The Modern Family

The Modern Family                                                                          LOGO

By: Sherri Donovan, Esq.

“Our fifty-year national experiment with nuclear families—the ideal of two parents, two and a half kids, and the white picket fence—is ending.”

—Sharon Graham Neiderhaus and John Graham, All in the Family

The American family has undergone dramatic change over the past century. Most notably, the new millennium brought a shake-up in the make-up of the family unit. The “traditional” family that rose to its zenith during the 1950s—the first-time-married breadwinner-husband and homemaker-wife and their children—is no longer the majority. Today, the majority of children under age 18 live with either both unmarried parents, one unmarried parent, each parent part of the time, a remarried parent and his/her spouse, a parent cohabiting with a new partner, or neither parent. Most children growing up in the twenty-first century also live either in a two-income household or a single-parent household headed by a working mom.

The modern family has diverged in myriad other ways over the past half century to include a growing number of cohabiting couples, same-sex couples, mixed-race families, childless couples, spouses/partners that are “together” but live separately, grandparents raising grandchildren, and multigenerational families.

These “nontraditional” families are much more prevalent than they were fifty, even twenty, years, ago. Collectively, they currently account for 54% of American families—and their numbers are continuing to rise. Today, you’ll find every conceivable configuration of family in every region, state, city, and community in the United States

  • The share of children living in a nuclear family has declined from almost three quarters to less than half. Today, only 46% of children live with their married mother and father, compared with 61% in 1980 and 73% in 1960.

Fewer Marriages

  • Marriage rates are declining in the United States, dropping more than 50% between 1970 and 2010. In 1960, 72% of Americans age 25 and older were married; in 2011, only 51% were married, an historical low. In 1960, 9% of Americans had never married by age 54; in 2012, 20% had not. If the trend continues, 30% of Americans will have never married by age 54 in 20303.
  • Young adults are less likely to marry than previous generations. In 2013, 65% of adults ages 18–32 (Millennials) were married, down from 30% in 2007 (Gen X). Comparatively, 40% of Baby Boomers and 50% of Silent Gens were married at that age.
  • Men are increasingly less likely to marry than women. In 2012, 23% of men versus 17% of women had never married, a six-point gap. In 1960, 10% of men versus 8% of women had never married, a two-point gap.
  • The rise in never-married adults is steepest among white Americans, doubling between 1960 and 2012, from 8% to 16%.
  • The share of unmarried African-Americans continues to rise. In 2012, more than a third (36%) of African-Americans ages 25 and older had never married, up 9% from 1960. Between 1960 and 2008, the share of African-Americans who were married (first marriage or remarriage) dropped 29 points, from 61% to 32%. During that same time period, the share of married Caucasians dropped 18 points, from 74% to 56%. If current rates continue, an estimated two-thirds of African-American women would be expected to never marry.

The education-divide of unmarried adults has widened, and related gender patterns have reversed. In 1960, American women with college degrees were four times as likely to have never married as women with a high school or less education, 31% versus 7%. Today, women of different educational levels are equally likely to never marry. In 1960, men of different educational levels were equally likely to never marry. Today, American men with a high school or less education are more likely to have never married than men with advanced educations, 25% versus 14%.

Later First Marriages

  • The average age at first marriage has risen steadily—from the historic low of 20 years for women and 23 years for men in the 1950s to 27 and 29 years, respectively, in 2014. What’s more, over the last twenty years, a growing number of Americans in their thirties are marrying for the first time.

Young adults of all socioeconomic groups are delaying marriage, a practice once reserved for college-educated Americans (bachelor’s degree or higher). Between 1990 and 2000, the share of still-unmarried women ages 25 to 29 with a high school degree or less increased for the first time, by 5%. Between 2000 and 2010, it jumped 15 percentage points.

