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Multigenerational households as a solution to the economic crisis in Brazil?

The economic crisis in Brazil has received much attention in the media recently, with the Tullet Prebon Brasil Report demonstrating that the country currently has the minimum wage with the lowest purchasing power, as well as the highest inflation rate, since 1994. The crisis has worsened because of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in fiscal adjustments and very high inflation levels. According to the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies’ (DIEESE) calculations, the ideal minimum wage, necessary to support a Brazilian family of four, should be around five times the current figure. The minimum value of the retirement pension is based on the minimum wage: this, subsequently, has financial consequences for the older population. Brazil’s high unemployment rate, currently at 11.2% and rising, also negatively impacts the overall situation. According to the “Austin Rating”, which compiles projections from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2022 Brazil will have the world’s 9th worst unemployment rate.

There has been an increase in multigenerational homes in general, that is, homes inhabited by two or more generations. According to the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research (CCHPR), this form of housing could militate against significant future difficulties. For example, it could facilitate companionship for those suffering from isolation and loneliness and improve physical and mental health. In addition, it could stimulate intergenerational relationships and solidarity, thereby bridging generation gaps and reducing ageism.

In Brazil, intergenerational housing is also increasing. However, the reasons that led to the co-residence of generations are seen as being due to crises, mainly of a financial nature. According to Cunha & Dias, one of the leading causes of this housing arrangement is the unemployment of the younger generation. Because of unemployment rates throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, families were faced with the need to come together in one home to provide for everyone's financial and care needs. Globo, the largest open television network in the country, announced that Brazilian homes post pandemic are now multigenerational. According to their data, 32% of Brazilian homes consist of three or more generations of the same family living together, as a strategy to provide additional finances due to household incomes being scarce and uncertain. The house, thus, becomes the refuge of various generations.

Older people welcome the younger generations into their homes to help those occupying more vulnerable situations. Due to the unemployment of some, the financial contribution in the household undergoes a reorganisation and displacement of material responsibilities. Doll & Cavallazi suggest that Brazilian older adults often become the primary providers of their multigenerational homes, since their retirement pension is considered a safe and reliable income. In addition, there are financial transfers between generations, usually by mutual agreement, which are advantageous for those involved. Therefore, children often become dependent on their parents again, reversing the order of historically constituted financial assistance. Dependence may then be questioned, as the family finances depend on the older adult.

I have also observed this tendency toward cohabitation in my qualitative doctoral research on great-grandparents. Although cohabitation was not the focus of the study, all of the fourteen homes I visited were multigenerational, constituted by three or four generations of living arrangements, with the intention of pooling their incomes. Furthermore, the living arrangements were, to a certain extent, improvised to accommodate the family in the available rooms. Great-grandparents primarily wielded financial power due to their steady retirement income, which also affected their status in the multigenerational household.

Cohabitation is, in this context, not necessarily a choice but the only solution in the face of the financial crisis of unemployment. Here, multigenerational cohabitation seems to occur due to an emergency, which leads the family to come together to survive, often being the only solution that they see amid the economic crisis in the country. However, how this coexistence of three or four generations plays out in everyday life remains in question, since it may bring discomfort, overload, and conflicts for all involved. Nevertheless, the situation undoubtedly offers possibilities for interaction, care, and solidarity between generations.

About the Author

Emily Schuler is a Visiting Student at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. She is currently a Doctoral Student in Clinical Psychology at the Catholic University of Pernambuco with a Capes Scholarship (Coordination of Improvement in Higher Education of the Brazilian Education Ministry).

Opinions of the blogger is their own and not endorsed by the Institute

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