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Family structure in the United States

American family redirects here. For other uses, see

American Family.

This gure illustrates the changing structure of families in the

U.S. Only 7% of families in the U.S. in 2002 were traditional
families in the sense that the husband worked and earned a sufcient income for the wife and kids to stay home. Many families
are now dual-earner families. The other group includes the
many households that are headed by a single parent.

An American family composed of the mother, father, children,

and extended family.

The traditional family structure in the United States is

considered a family support system involving two married
individuals providing care and stability for their biological ospring. However, this two-parent, nuclear family
has become less prevalent, and alternative family forms
have become more common.[1] The family is created at
birth and establishes ties across generations.[2] Those generations, the extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, can hold signicant emotional and economic roles for the nuclear family.

come less prevalent, and pre-American and European

family forms have become more common.[1]

These include same-sex relationships, single-parent

households, adopting individuals, and extended family
systems living together. The nuclear family is also choosing to have fewer children than in the past.[3] The percentage of married-couple households with children unOver time, the traditional structure has had to adapt to der 18 has declined to 23.5% of all households in 2000
very inuential changes, including divorce and the in- from 25.6% in 1990, and from 45% in 1960.
troduction of single-parent families, teenage pregnancy
and unwed mothers, and same-sex marriage, and in1.2 Single parent
creased interest in adoption. Social movements such as
the feminist movement and the stay-at-home dad have
Further information: Single parent
contributed to the creation of alternative family forms,
See also: Teenage pregnancy
generating new versions of the American family.
A single parent (also termed lone parent or sole parent)
is a parent who cares for one or more children without
1 At a glance
the assistance of the other biological parent. Historically, single-parent families often resulted from death of
1.1 Nuclear family
a spouse, for instance in childbirth. Single-parent homes
are increasing as married couples divorce, or as unmarFurther information: Nuclear family
ried couples have children. Although widely believed to
be detrimental to the mental and physical well being of a
The nuclear family has been considered the traditional child, this type of household is tolerated.
family since the communist scare in the cold war of the The percentage of single-parent households has doubled
1950s. The nuclear family consists of a mother, father, in the last three decades, but that percentage tripled beand the children. The two-parent nuclear family has be- tween 1900 and 1950.[5] The sense of marriage as a per1

manent institution has been weakened, allowing individuals to consider leaving marriages more readily than they
may have in the past.[6] Increasingly single parent families are due to out of wedlock births, especially those due
to unintended pregnancy.



Stepfamilies are becoming more familiar in America. Divorce rates are rising and the remarriage rate is rising
as well, therefore, bringing two families together making step families. Statistics show that there are 1,300 new
stepfamilies forming every day. Over half of American
families are remarried, that is 75% of marriages ending
in divorce, remarry.[7]


Extended family

Further information: Extended family


Although Cousin marriages are illegal in most states, they

are legal in many states, the District of Columbia and
some territories. Some states have some restrictions or
exceptions for cousin marriages and/or recognize such
marriages performed out-of-state. Since the 1940s, the
United States marriage rate has decreased, whereas rates
of divorce have increased.[12]

2.2 Unwed partners

See also: Cohabitation in the United States
Living as unwed partners is also known as cohabitation.
The number of heterosexual unmarried couples in the
United States has increased tenfold, from about 400,000
in 1960 to more than ve million in 2005.[13] This number would increase by at least another 594,000 if samesex partners were included.[13] Of all unmarried couples,
about 1 in 9 (11.1% of all unmarried-partner households)
are homosexual.[13]

The extended family consists of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. In some circumstances, the extended
family comes to live either with or in place of a member
of the nuclear family. An example includes elderly parents who move in with their children due to old age. This
places large demands on the caregivers, particularly the
female relatives who choose to perform these duties for
their extended family.[8]

The cohabitation lifestyle is becoming more popular in

todays generation.[14] It is more convenient for couples
not to get married because it can be cheaper and simpler.
As divorce rates rise in society, the desire to get married
is less attractive for couples uncertain of their long-term

