The Changing Face of the American Family

Over the past 50+ years the U.S. has seen more female breadwinners, more single mothers, more divorces, more college degrees, more births out of wedlock, but less religion. In 2012, for the first time since records began in 1940, less than half (48.4%) of all households contained a husband and wife. The turn of the millennium marked the first time that less than a quarter (23.5%) of households had a married man and woman with one or more children. We’ve come a long way from a country where 45% of households were these nuclear families in 1960.

A recent report from Pew Research found that 40% of all households with children under 18 have a woman bringing in the most money. This statistic is a bit disingenuous, however. Only about 15% of all households with children have a married woman with a higher income than her husband. A quarter of U.S. households with children are led be single mothers. That is up from 7% in 1960.

This coincides with a rise in children being born out of wedlock. Back in 1970, only 11% of births occurred to unmarried women. Now the rate is up to 48%, almost half of all births. Part of the reason for this is that people are waiting longer to become married, although people are also waiting longer to have children. The average age of a mother when she has her first child was 25.1 in 2008, up from 21 in 1970. However, now the average age of marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men, indicating that the average woman today has her first child before getting married. In fact, over half of births to women under 30 occur outside of marriage.

It will take years before the effects of these drastic changes in society are understood. What is certain, however, is that the white picket fence family of the 1950s is gone forever. What has taken its place is a myriad of divergent family structures, from stay at home dads to single working moms, and even some traditional mom and pop throwbacks.

Additional Resources

The Washington Post, Nearly 40 Percent of Mothers are now the Family Breadwinners, Report Says:

Pew Research, Breadwinner Moms:

Baby Center, Surprising Facts about Birth in the United States:

CDC, Unmarried Childbearing:

Harvard, The Changing Face of Households with Children in Large Metropolitan Areas:

MetLife, The New American Family:

PRB, U.S. Economic and Social Trends Since 2000:


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