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updated 10/3/2011 12:22:30 PM ET 2011-10-03T16:22:30

Tales of foreclosed families and unemployed college students moving back in with mom and dad aren't just anecdotal: A new report finds that more than 51 million Americans now live under one roof with multiple generations of family

That number, up from 46.5 million in 2007, represents the largest increase in multigenerational households in modern U.S. history. Unemployment is the biggest driver of the trend, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

About 6.9 million of America's multigenerational homes consist of two adult generations, such as an adult child returning home to his or her parents. Another 4.2 million households contain three generations or more, while about 857,000 consist of grandparents caring for a grandchild.

A growing trend

Immigration and delayed marriage have been contributing to the slow growth of multigenerational households for decades. Since about 1980, there has been a steady growth of multigenerational homes by about 2 percent per year, Pew reports. The numbers in the report are based on U.S. Census data.

But between 2007 and 2009, the numbers shot up rapidly, increasing by 4.9 million or 10.5 percent. Because actual population grew only 1.8 percent during this time, the share of the population living with multiple generations increased from 15.4 percent in 2007 to 16.7 percent in 2009.

These combined households are most common among those hit hard by recession: About a quarter of the unemployed lived in a multi-generational home in 2009, compared with 15.7 percent of those with jobs. [Read: U.S. Poverty Rate Highest Since 1993 ]

A quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds and a fifth of 25- to 24-year-olds also moved back in with mom and dad, the report found. This age group has been hit hard by unemployment and underemployment, with 38 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds unemployed or out of the workforce, the highest rate in nearly four decades.

Other research has found that Americans of all ages feel more insecure about their finances in the wake of the recession, with 31.5 percent saying they are "not at all satisfied" with their financial situations.

Asians are more likely than other ethnic groups to live in multigenerational households, with 25.8 percent doing so in 2009. Blacks are next, at 23.7 percent, and Hispanics come in third at 23.4 percent. About 13.1 percent of whites lived with multiple generations in 2009.

The sharpest growth in multigenerational homes between 2007 and 2009, however, was among Hispanics. Hispanic multigenerational households increased by 17.6 percent during that time, compared with 8.7 percent for blacks, 8.5 percent for whites and 7.3 percent for Asians.

Getting by

Moving in with family is a financial lifeline for Americans, the Pew Report revealed. After adjusting for household size, the median incomes of multigenerational homes is lower than in other households, but the poverty rate among people in multigenerational in 2009 was only 11.5 percent, compared with 14.6 percent in other homes.

The poverty-alleviating effects of moving back home were sharpest among the unemployed. The poverty rate for people without jobs who didn't live with other generations was 30.3 percent in 2009. For unemployed people in multigenerational family homes, the poverty rate was 17.5 percent.

Far from harboring freeloaders, multigenerational families share income across the household. In typical households, the head-of-household accounts for 85.7 percent of family income. In multigenerational homes, the head of the household accounts for about half of the family's income. A child 25 or older living with mom and dad typically contributed 24.7 percent of the family's income. An older parent living with an adult child normally contributed a similar percentage.

You can follow LiveScience  senior writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter@sipappas. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience  and onFacebook.

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