U.S. Historical Living Arrangements of Children: 1880 to 2009

I found this chart in the Census paper Living Arrangements of Children: 2009.

The sudden drop in the percentage of children living with both parents starting in 1970 is profound but not unexpected given the changes which began around the same time with regard to out of wedlock births and divorce.  We are clearly in uncharted territory.  The plateau starting around 1990 is very interesting, and at first glance looks like fairly good news.  Here is the yearly breakdown between married and unmarried couples in Table 1 from the paper (note table is in reverse chronological order and is split between all races on the left and white on the right):

The leveling off in the living arrangements chart appears to be entirely due to the drop in divorce rates which started in the 1980s, because out of wedlock birth rates continue to increase at an alarming rate.  Given that 40% of all babies born in the US in 2007 were out of wedlock and the very small percentage of out of wedlock children who live with both parents, even if divorce rates and out of wedlock birth rates remained constant moving forward I think we can assume that the percent of children in two parent homes would continue to decline to below 60% before leveling off again.  The only way we could avoid this level or greater decline would be if divorce rates continue to fall and/or unmarried parents became a more stable relationship.

Your guess is as good as mine on what we will see in the future.

Edit:  Based on the data in Table 1, the “two parent” figure includes 7.5% of children living with at least one stepparent. Subtracting this from the 68.6% “two parent” figure, this means the real figure is 61.1%

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15 Responses to U.S. Historical Living Arrangements of Children: 1880 to 2009

  1. John VI says:

    Well, we are seeing what is believed to be a direct result of even higher one parent households amoungst black populations in england and the mohogany mobs in the various us cities. More Future oriented time value people may see that as a end result of bad policies and choices, and choose to curb it even further. But the cultural “elites” these days are still choosing to turn a blind eye to it, so thats a counter to sanity I suppose.

    It is fun to watch though

  2. Anonymous Reader says:

    This may be uncharted territory for the US, but it is not uncharted for human beings. I’m sure that there have been other times in history when something that looks like this existed. I do not know how long such situations lasted, or how stable they were, but I’m sure it happened.

    However, I’m not sure that this is the demographic profile of an advanced, industrial society.

  3. greenlander says:

    Given that 40% of all babies born in the US in 2007 were out of wedlock and the very small percentage of out of wedlock children who live with both parents, even if divorce rates and out of wedlock birth rates remained constant moving forward I think we can assume that the percent of children in two parent homes would continue to decline to below 60% before leveling off again. The only way we could avoid this level or greater decline would be if divorce rates continue to fall and/or unmarried parents became a more stable relationship.

    Before I even saw this statement I had the exact same thought just by looking at the graph.

    70% of children in two-parent homes seems high given what’s going on in our culture. It’s sure to go lower.

  4. John says:

    The $64.00 question regarding the figure “70% of children in two-parent homes” is the following:

    Are the “parents” of said children the biological parents of the children involved or is the “father” in these so-called households the second, third or whatever number nothing more than the legally recognized sex partner of the adult female in the “household?”

  5. Dalrock says:

    @John

    Are the “parents” of said children the biological parents of the children involved or is the “father” in these so-called households the second, third or whatever number nothing more than the legally recognized sex partner of the adult female in the “household?”

    Good catch! They call out step parents separately, so I assumed they weren’t counting the latest man mom is shacking up with in the “two parent” category. I was wrong. From page 7:

    Of the 50.8 million children who lived with two parents in 2009, 87 percent (44.5 million) lived with their biological mother and biological father (Table 2).19 An additional 10 percent (5.3 million) lived with a biological parent and a stepparent, usually with a biological mother and a stepfather (4.1 million). About 2 percent of children living with two parents (1.1 million) lived with either two adoptive parents or a combination of an adoptive parent and a biological parent or an adoptive parent and a stepparent.

    Based on the data in Table 1, the “two parent” figure includes 7.5% of children living with at least one stepparent. Subtracting this from the 68.6% “two parent” figure, this means the real figure is 61.1%

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  8. What really matter is the reproductive success of the children living with one parent or two parents with one ore more of them not their biological parents.
    Reproduction is a very complex field, so strange strategies could develop to assure reproductive success in the long term.
    For example, there are hints the female attraction for “bad” guys produce more fit grandsons/grand daughters (at least in some guinea pig where the female choose the male).
    The fitness of this strategy in the long run in high tech civilization is unknown.

  9. Anthony says:

    It would be interesting to see the percentage with step-parents over time.

    I’ll bet it’s a lot harder to find statistics on how many children living with a step-parent (or those not living with their parents at all) are because one (or both) biological parents died.

    Step-parenting has been commonplace in most cultures, including ours. But it’s a fairly new development to find a step-parent where both biological parents are alive.

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  11. Surtur says:

    I know someone with 4 kids with the same guy but they’re not married because then they wouldn’t get any welfare benefits. They all live together but they are not counted that way. i imagine arrangements like this skew the statistics.

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