(Bloomberg News) When advertising executive John Gallegos wanted to promote a new package of Spanish-language channels for client Comcast Corp., he put together a spot featuring the fictional Gutierrez clan gathered around television sets in their home.
A smiling grandfather hands out popcorn in the ad. Gutierrez women weep along with a soap opera. A younger family member looks up words in a Spanish-English dictionary. And everyone shouts when a little girl tries to change the channel during a soccer match.
"It's a snapshot of all the different extensions of what a Hispanic family could be," Gallegos, chief executive of Grupo Gallegos in Huntington Beach, California, said in an interview.
The U.S. is experiencing a surge in the multigenerational households that were once a common feature of American life, and Hispanic and Asian families are driving the trend, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released this month. The number of such households, defined as those with three or more generations living under one roof, grew to almost 5.1 million in 2010, a 30 percent increase from 3.9 million in 2000, the data show.
They hit 2.9 million in 1950 and didn't top that again until four decades later, according to the Washington-based Pew Research Center. At the 1980 low, multiple-generation homes represented just 2.9 percent of all U.S. households, down from 7.8 percent in 1900.
Although the term multigenerational invokes images of grandma churning butter on a pioneer farm or turn-of-the-century immigrants crammed into tenements, today's extended families are more likely to live in suburbs. Among large cities, the one with the highest percentage of multigenerational households, at 16 percent, is Norwalk, California, a collection of largely single- family homes 15 miles (25 kilometers) south of Los Angeles.
"Many conservatives are locked into this 1950s paradigm of the nuclear family," said Joel Kotkin, author of "The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050," a book about demographics. "Boomers are aging in place. Immigrants move in with their cousins. The suburbs are changing."
Job losses and the difficulty of purchasing a home make young people more likely to live with their parents, according to D'Vera Cohn, a senior writer with Pew who has studied the trend. Longer life spans and growth in the Hispanic and Asian populations keep older folks in the house.
The nation's two fastest-growing ethnic groups are 50 percent more likely to live in multigenerational families than are whites, according to Pew research.
"Among immigrants, it's the way their lives were lived in their home countries," Cohn said in an interview.