America's Families - Households

people born census foreign

Historically, families have accounted for the majority of all households, but that picture changed significantly during the latter half of the twentieth century. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2002 only 68% of households fit the bureau's definition of a family (with 52% constituting "family/married couples," 16% categorized as "other family," and 32% described as "nonfamily."

Americans began to live longer, marry later, or not marry at all, and had fewer children. Some married couples chose to remain childless. Since the 1960s an increasing number of couples chose to simply live together rather than formalize their union through marriage. Other individuals shared living space with roommates or boarders. More people who elected to remain single became parents through out-of-wedlock births, surrogate births, and adoption. Similarly, gay and lesbian couples established families. Divorce became more common and remarriage often created "yours-mine-and-ours" blended families. Adult offspring with personal or financial difficulties returned home to live with their parents. Grandparents looking forward to retirement sometimes found themselves raising grandchildren. Finally, increased longevity required some senior citizens to live with their children or other family members who could care for them. All of these factors contributed to the changing profile of the American family.

According to Census statistics, family households declined from 90% of all households in 1940 to 68% in 2002. There were 109.3 million households in the United States in 2002, about 74.3 million of which were family households. Of these, 56.7 million were designated "married couple" and 17.6 million were "other family" households in Census Bureau terminology. Another 34.9 million households fit the "nonfamily" category.

Household Size

Census data show a decrease in the number of people living together in households over the past century. In 1900 the average household included 4.6 people. Between 1960 and 2002 the total number of households more than

TABLE 1.1

Households by size, 1960–2002
(Numbers in thousands)
Year All households One person Two persons Three persons Four persons Five persons Six persons Seven or more persons Persons per household
rRevised based on population from the decennial census for that year.
sData for March 2001 and later use population controls based on Census 2000 and an expanded sample of households designed to improve state estimates of children with health insurance.
SOURCE: "Households by Size, 1960–Present," in Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2003 Current Population Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, 2003, http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/hh-fam/tabHH-4.pdf (accessed July 16,2004)
2002 109,297 28,775 36,240 17,742 15,794 6,948 2,438 1,360 2.58
2001s 108,209 28,207 35,917 17,444 15,692 6,978 2,555 1,415 2.58
2000 104,705 26,724 34,666 17,172 15,309 6,981 2,445 1,428 2.62
1999 103,874 26,606 34,262 17,386 15,030 6,962 2,367 1,261 2.61
1998 102,528 26,327 32,965 17,331 15,358 7,048 2,232 1,267 2.62
1997 101,018 25,402 32,736 17,065 15,396 6,774 2,311 1,334 2.64
1996 99,627 24,900 32,526 16,724 15,118 6,631 2,357 1,372 2.65
1995 98,990 24,732 31,834 16,827 15,321 6,616 2,279 1,382 2.65
1994 97,107 23,611 31,211 16,898 15,073 6,749 2,186 1,379 2.67
1993r 96,426 23,558 31,041 16,964 14,997 6,404 2,217 1,244 2.66
1993 96,391 23,642 31,175 16,895 14,926 6,357 2,180 1,215 2.63
1992 95,669 23,974 30,734 16,398 14,710 6,389 2,126 1,338 2.62
1991 94,312 23,590 30,181 16,082 14,556 6,206 2,237 1,459 2.63
1990 93,347 22,999 30,114 16,128 14,456 6,213 2,143 1,295 2.63
1989 92,830 22,708 29,976 16,276 14,550 6,232 2,003 1,084 2.62
1988 91,066 21,889 29,295 16,163 14,143 6,081 2,176 1,320 2.64
1987 89,479 21,128 28,602 16,159 13,984 6,162 2,176 1,268 2.66
1986 88,458 21,178 27,732 16,088 13,774 6,276 2,138 1,272 2.67
1985 86,789 20,602 27,389 15,465 13,631 6,108 2,299 1,296 2.69
1984 85,407 19,954 26,890 15,134 13,593 6,070 2,372 1,394 2.71
1983 83,918 19,250 26,439 14,793 13,303 6,105 2,460 1,568 2.73
1982 83,527 19,354 26,486 14,617 12,868 6,103 2,480 1,619 2.72
1981 82,368 18,936 25,787 14,569 12,768 6,117 2,549 1,643 2.73
1980 80,776 18,296 25,327 14,130 12,666 6,059 2,519 1,778 2.76
1979 77,330 17,201 23,928 13,392 12,274 6,187 2,573 1,774 2.78
1978 76,030 16,715 23,334 13,040 11,955 6,356 2,723 1,906 2.81
1977 74,142 15,532 22,775 12,794 11,630 6,285 2,864 2,263 2.86
1976 72,867 14,983 22,321 12,520 11,407 6,268 3,001 2,367 2.89
1975 71,120 13,939 21,753 12,384 11,103 6,399 3,059 2,484 2.94
1974 69,859 13,368 21,495 11,913 10,900 6,469 3,063 2,651 2.97
1973 68,251 12,635 20,632 11,804 10,739 6,426 3,245 2,769 3.01
1972 66,676 12,189 19,482 11,542 10,679 6,431 3,374 2,979 3.06
1971 64,778 11,446 18,892 11,071 10,059 6,640 3,435 3,234 3.11
1970 63,401 10,851 18,333 10,949 9,991 6,548 3,534 3,195 3.14
1969 62,214 10,401 18,034 10,769 9,778 6,387 3,557 3,288 3.21
1968 60,813 9,802 17,377 10,577 9,623 6,319 3,627 3,488 3.00
1967 59,236 9,200 16,770 10,403 9,559 6,276 3,491 3,550 3.30
1966 58,406 9,093 16,679 9,993 9,465 6,257 3,465 3,465 3.32
1965 57,436 8,631 16,119 10,263 9,269 6,313 3,327 3,514 3.32
1964 56,149 7,821 15,622 10,034 9,565 6,328 3,373 3,405 3.34
1963 55,270 7,501 15,279 9,989 9,445 6,240 3,473 3,342 3.33
1962 54,764 7,473 15,461 10,077 9,347 6,016 3,368 3,022 3.32
1961 53,557 7,112 15,185 9,780 9,390 6,052 3,085 2,953 3.38
1960 52,799 6,917 14,678 9,979 9,293 6,072 3,010 2,851 3.35

