The Changing American Family Fewer than 25 percent of American households are made up of a married man and woman

with their children. So what do families look like now? By Cris Beam Shifting Demographics If all you did was watch television commercials for minivans, you might think that the traditional All-American family was still intact -- Mom, Dad, dog, and the 2.5 kids buckle up and drive off every day on TV. But ads (depending on your perspective) are either selling aspirations or guilt: This is the family you're supposed to have, supposed to want. In real life, in big cities and in smaller towns, families are single moms, they're stepfamilies, they're boyfriends and girlfriends not getting married at the moment, they're foster parents, they're two dads or two moms, they're a village. In real life, in 2005, families are richly diverse. And only getting more so. In fact, the very definition of "family" is changing dramatically. The year 2000 marked the first time that less than a quarter (23.5 percent) of American households were made up of a married man and woman and one or more of their children -- a drop from 45 percent in 1960. This number is expected to fall to 20 percent by 2010. Why the Changes? The change in the makeup of the American family is the result of two primary factors, says Martin O'Connell, chief of fertility and family statistics at the U.S. Census Bureau, which collects such figures every 10 years. First, more babies (about a third) are now born out of wedlock, and second, divorce rates continue to climb so that nearly half of all marriage contracts are broken. What's Normal Now? The overall attitude toward relationships and commitment has shifted. More than half of female high school seniors say that having a child outside of marriage is acceptable, according to a recent poll from the University of Michigan Survey Research Center. And census data shows that 26 percent of all households are made up of a single person, living alone (as opposed to 13 percent back in 1960). While a good portion of these singles are likely senior citizens, others are younger career folks who don't feel yesteryear's societal pressure to rush into partnerships.

California." says Barbara Hotelling. no marriage: Such was the case with Steve Wilson and Erin Mayes. because currently one-third of all babies are born out of wedlock. Now he and Park are planning a second child. I'm so thankful that family and friends have stepped in. president of Lamaze International and a long-time childbirth instructor. estimates that around 20 percent are unmarried. When she got pregnant. "I've seen unmarried couples come in. Reactions from the Trenches Perhaps no one has a better ringside seat to all these untraditional family setups than those involved in the childbirth industry.the family dynamics and structures have changed a lot over the past 25 years. but gay marriage is not legal nationally. via a surrogate mother. That's five years older than it was even in 1980. "When I realized I couldn't count on the father. last June. compared with maybe 5 percent when she first began her career. Their relationship was relatively new when Lori got pregnant in 2000." he says. and gave birth to a daughter in March. adopted a baby boy. have decided it isn't necessary to get married. Sometimes young singles establish their individual identities so solidly that they never marry. it was devastating. They've been together for 10 years. a couple in their mid-30s living in Austin. Hotelling probably sees a good cross section of American families and." Hansell says. Dean Larkin and Paul Park are living out another common-in-today's-world scenario."In 2002. Still. Hansell moved in with her parents. . Adoption. Lori agrees: "Our wedding felt more meaningful happening on its own time instead of on the traditional schedule. lesbian couples. What girl wants a shotgun wedding?" Single moms on the rise: Of course. They'd like to marry. while she doesn't ask the marital status of her students. Based in Rochester Hills. But not long after their daughter was born.but without the papers. Pam Hansell says her boyfriend initially seemed supportive. Michigan. own a home together. outside of Philadelphia. Texas. They agreed to raise the child together but didn't get engaged. "Reverse order worked better for us. even if they have children. Then he began dodging her phone calls and e-mails. and though they've talked about it. Two dads: Finally. it's no surprise that many mothers remain single. mothers who have been here with one father and then come in with a new father -. These couples may partner up -. Deeply hurt but determined to give her child a good life. and eventually cut contact." says O'Connell. Wedding after baby: Another example is Jared and Lori Goldman. of San Mateo. Jared proposed. They live together in Los Angeles. and Larkin has a 21-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. the median age for a woman's first marriage was 27. they wanted a family and.

100 federal benefits that married households can take advantage of during a lifetime.827 per year. In the best cases. married families can "earn" 25 percent more than unmarried ones. femaleheaded households earn. Marriage Penalties How does this stack up with the so-called "marriage penalty" that people complain about at tax time? Two of the major tax penalties were eliminated in 2003. taxes are such a complex soup incorporating home ownership. an unmarried partner gets nothing. families in which the mother is the head of the household are. Federal Medicaid laws permit only married couples to keep their homes when one partner needs nursing home care. unmarried partners cannot.and Children What is safe to say is that the kids of untraditional families can wind up penalized. "I say 'moms and partners' and hope nobody screams. Because of the wage gap. Now. they need a lower combined income to qualify for a $1. only their . and so on. only the richest three tiers pay more as marrieds than as cohabiters. a corporation that produces electronic tax preparation programs. with health benefits. Money. according to the Los Angeles-based American Association for Single People and cited in an October 2003 Business Week article. it's almost impossible to state assertively which type of family comes out ahead tax-wise. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act. There are a few other penalties married couples face (for example." The Marriage Advantage According to 1999 figures from the Population Resource Center. itemizations. for instance. a senior tax analyst at Turbo Tax. male-headed households earn $41. retirement. and more. there are many possible scenarios. When a married person dies. but. All told. married partners can take leave from work when their spouse gets sick. and married couples (in the lowest two income brackets) got bumped into a higher tax bracket on a combined income. $26. Marriage -. there are the more than 1.000 per-child tax credit). Used to be. but now.138 per year. Grant warns. and married households earn $56. living on less. on average. kids living with. the spouse inherits Social Security benefits. says Fred Grant.164 a year. She says she used to call her students moms and dads. by and large. Then.Hotelling has shifted her language with the times. married couples filing jointly had a lower standard deduction than two singles living together. thus paying more taxes overall. Of course. an unmarried partner can lose the house.

