April 25, 2018

For the first time since the U.S. Census Bureau began tabulating family data, the percentage of U.S. households with a traditional husband-and-wife at the helm has dropped below the 50% mark. This “changing of the guard” is corroborated by other statistics.

According to recently released results of the 2010 Census, only 48% of all households include a married husband and wife, compared to 52% when the same data was last tabulated in 2000. Hearkening back to a completely different era, the 1950 census showed that traditional couples resided in 78% of American homes.

The Evolution of the American Family on Television

Decades ago, traditional families were the norm on television with a Mom and Dad who usually had a couple kids.

On “I Love Lucy,” which premiered in 1951, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo shared their lives as a housewife and a nightclub singer with their son “Little Ricky.” They were soon joined on television by the Nelsons on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” and the Andersons on “Father Knows Best.”

And who could forget the adorable, idealized Cleaver family in “Leave it to Beaver,” which debuted in 1957?

Television family portrayal gradually changed. Single parents were introduced in the 1960s, but they were generally widows (“Julia,” “The Partridge Family”) and widowers (“My Three Sons”).

The first blended family, “The Brady Bunch,” featured Mike, a widower, and his wife Carol — although viewers never found out exactly how her first marriage ended.

The next few decades featured more diverse families and households. On “Kate and Allie,” two divorcees raised their kids together in New York.

“Who’s the Boss” featured a single working mother who lived with her son, a male housekeeper and his daughter. On “Full House,” widower Danny Tanner raised his three daughters with their two uncles.

“Frasier” lived across the country from his ex-wife and son. “The Gilmore Girls” followed the adventures of Lorelai, who got pregnant at age 16 and raised her daughter, Rory, alone.

“Will and Grace” lived together as a gay man and his best friend who considered having a child together. “Reba” became friends with her ex-husband’s new wife. And on “Modern Family,” same-sex couple Mitchell and Cam adopt a Vietnamese baby.The data comes from a census question asking the relationship of each member of the household to the “householder” — or the person who owns or rents the housing unit. (If there is no such person in the household, any household member 15 years old and over can be designated as the householder.)

Regional Differences

The percentages of household data did vary widely from state to state. The highest percentages of husband-wife households go to:

  • Far and away, Utah with 61%.
  • Idaho with 55.3%.
  • New Hampshire, which comes in at 52.1%.

According to the data, the lowest number of husband-wife households can be found in:

  • The District of Columbia with 22%.
  • New York with 43.6%.
  • Louisiana with 44.4%
  • Rhode Island with 44.5%.

Here are the percentages for the rest of the states:

  • Alabama 47.9%
  • Missouri 48.4%
  • Alaska 49.4%
  • Montana 49.2%
  • Arizona 48.1%
  • Nebraska 50.8%
  • Arkansas 49.5%
  • Nevada 46%
  • California 49.4%
  • New Jersey 51.1%
  • Colorado 49.2%
  • New Mexico 45.3%
  • Connecticut 49%
  • North Carolina 48.4%
  • Delaware 48.3%
  • North Dakota 48.6%
  • Florida 46.6%
  • Ohio 47.2%
  • Georgia 47.8%
  • Oklahoma 49.5
  • Hawaii 50.5%
  • Oregon 48.3%
  • Illinois 48.2%
  • Pennsylvania 48.2%
  • Indiana 49.6%
  • South Carolina 47.2%
  • Iowa 51.2%
  • South Dakota 50.1%
  • Kansas 51.1%
  • Tennessee 48.7%
  • Kentucky 49.3
  • Texas 50.6%
  • Maine 48.5%
  • Vermont 48.5%
  • Maryland 47.6%
  • Virginia 50.2%
  • Massachusetts 46.3%
  • Washington 49.2%
  • Michigan 48%
  • West Virginia 49.8%
  • Minnesota 50.8
  • Wisconsin 49.6%
  • Mississippi 45.4
  • Wyoming 50.9%

More Trends

Other figures in the 2010 Census Bureau revealed several interesting trends. Here’s the raw data:

  • Male householders with no spouse present comprised 5.9% (up from 4.2% in 2000).
  • Female householders with no spouse present made up 13.1% (up from 12.2% in 2000).
  • Non-family households amounted to 33.6 percent (up from 31.9% in 2000). A non-family household consists of a householder living alone or with non-relatives only, for example, with roommates or an unmarried partner.
  • Unmarried couple households were reported to be 6.6% (up from 5.2% in 2000). Of these, opposite-sex partners comprised 5.9% (up from 4.6% in 2000) and same-sex partners were 0.8% (up from 0.6% in 2000).
  • Foreign-born households are, on average, larger than native-born households, have more children under age 18, and are more likely to be multigenerational.
  • Inter-racial or inter-ethnic opposite-sex married couple households grew from 7% in 2000 to 10% in 2010.

As you can see, the latest figures reflect changing lifestyles in America, including trends of opposite-sex couples living together and waiting longer to get married, a high incidence of same-sex couples living together, alternate living arrangements both with and without children, and a “graying” of America with one spouse often outliving the other by a significant number of years (due to medical advances).

Related data points to an upswing in divorces.

  • Going by region, the South and West had the most marriages, with rates of roughly 19 per 1,000, but it also led in divorces with about 10 per 1,000 in each region.
  • Maine, Alaska, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Nevada, were the states ranked highest for divorces, while Utah, Wyoming and Arkansas — the states with the highest marriage rates — were also higher than average in marital break-ups.
  • States with lower-than-average divorce rates included New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.
  • The Census Bureau attributed the lower rates of divorce in the Northeast in part to delayed marriage in those places. It stands to reason that divorce rates would be not be as high when there is a shorter time period for marital discord to occur.

Bottom line: For the first time on record, the “traditional” American household is actually in the minority. The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census be taken in the United States every 10 years. You can expect the trend towards diverse living arrangements to continue over the next decade.

© 2018