Historically, among certain Asian and Native American

cultures the family structure consisted of a grandmother
and her children, especially daughters, who raised their
own children together and shared child care responsibilities. Uncles, brothers, and other male relatives sometimes helped out. Romantic relationships between men
and women were formed and dissolved with little impact
on the children who remained in the mothers extended

2.3 Parents


Roles and relationships

Married partners

Parents can be either the biological mother or biological father, or the legal guardian for adopted children.
Traditionally, mothers were responsible for raising the
kids while the father was out providing nancially for
the family. The age group for parents ranges from
teenage parents to grandparents who have decided to raise
their grandchildren, with teenage pregnancies uctuating
based on race and culture.[15] Older parents are nancially established and generally have fewer problems raising children compared to their teenage counterparts.[16]

2.4 Housewives

Further information: Marriage in the United States

Further information: Housewife
A married couple was dened as a husband and wife
enumerated as members of the same household by the
U.S. Census Bureau,[9] but they will be categorizing
same-sex couples as married couples if they are married.
Same-sex couples who were married were previously recognized by the Census Bureau as unmarried partners.[10]
Same-sex marriage is legally permitted across the country since June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court issued
its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Polygamy is illegal
throughout the U.S.[11]

A housewife is a married woman who does not work outside of the home for income but stays and takes care of
the home and children. This includes doing the cooking, washing, cleaning, etc. The roles of women working
within the house has changed drastically as more women
start to pursue careers. The amount of time women spend
doing housework declined from 27 hours per week in
1965 to less than 16 hours in 1995, but it is still substantially more housework than their male partners.[17]



Adopted children


Further information: Breadwinner model

3.3 Adopted children

Adopted children are children that were given up at birth,
abandoned or were unable to be cared for by their biological parents. They may have been put into foster care before nding their permanent residence. It is particularly
hard for adopted children to get adopted from foster care:
only 50,000 children were adopted in 2001.[22] The average age of these children was 7 years old, which shows
that fewer older children were adopted.[22]

A breadwinner is the main nancial provider in the family. Historically the husband has been the breadwinner;
that trend is changing as wives start to take advantage of
the womens movement to gain nancial independence
for themselves. According to the New York Times, In
2001, wives earned more than their spouses in almost a
third of married households where the wife worked.[18]
Yet, even within nuclear families in which both spouses
are employed outside of the home, many men are still re- 4
sponsible for a substantially smaller share of household


Stay-at-home dads

Modern family models

Same-sex marriage, adoption, and
child rearing

Further information: Same-sex marriage in the United

States and Same-sex adoption

Further information: Stay-at-home dad

Stay-at-home dads are fathers that do not participate in
the labor market and raise their childrenthe male equivalent to housewives. Stay-at-home dads are not as popular in American society.[20] According to the U.S. Census
Bureau, There are an estimated 105,000 'stay-at-home'
dads. These are married fathers with children under 15
who are not in the labor force primarily so they can care
for family members while their wives work outside the
home. Stay-at-home dads care for 189,000 children.[21]

Same-sex parents are gay or lesbian couples that choose

to raise children. Nationally, 66% of female same-sex
couples and 44% of male same-sex couples live with children under 18 years old.[20] In the 2000 census, there
were 594,000 households that claimed to be headed by
same-sex couples, with 72% of those having children.[23]
In July 2004, the American Psychological Association
concluded that Overall results of research suggests that
the development, adjustment, and well-being of children
with lesbian and gay parents do not dier markedly from
that of children with heterosexual parents.[24]

