as the homeowner who lives with his children and parents or in-laws.

Overall, the number of family households increased 11 percent to 71.8 million in 2000 from 64.5 million in 1990. The total number households in the country -- in all categories -- increased nearly 15 percent to 105.5 million in 2000 from 91.9 million in 1990.

Sylvia Yuen, UH director of the Center on the Family, said another factor in Hawaii's top ranking is its geography. As an island state, families do not have as many relatives living great distances away or in other states.

With the cost of living here, she said, there is a greater likelihood families will live together. Also, local families realize the advantages of having grandparents at home to help with child care. Conversely, more baby boomers now find themselves having to take care of their parents, Yuen said.

"So that flow extends both ways," she said.

Yuen believes having such multigenerational relationships at home allows the older generation to pass down their traditions and values, and gives the younger generation an adult figure besides their parents with whom to discuss problems, especially during their teenage years.

"Very often, grandparents can be the neutral sounding board, that neutral person to help move them through this period of crisis or trauma," Yuen said.

The report also showed Hawaii had the second-lowest proportion of one-person households, next to Utah, which had among the highest proportions of married couples in the country.

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