How Many People Doubled Up after Losing Housing in Aftermath of Past Recessions?

April 21, 2021

Hard economic times often cause many to lose housing through rental evictions and mortgage foreclosures. How have downturns affected the size of American families in past recessions?

During a Dialogue with the Fed event in September 2020, Assistant Vice President and Lead Economist in Supervision William R. Emmons discussed the phenomenon of “doubling up,” when people move into other households because they’ve lost housing or seek to economize during hard times.

“So, it has the effect of raising average U.S. family size,” Emmons said.

Emmons looked at family size since the late 1980s to determine how many people might have had to double up in the aftermath of a recession. He did this by comparing changes in the actual average family size with a hypothetical baseline that reflected the long-term trend of declining family size from 1988 to 2019.

After the Great Recession (2007-09), 9 million to 10 million people were doubling up compared with that hypothetical baseline, he estimated.

“There was quite a lot of dislocation in people’s living arrangements. A lot of doubling up, at least evidenced by increases in family size” after that recession, Emmons noted.

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