Here’s a question that a lot of folks in Washington have suddenly found themselves wondering about, probably for the first time: “Do I live in a multigenerational household?”

The reason behind the question, of course, is the state’s eligibility requirements for the COVID-19 vaccine. In the current stage of the Washington Department of Health (DOH) rollout — Phase 1B — all people who are 65 and older are eligible. But some younger than that (ages 50-64) also qualify provided they live in a multigenerational home.

So what exactly does that mean?

One reader asked me if he qualified because, at a little over 50 years old, he belongs to the Gen X generation, while his partner, who is 30-something, is a millennial.

He is, understandably, thinking of the pop-culture definition of the word “generation.” But when demographers (and the DOH) refer to a multigenerational household, that isn’t what they mean.

Instead, a generation is defined by certain familial relationships. For example, parents and their children (or nieces/nephews) are two generations. The grandparents would be a third generation, and so on.

It doesn’t have to be a blood relation to be a generation — in-laws and “step” relations also are included. But no, a May-December marriage wouldn’t count. Neither would a roommate household in which unrelated people of widely varying ages cohabitate — all those folks would still be considered of a single generation.


So now that we understand what is meant by a generation, what makes a household multigenerational?

There isn’t a standard definition. For the U.S. Census Bureau, it has to be three or more generations — for example, grandparent, parent and child. But some researchers consider any two-generation household to be multigenerational.

Unlike the Census Bureau, the DOH also includes two-generation households in its multigenerational definition. But in order to qualify for the vaccine, the person living in the multigenerational home has to meet one of two criteria.

The person is at least 50 years old and caring for a grandchild. Or, the person is at least 50 and is not able to live independently (and this person must either receive long-term care or live with someone who works outside the home). The DOH estimates as many as 350,000 Washingtonians in multigenerational homes could be eligible for the vaccine.

Since the DOH has us talking about multigenerational households, I thought I’d take the opportunity to look at what the data shows us about the living situations of Washingtonians. How many of us live with one, two, or three or more generations?

My analysis of census data shows that in 2019, the majority of Washington residents — 52% of the population, or about 4 million people — live in some type of two-generation household. We can further divide up those folks who live with two generations into three main categories.


About 2.5 million Washingtonians who reside in a two-generation household live with an “adjacent” generation — for example, parents and their children — in which all the children are both under 18 and unmarried.

An additional 1.4 million also live in a household with adjacent generations, except that at least one of the children is an adult (18 and older) or married.

The third category would be those who live in a household with a nonadjacent, or “skipped,” generation. For example, that could be a home where a grandparent cares for a grandchild, but the grandchild’s parent is not present.

Only about 550,000 Washington residents live in a household that meets the Census Bureau’s definition of multigenerational — in other words, includes three or more generations all living together.

It should be noted that there is a cultural component to multigenerational living, and it is more common among Asian, Native American and Hispanic families. In Washington, close to 13% of Asian people, 12% of Native American people, and 10% of Hispanic people live in a household with at least three generations. Among white and Black people, the number is closer to 6%.

And 2.9 million of us live in a one-generation household. That would include single people, roommates, married couples (without kids or other relatives of a different generation) and siblings (or other relatives of the same generation) who live together.

Not everybody lives in a household, as defined by the Census Bureau. Nearly 150,000 people in Washington live in what’s considered “group quarters.” These include institutional settings like nursing homes, prisons, military barracks, college dorms, shelters, and so on.