"I don't feel like an anomaly," said Maria Filardi, an attorney who lives with her husband and two young children in the Otterbein neighborhood. She said she lives near many families and feels more connected to other parents than her suburban counterparts do.
Heidi Vorrasi, who directs the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance, said her group, which encourages families to plant roots in the city instead of leaving for the suburbs, has developed a membership roster numbering about 450 since being established in 2007.
Vorrasi, who is 29 and lives in Federal Hill with her husband and child, often sees parents pushing strollers in the South Baltimore parks she frequents. "I think we're a growing demographic, but that's in the downtown area."
Judy O'Brien, who also lives in Federal Hill with her husband and two daughters and founded the alliance three years ago, said her family enjoys the city lifestyle: walking to the bustling shopping corridor in her neighborhood, riding the Charm City Circulator bus and regularly visiting downtown museums.
Indeed, the drop in married couples with children may have its greatest impact in the daily texture of neighborhoods, Cherlin said. Though he still sees couples taking their kids to school or to the park in his Bolton Hill neighborhood, "there are lots of single people in Bolton Hill who a half-century ago might not have had their own apartments but would have lived with their parents," he said.
"It changes the daily rhythms of a neighborhood if there are fewer couples raising children," Cherlin said, "but I'm not sure those are social problems."
Some officials of organizations that work closely with local families are concerned about what the demographic changes could mean for stability and commitment.
Though the changes are being driven by well-off young people like Washington and her peers, the city's biggest single group of nontraditional families remains those headed by single women - 23 percent of all families. That percentage has declined slightly in the past two decades, but more than half of the city's children are raised by single women. Families led by women alone make up half of all the poor households in the city.
As the shelter director for the Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County, Rebecca Foster has noticed an increase in recent years in the share of unmarried women seeking help for domestic abuse. Poor, single mothers, she said, are especially vulnerable to abusive partners because they tend to move quickly into new relationships.
"I think it's good for people to get married in general," Foster said, provided those marriages are not abusive. "There does seem to be stability even though families may go through a difficult time. It spreads the anxiety around."
And Cherlin said he believes married couples are best at providing a stable environment for children.
Others note that because the growth in different kinds of families and living arrangements is here to stay, government and corporations need to catch up. Nicky Grist, executive director of the New York-based Alternatives to Marriage Project, advocates for state and federal laws that don't give special treatment to married couples.
"It's not a story of decline," Grist said of the demographic shift. "It's increasingly important that we recognize and support this diversity of households."
Both large and small companies are responding to societal changes with more inclusive benefits packages that extend to nonmarried partners, said Adam Sorensen, who advises companies worldwide on compensation packages with World at Work, an Arizona-based nonprofit association.
Sorensen estimated that a majority of Fortune 500 companies now provide benefits to their employees' long-term, unmarried partners, partly as a way to draw the best talent.
"It's a way of having a competitive advantage," he said. "If you're really looking to attract the widest range of potential employees, you don't want something like that to be a barrier."