Fewer Divorces

  • The divorce rate has leveled off after declining for decades. The US divorce rate has doubled since 1960—but that is primarily because divorces soared during the late-1960s and throughout the 1970s, reaching a record high in 1981. After that, the divorce rate declined for about 30 years and then leveled off. In 2009, the divorce rate hit a forty-year low, due largely to the Great Recession. As the recession ebbed, divorces inched up three years in a row (2010–2012) before stabilizing.
  • The divorce rate of African Americans continues to rise. About 60% of African Americans who were married in the 1960s and 1970s eventually divorced, while only 18% who married in the 1940s divorced. Today, at 70%, the current African-American divorce rate remains the highest of any ethnic group in the country, as it has been for several decades.
  • The gap between the divorce rates of upscale and Middle America is growing. From 1970 to 1999, the divorce rate of affluent, well-educated (college grad) adults dropped from 15% to 11%, while the divorce rate of couples with moderate incomes and educations (high school grad) increased from 36% to 37%. Between the 1970s and the early 2000s, the proportion of moderately educated working-age adults in first marriages fell 28 points, from 73% to 45%, compared with a 17-point drop, from 73% to 56%, for highly educated adults.
  • Gray divorce is on the rise. Between 1999 and 2009, the divorce rate of adults age 50 or older doubled; the vast majority were middle-aged Baby Boomers (under age 65). The divorce rate of boomers (born 1946–1964), 29% of the US population, is expected to reach 46% in 2015. As the characteristically envelope-pushing boomers replace more traditional seniors and as life expectancies increase, the share of people divorcing late in life—and leaving long marriages—will likely increase.

Current US Divorce Rates

1st Marriage:41–48% *

2nd Marriage:60–67% *

3rd Marriage:70–73% *

*Varies by statistical method used.

Fewer Multiple Marriages

  • The remarriage rate in the United States has been declining. Although the number of divorced and widowed Americans who remarried rose from 14 million in 1960, to 22 million in 1980, and 42 million in 2010, the rate of remarriage has fallen over the last twenty years. In 2011, 29 per 1,000 divorced or widowed Americans remarried, down from 50 per 1,000 in 1990.
  • Today’s seniors are more likely to remarry than their counterparts of the previous century. In 2013, 50% of previously married seniors had remarried, compared with 34% in 1960. Again, the huge Baby Boomer generation accounts for most of this trend.
  • Today’s younger adults are less likely to remarry than previous generations. In 2013, 43% of previously married adults ages 25 to 34 had remarried, compared with 75% in 1960.

Remarriage is increasing among foreign-born US citizens, up 40% since 1960.

Fewer Children

  • The number of US births is declining—falling 9% from 2007 (4.3 million) to 2013 (3.9 million), despite an increase in women of childbearing age during that period.
  • The US birthrate is on a downward trend. After peaking at 112.5 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age (1544 years) in 1957, the birthrate declined through the 1970s and then stabilized at 6570 births until 2007, when it abruptly fell 7%. By 2013, the birthrate dropped another 2%, hitting a record low of 62.5 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age.
  • Women are having fewer children in their lifetimes. The US fertility rate (average number of live births per woman) has dropped from 3.7 children in 1960 to 1.86 children in 2013, a record low.
  • Fewer young women are having children. The average age a woman in the United States first gives birth has risen from 21.4 years (1970) to 26 years (2013). The proportion of women ages 18–29 who became first-time mothers dropped from 41% in 1998 to 36% in 2010. The birth rate of women under age 30 has been declining, too, and reached a record low in 2013. In 2009, for the first time in US history, the birth rate of women ages 30–34 (97.5 births per 1,000 women) exceeded that of women ages 20–24 (96 births per 1,000 women). In 1970, the birth rate was 168 births per 1,000 women ages 20–24 and 73 births per 1,000 women ages 30–34.
  • More women are having children later in life. Between 2000 and 2012, the birthrate rose by 24% for women ages 35–39 and by 35% for women ages 40–44.
  • An increasing number of women are childless. The proportion of women ages 40–44 who have never given birth has almost doubled, from 10% in 1976 to 19% in 2013. However, the share of childless college-educated women in that age bracket has decreased, from 31% in 1994 to 24% in 2008.
  • The number of adoptions has declined in the United States from about 180,000 in 1970 to about 140,000 in 2011. Domestic infant adoptions have fallen from 9% of babies born before 1973 to about 1% of babies born in 2010.
  • The share of childless households has increased. In 1960, slightly less than 50% of households included children; in 2010, only 33% of households included children.

