Fewer 'traditional' families Declining numbers: Must have national policies that reflect today's population realities.


THE DROP SINCE 1970 in the number of U.S. households whose makeup includes a married couple with children has led RTC to a lot of speculation about what the typical American family will look like 50 or 100 years from now.

The latest Census Bureau data provide a snapshot of a nation where "married with children" has already become the exception, not the rule. Only 25 percent of U.S. households now consist of married couples with children, compared to 40 percent in 1970.

The trend has slowed. The nonprofit Population Reference Bureau Inc. notes that between 1990 and 1995 the number of two-parent households with children increased by 700,000. Noting complementary reductions in the divorce rate and the rate of births to unmarried women, the PRB concludes the American family is finally stabilizing. Perhaps. But look at where it's stabilized. The Nelsons, Cleavers and Huxtables would find themselves in the minority.

Other Census Bureau tidbits: The number of families headed by women with no husband present has more than doubled since 1970, from 5.6 million to 12.2 million. The number of families headed by men with no wife present has almost tripled, from 1.2 million to 3.2 million. More than half of all families do not include any children under age 18. There are now fewer than three people per U.S. household. A fourth of all households consist of one person living alone. And for the first time since the post-World War II baby boom, American women are bearing fewer than two children per woman.

These are important demographics that should be considered in any discussion of important issues such as welfare and immigration reform. Too frequently, though, Americans have instead heard politicians who preferred to present an argument based on perceptions that have no basis in the realities revealed by Census data.

We have become a nation where single parenthood is common, not just among the poor, and a nation that relies upon immigrants for its labor pool. Good policies should take those trends into account.

Pub Date: 12/20/96

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