Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Changing Family II

I thought I'd throw up a graph regarding the demographic shift LTG discussed in his previous post. This graph, which I threw together from the US Census, shows the percentage of children living in a househould with 0, 1, or 2 of their parents.

Percentage of Children Living with 0, 1, or 2 Parents

Source: US Census, Survey of Income and Program Participation

While this is not precisely the same shift LTG discussed (his post dealt with birth rather than household living arrangement) I think it reveals the same phenomenon. One critical feature is quite evident from the graph: the demographic shift has already happened. The change happened during the 1970s and 1980s, and it has now stabilized. Before 1970, consistently about 10% of children used to live in households with only one parent; after 1990, that figure is now 25%.

This fits nicely into the generational scheme discussed here a while ago. Generation X was born during the decades of upheaval--which may help explain why divorce and single motherhood are more sensitive topics for children of that time. The Millennial generation is the first to be born entirely in the post-shift years--they are the faces of the new American family. The good news is that they seem to be doing just fine.


Raised By Republicans said...

Thanks for graph Dr. S. A little perspective is always a good thing. One thing that I thought of is that family structures vary. They change over time and they vary from country to country. I think it is easy to get into a trap where we think that this or that particular kind of family structure is "the norm" and changing away from it will necessarily have enormous sociological implications.

Really, I think the lesson Dr. S's graph shows is that family structure is a product of rather than a cause of the kind of enormous sociological changes. Think about this way. If changes in family structure caused social upheaval (for want a better word), shouldn't we have seen the increase in single parent households occur prior to not in conjunction with the period of greatest social change in our society? To me the obvious conclusion from this graph is that social changes that came about in the 70s preceded or coincided with the changes in family structure (I'm thinking of things like easier divorce, more women in the work force earning income independently of men, the possibility of family planning, not to mention changing sexual mores etc).

To sum up. LTG, is saying that he doesn't judge one family structure over another anymore (good for him). He may correct me if I have this wrong but he seems to be arguing now that this observed increase in single parent households is bound to have significant social consequences. I counter, and I think Dr. S will agree, that these changes in family structure are one of the consequences of other, more fundamental, changes. Whether the changes in family structure are significant or not in their own right is a debate that risks offending people who are currently in or plan to create non-traditional family structures.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I am not inclined to forego a subject of debate because it risks offending people.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I appreciate the conclusion RbR draws--that the shift in family demographics was a result of the social revolutions in the 60s and 70s, not their cause. The question LTG raises is what impact this shift in family demographics will have on society going forward.

So far there is little evidence, if any, that this demographic shift has harmed the Millennial generation. There is actually better evidence, I believe, that the current generation is in fact doing quite well. But since most of the Millennials have yet to build families of their own, the jury is probably still out regarding some of the potential concerns LTG raises regarding parenthood.

Regarding fatherhood, the detailed report provides some food for thought. The data show (Table 1) that the 26.4% of children living with only one parent consists of 23.2% single moms and 3.2% single dads. That's about 2.5 million single fathers. Another fascinating little item concerns the presence of stepchildren (Table 3). While 15.2% of all fathers have at least one stepchild, adopted child, or foster child in their households, only 5.6% of all mothers have any non-biological children in their household. Not sure what that means... maybe fathers are more likely to remarry than mothers?

Lauri said...

I think that last item means the opposite. Women who remarry bring their children to the new marriage, therefore 15.2% of all fathers have children in their household that are not their bio kids. However, men when they remarry -- their kids stay with the bio mom, not the step mom. At least as far as primary residence goes.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I think Lauri is right. This means that single mothers (whether divorced or otherwise) do get married (or re-married) in large numbers.

Dr. Strangelove said...

In my defense, I *did* say that I was not sure what to make of it :-)

Now I see Lauri is right: it probably just means that, as most people believe, in divorce mothers are more likely than fathers to end up with custody of their own children.

USwest said...

While the numbers here don't refelct this, NPR talked a while back about the "single Parent" issue. They pointed out that "singe" doesn't mean "unmarried". With the economy being the way it is and with two wars,peace keeping actions, and back to back military deployments, many fathers are off solidering. this creates "single" moms, and in some instances "single" dads.

I have a friend here who has been mothering two active girls alone for a nearly a year while her husband, a national guardsman, is serving in Kosovo. He had a 15 month tour and isn't done yet. She did it for 6 months before that while he went for training. My sister-in-law has faced the same situation.