More Children Born Out of Wedlock

  • The share of children born to unwed mothers increased dramatically. In 1960, only 5% of American births were out of wedlock, rising to 11% by 1970, 28% by 1990, 35% by 2003, and a record high of 41% in 2009—decreasing slightly, to 40.6%, by 2013.
  • The out-of-wedlock birth rate declined in recent years. The number of nonmarital births per 1,000 women of childbearing age (15–44) rose from the 1940s century through the twenty-first century, peaking in 2007–2008 at 51.8 nonmarital births per 1,000 women. By 2013, the nonmarital birth rate had dropped to 44.3 births per 1,000 women.
  • Nonmarital births are declining among younger women. Between 2007 to 2012, the nonmarital birth rate dropped 30% for women ages 15–17 (from 20 to 14 births per 1,000 women), 26% for women ages 18–19 (62 to 46), 19% for ages 20–24 (80 to 67), and 19% for women ages 25–29 (77 to 67). The birth rate also declined slightly for unmarried women ages 30–34, from 58 to 56 births per 1,000 women.
  • Nonmarital births are rising among mature women, ages 35 and older. The birthrate of unmarried women ages 35–39 was 7% higher in 2012 than in 2007, and 48% higher than in 2002—rising from 21 to 29 to 31 births per 1,000 women. During that same period, the birthrate of unwed women ages 40–44 increased from 5 births per 1,000 women in 2002 to 7 in 2007 and 9 in 2012, a 29% increase between 2007 and 2012.
  • Nonmarital childbearing is increasing among cohabiting couples—rising from 41% in 2002 to 58% in 2006–2010, with 20% experiencing pregnancy in the first year of cohabitation. Births to cohabiting couples increased from 14% in 2002 to 23% in 2010.
  • Nonmarital births are increasing among moderately educated women. In the early 1980s, 13% of women with a high school diploma had their first child before their first marriage; by 2008, 44% had. During that same period, the share of college-educated women who had their first child before their first marriage rose from 2% to 6%.
  • Nonmarital births have risen dramatically among white Middle American women—from 5% in 1982 to 34% in 2008.

Nonmarital birthrates are decreasing among African-Americans and Hispanics. Between 2007 and 2012, Hispanic women had the biggest decline in out-of-wedlock births, down 28%, from 102 to 73 births per 1,000 women. During that same period, the birth rate among unmarried African-American women declined 11%, from 71 to 63 per 1,000 women.

More Single-Parent Households

  • The number of American children living with a never-married parent has increased dramatically—from 7% of all children under age 18 in 1970 to 45% in 2013.
  • The share of one-parent households has stabilized since 1992, at 9% of US households with minor children (under age 18) headed by one parent.
  • Single-mother households continue to increase modestly—from 25% to 27% of all US households between 2007 and 2012. More than 83% of America’s 14.5 million single-parent families with children under age 18 are headed by mothers.

Single-father households continue to increase modestly—from 4% to 5% between

More Same-Sex Couples Raising Children

  • The number of same-sex couples raising children has almost doubled—from 65,000 in 2000 to 110,000 in 2012. Today, same-sex couples (married and cohabiting) are raising about 10 million children: 73% biological, 21% either step or adopted children, and 6% a combination of biological, step, and/or adopted.
  • The share of LGBQT Americans raising children has increased. In 2000, about 33% of lesbian-coupled households and 22% of gay-coupled households included children under age 18. In 2010, among LBGQT Americans, nearly half (48%) of women under age 50, living alone or with a partner, was raising one or more children under age 18, and about 20% of men were. Today, one in four households headed by same-sex couples includes children.
  • The number of children with gay and lesbian parents has risen dramatically. In 1976, an estimated 400,000 American children under age 18 had a lesbian or gay biological parent; in 1990, an estimated 10 million did. In 2010, about 37% of LGBTQ adults had a child at some time in their lives.

Adoptions to LGBTQ Americans have increased—while adoptions to heterosexuals has decreased. Today, about 20% of same-sex couples are raising at least one adopted child, up from 8% in 2000.

More Immigrant Families

  • The number of foreign-born people living in the United States increased significantly over the last half century, from 9.6 million in 1970 to a record high of 41 million in 2012, a 31.2% increase since 2000 (31 million).
  • The share of immigrants in the total population more than doubled over the last half century, from the historic low of 4.7% in 1970 to 13.1% in 2012 (which is below the historic high of almost 15% in 1890 and 1910, after which the immigrant population share declined steeply and steadily).
  • Migration into the United States has slowed. The majority (63%) of foreign-born residents entered the country before 2000; 30% entered between 2000 and 2009; and only 7% entered between 2010 and 2012. The migration rate also declined in 2013 and 2014.

More families are migrating to the United States. Since 1970, the number and share of women and children immigrants has steadily increased. Previous immigrants were mostly single men and men who left wives and children behind in their native countries.

As my daughter, Jasmine, a modern, bi-racial hipster half jokingly proclaimed, “There should be a sperm bank dedicated solely to people who want mixed race babies”

-Welcome to the 21st century family!

About sherridonovan

Matrimonial & Family Attorney. Mediator and Family Coordinator.
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