4.2 Single-parent households


Single-parent homes in America are starting to become

more common in todays society. With more children being born to unmarried couples and to couples whose marriages subsequently dissolve, children increasingly live
with only one parent. The proportion of children living
with a never-married parent has also grown, from 4% in
3.1 Only child families
1960 to 42% in 2001.[25] Of all one parent families, 83%
An only child (single child) is one without any biolog- are motherchild families.
ical or adopted brothers or sisters. Single children are
stereotypically portrayed as spoiled, self-centered, and
selsh. Single children often excel more in school and 4.3 Adoption requirements
in their careers than children with siblings.[17]
Further information: Adoption in the United States
See also: family planning

The adoption requirements and policies for adopting children have made it harder for foster families and potential
adoptive families to adopt kids. Before a family can adopt
Childfree couples chose to not have children. These in- they must go through state, county, and agency criteria.
clude young couples, who intend to have children later, Adoption agencies criteria express the importance of age
as well as those who do not plan to have any children.
of the adoptive parents, as well as the agencys desire for
Involuntary childlessness may be caused by infertility, married couples over single adopters.[26] Adoptive parmedical problems, death of a child, or other factors.
ents also have to deal with criteria that are given by the


Childfree and Childlessness

birth parents of the adoptive child. The dierent criteria

for adopting children makes it harder for couples to adopt
children in need,[26] but the strict requirements can help
protect the foster children from unqualied couples.[26]


topic, especially on television.[33] Family shows such as

Roseanne, All in the Family, Leave It to Beaver, The Cosby
Show, Married... with Children, The Jeersons, and Good
Times, Everybody Loves Raymond have portrayed different social classes of families growing up in America. Those perfect nuclear families have changed as
the years passed and have become more inclusive, showing single-parent and divorced families, as well as older
singles.[4] Television shows that show single-parent families include Half & Half, One on One, Murphy Brown,
and Gilmore Girls.

Currently 1.5 million (2%) of all U.S children are

adopted. There are dierent types of adoption; embryo
adoption when a couple is having trouble conceiving a
child and instead choose to have their sperm and egg conjoined outside the womb, international adoption where
couples adopt children that come from foreign countries,
and private adoption which is the most common form of
adoption. In private adoption, families can adopt chil- While it did not become a common occurrence the iconic
dren via licensed agencies or with by directly contacting image of the American family was started in the early
the childs biological parents.
1930s. It was not until WWII that families generally had
the economical income in which to successfully propagate
this lifestyle.[34]


Male/female role pressures

Further information: Gender role

7 See also

The traditional father and mother roles of the nuclear

Anti-miscegenation laws in the United States
family have become blurred over time. Because of the
Divorce in the United States
womens movement's push for women to engage in traditionally masculine pursuits in society, as women choose
Workfamily balance in the United States
to sacrice their child-bearing years to establish their careers, and as fathers feel increasing pressure to be involved with tending to children, the traditional roles of International:
fathers as the breadwinners and mothers as the caretakers have come into question.[27]
Japanese family structure

African-American family struc- 8 References


Further information: African-American family structure

The family structure of African-Americans has long been
a matter of national public policy interest.[28] The 1965
report by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, known as The Moynihan Report, examined the link between black poverty and
family structure.[28] It hypothesized that the destruction
of the black nuclear family structure would hinder further progress toward economic and political equality.[28]
When Moynihan wrote in 1965 on the coming destruction
of the black family, the out-of-wedlock birthrate was 25
percent among blacks.[29] In 1991, 68 percent of black
children were born outside of marriage.[30] In 2011, 72%
of black babies were born to unwed mothers.[31][32]

Television portrayals

The television industry initially helped create a stereotype of the American nuclear family. During the era
of the baby boomers, families became a popular social

