Marriages decline, divorces climb as families evolve into 21st century By William Harms
The American family, which has undergone a major transformation in the past generation, is poised to change even more in the coming century. Households continue to diverge from the traditional family-structure model of a stay-at-home mother, working father and children, according to a new report from the National Opinion Research Center. Because of divorce, cohabitation and single parenthood, a majority of families rearing children in the next century probably will not include the children’s two biological parents, said Tom Smith, Director of the General Social Survey and author of “The Emerging 21st-Century American Family.” Moreover, most households will not include children. NORC has studied these changing trends in American families since 1972, when it began interviewing Americans about family life for the General Social Survey. Researchers interviewed 2,832 randomly selected people age 18 and older for the most recent survey results. One of the biggest changes in family life between 1972 and 1998 is in parental arrangements for children. In 1972, 73 percent of children lived with their biological parents, who were married. By 1998, 51.7 percent lived in such households. The number of children living with single parents increased from 4.7 percent in 1972 to 18.2 percent in 1998, while the number of children living with two unmarried adults who were formerly married moved from 3.8 percent to 8.6 percent. Cohabitation arrangements and remarriages made up the rest of the group. “Marriage has declined as the central institution under which households are organized and children are raised,” Smith said. “People marry later and divorce and cohabitate more. A growing proportion of children has been born outside of marriage.” In looking at all households, Smith found that the most common arrangement in 1972 was married couples with children (45 percent), while in...
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