about 8. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) places its bet between one and nine million children. While the AAP issued a statement saying that children of same-sex couples deserve two legally recognized parents. there are 11 million children (16 percent) living at or below the poverty line. Sue Hamilton and Christy Sumner. Census Bureau doesn't figure same-sex relationships into their data. which is legal there. Single and Satisfied Though a growing number of couples are fine with never getting married. it's hard to pinpoint exactly how many children are living with gay or lesbian parents. it's a sure bet that many impoverished kids are in untraditional families. But as many single moms will tell you. While the couple isn't able to marry in their home state of California. says Susan Brown. according to the U. such as the guarantee that unmarried parents can visit a child in the hospital. there may be a psychological cost to raising a family without the mental safety net of marriage.S. and it seems to be because of relationship instability.mother also receive financial support from a father. no state can grant federal marriage benefits to these couples. 2 in 5 gay or lesbian couples live in a house with children under age 18. "I've found that cohabiters are more depressed than married people." Brown says.or break up and seek other potential spouses. associate professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University's Center for Family and Demographic Research and a contributor to the 2002 collection of essays and studies Just Living Together. but Hamilton and Sumner have . which means somewhere between 1.4 million.S. PhD. not all fathers pay their full share of childcare costs.Massachusetts -. That means most unmarried parents who live together get married eventually -. The Growth of Gay Families According to the Urban Institute. All told. and only one state last count. Hamilton recently adopted their daughter. and while that's not broken down into the number of kids with married or unmarried parents. She says that according to some research. used a sperm bank when they decided to have a baby. But because the U. the vast majority of cohabiting relationships change into either marriage or separation after an average of 18 months.5 percent of all kids. Statistics also show that there are many kids lacking basic health insurance -. one donor: One couple. Two moms.allows state rights.4 percent and 12. Census. Negotiating state laws puts extra stress on gay and lesbian families.

But only 16 states recognize common-law marriage -. "in order to attract and retain quality employees.and three of those require couples to prove they've been living together since the '90s. and it smoothed the adoption process." says Kevin Marrs of the American Society of Employers.5 billion over five years on a Healthy Marriage Initiative to encourage couples (especially in poor communities) to marry. President Bush proposed spending $1. many small independent businesses don't yet offer them. an organization that tracks information for firms in the Detroit area. however. the benefits need to be more flexible. Privileges. Declaring that lets them enjoy joint health coverage through Mayes's employer. "One of the hospital workers fell in love with our family. which publishes plain-English legal information. If all states had such laws. ." Can Your Employer Help You? Some large employers are scrambling to catch up to how families are changing." Hamilton says.' and typed up a mock certificate that just has our names on it. Traditionally. a great many people would benefit. and the Law Few laws protect untraditional families. at this point federal laws don't prohibit discrimination based on marital status. In fact. Texas.their decision to not get married is made easier by the fact that their state. The money hasn't been approved. "She thought it was nutty that birth certificates have to read 'mother' and 'father. that because domestic partner benefits can cost a company more money. permits common-law marriage status. Families. so unmarried families can and do face discrimination in these key areas: • • • • • • • housing employment adoption insurance child custody hospital visitation the ability to make a decision for a partner or child in an emergency Wilson and Mayes are lucky -. but the Department of Health and Human Services is running the program. companies required workers to be married if they wanted benefits for household members. pushing for marriage is easier than changing laws. He concedes.encountered a few sympathizers. according to Nolo Press. Why Aren't Laws Catching Up to How We're Living? To many politicians. But now.

That is what makes a family. The answer probably lies in making sure all families -. Discrimination against unmarried families is still real.what matters is the love they have for their child.receive the same kinds of rights.whether Mom and Dad drive the minivan to soccer practice or Mom piles her stepkids onto the city bus -. Access to affordable childcare and living wages are also more direct solutions. goes even further. a sociology professor at Ohio State University." Brown says. May 2005. and it certainly doesn't help open the rigid boundaries of what "counts" as a family. Says Hamilton.which costs money in itself -. and treatment. benefits.may set women back. "Is Marriage a Panacea?" he shows that poverty rates for disadvantaged women who marry and then divorce are actually higher than for women who never marry in the first place. ." Cris Beam is a writer in New York City. In his 2003 study. Originally published in American Baby magazine. Daniel Lichter. But those families also have the love and courage it takes to press for change.) So getting married doesn't always ease the financial burden of raising kids. "It really doesn't matter what kind of relationship the parents are in -."Bush [advocates] marriage among low-income populations as a way to ameliorate poverty. But I'm not sure that's the answer. (One thought is that the loss of financial stability as a direct result of divorce -.

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