[1] Edwards, H.N. (1987). Changing family structure and

youthful well-being. Journal of Family Issues 8, 355372
[2] Beutler, Burr, Bahr, and Herrin (1989) p. 806; cited by
Fine, Mark A. in Families in the United States: Their Current Status and Future Prospects Copyright 1992
[3] For First Time since the cold war, Nuclear Families Drop
Below 25% of Households. 2001-0515. Retrieved 2009-07-27.
[4] Benokraitis, N: Marriages & families, page 7. 6th edition,
[5] Benokraitis, N: Marriages & families, page 18. 6th edition, 2007
[6] Glenn, N.D. (1987). Continuity versus change, sanguineness versus concern: Views of the American family in the
late 1980s. Journal of Family Issues 8, 348354
[7] Stewart, S.D. (2007). Brave New Stepfamilies. Thousand
Oaks: Sage.
[8] Brubaker, T.H. (1990). Continuity and change in later
life families: Grandparenthood, couple relationships and
family caregiving. Gerentology Review 3, 2440

[9] Teachman, Tedrow, Crowder. The Changing Demography of Americas Families Journal of Marriage and the
Family, Vol. 62 (Nov 2000) p. 1234

[28] Moynihans War on Poverty report

[29] Daniel P. Moynihan, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, Washington, D.C., Oce of Policy Planning and Research, U.S. Department of Labor, 1965.

2014/05/26/e6c6edd0-e2a3-11e3-9743-bb9b59cde7b9_ [30] National Review, April 4, 1994, p. 24.
[31] Blacks struggle with 72 percent unwed mothers rate,
Jesse Washington, NBC News, July 11, 2010
[11] Barbara Bradley Hagerty (May 27, 2008). Some Muslims in U.S. Quietly Engage in Polygamy. National Public Radio: All Things Considered. Retrieved July 23, 2009.
[12] Teachman, Tedrow, Crowder. The Changing Demography of Americas Families. Journal of Marriage and the
Family, Vol. 62 (Nov 2000) p. 1235
[13] Benokraitis, N: Marriages & families, page 271. 6th edition, 2007
[14] Benokraitis, N: Marriages & families, page 275. 6th edition, 2007
[15] Benokraitis, N: Marriages & families, page 326. 6th edition, 2007
[16] Benokraitis, N: Marriages & families, pp. 328329. 6th
edition, 2007

[32] For Blacks, the Pyrrhic Victory of the Obama Era,

Jason L. Riley, Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2012
[33] Benokraitis, N: Marriages & families, page 78. 6th edition, 2007
[34] Etuk, Lena. How Family Structure has Changed. Oregon State University. Retrieved 16 April 2012.

9 Further reading
Mattox, William R., Jr., Americas family time
famine, Children Today, Nov-Dec, 1990

[17] Benokraitis, N: Marriages & families, page 367. 6th edition, 2007

10 External links

[18] Gardner, Ralph (2003-11-10). Alpha Women, Beta Men

When wives are the family breadwinners.
Retrieved 2009-07-27.

Single Parent Statistics

[19] Furstenberg, Jr., F.F. (1988). Good dads-bad dads: Two

faces of fatherhood. In A.J. Cherlin, The changing American family and public policy (pp. 193218). Washington,
DC: The Urban Institute Press
[20] Benokraitis, N: Marriages & families, page 328. 6th edition, 2007
[21] US Census Press Releases. Archived from
the original on November 12, 2007. Retrieved 2009-0727.
[22] Childs Finalization Age (Grouped)". Retrieved 2009-07-28.
[23] U.S. Census Bureau, Married-Couple and UnmarriedPartner Households: 2000 (February 2003)
[24] Meezan, William and Rauch, Jonathan. Gay Marriage,
Same-sex Parenting, and Americas Children. The Future
of Children Vol. 15 No. 2 Marriage and Child Wellbeing
(Autumn 2005) p. 102
[25] Benokraitis, N: Marriages & families, page 2021. 6th
edition, 2007
[26] Review of Qualication Requirements for Prospective
Adoptive Parents Agencies, Agency, Alcohol, A. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
[27] Fine, Mark A. Families in the United States: Their Current Status and Future Prospects. Family Relations vol. 41
(Oct 1992) p. 431

Same Sex Marriage, Civil Unions and Domestic

The Dilemma of the Only Child
Adoption Statistics




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