doubled from 52,799 to 109,297. During this same period, household size dropped 23%, from an average of 3.35 people per household in 1960 to 2.58 in 2002. The number of single-person households quadrupled. Three- and four-person families—couples with one or two children—remained relatively stable.

In 2002, Census data revealed that the percentage of six-person families was 19% lower than in 1960 and families with seven or more persons occurred 50% less frequently. (See Table 1.1.) Despite the smaller overall number of large families in 2000, the frequency of large families had begun to increase in 1989. Over the next twelve years, six-person families increased 20%, and families with seven or more persons increased more than 30%. (See Table 1.1.) This trend paralleled a growth in immigration during the same period.

IMMIGRATION AND LARGER HOUSEHOLD SIZE. According to the Census Bureau's report The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2003, 36.6% of the foreign-born population in the United States arrived in the decade 1990–99. Another 13.6% of the foreign-born population entered the United States after 1999. Of foreign-born households, 25% included five or more people compared to 12.5% of native households. (See Figure 1.1.)

TABLE 1.2

Family size in foreign-born households by geographic origin of householder, 20031,2,3
(Numbers in thousands)
World region of birth
Foreign born Europe Asia Latin America Other areas
Household type and size Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
–Represents or rounds to zero.
1Households with a foreign-born householder are defined as foreign-born households, regardless of the nativity of other household members.
2The majority of those born in 'Latin America' are from Mexico. Those born in 'Other Areas' are from Africa, Oceania, and Northern America.
3The data in this table do not include the population living in group quarters.
4Households in which at least one member is related to the person who owns or rents the house (householder).
SOURCE: "Table 3.4. Household Type among Foreign-Born Households by Size and by World Region of Birth of the Householder: 2003," in Annual Social and Economic Supplement: 2003 Current Population Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, 2003, http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/foreign/ppl-174/tab03-04.pdf (accessed August 10. 2004)
Total all households 13,912 100.0 2,296 100.0 3,490 100.0 6,901 100.0 1,224 100.0
One person 2,488 17.9 647 28.2 661 18.9 869 12.6 310 25.3
Two people 3,429 24.6 877 38.2 872 25.0 1,354 19.6 325 26.5
Three people 2,574 18.5 343 14.9 723 20.7 1,293 18.7 215 17.6
Four people 2,710 19.5 277 12.0 727 20.8 1,475 21.4 231 18.9
Five people 1,488 10.7 105 4.6 309 8.8 994 14.4 81 6.6
Six people 684 4.9 36 1.6 112 3.2 498 7.2 38 3.1
Seven or more people 540 3.9 11 0.5 87 2.5 419 6.1 24 1.9
Total family households4 10,700 100.0 1,529 100.0 2,641 100.0 5,698 100.0 832 100.0
Two people 2,952 27.6 783 51.2 725 27.4 1,182 20.7 262 31.5
Three people 2,434 22.7 326 21.4 693 26.2 1,211 21.3 203 24.4
Four people 2,642 24.7 269 17.6 717 27.1 1,430 25.1 227 27.3
Five people 1,468 13.7 103 6.7 307 11.6 980 17.2 77 9.3
Six people 667 6.2 36 2.4 112 4.2 481 8.4 38 4.6
Seven or more people 536 5.0 11 0.7 87 3.3 414 7.3 24 2.8
Total nonfamily households 3,213 100.0 768 100.0 849 100.0 1,203 100.0 393 100.0
One person 2,488 77.4 647 84.3 661 77.9 869 72.3 310 78.9
Two people 477 14.8 94 12.3 147 17.4 172 14.3 63 16.0
Three people 140 4.4 17 2.2 29 3.4 82 6.8 12 3.1
Four people 67 2.1 8 1.0 10 1.2 45 3.7 4 1.1
Five people 20 0.6 2 0.2 1 0.1 14 1.1 4 0.9
Six people 17 0.5 17 1.4
Seven or more people 4 0.1 4 0.4

The largest number of foreign-born residents came from Latin American countries, and they had the largest families with five or more people in 32.9% of family households. They were also the only foreign-born group with more than five people reported in nonfamily households. (See Table 1.2.)

OTHER FACTORS INFLUENCED HOUSEHOLD SIZE. Changes in rates of fertility, marriage, divorce, and mortality all contributed to declines in the size of American households. Between 1950 and 2001 U.S. Census figures show the total death rate declined 11.5% and infant mortality rates plummeted 76.7%. Americans were healthier and lived longer. During this same period, however, the birth rate dropped 41.5%. The rate of marriage declined 24.3% while the divorce rate rose 53.8%. (See Table 1.3.)

In the twenty-first century, American life expectancy continued to increase. A baby boy born in 1900 could expect to live 46.3 years compared to 74.4 years for a boy born in 2001. (See Table 1.4.) In a February 2004 news release, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that life expectancy in the United States reached an all-time high in 2002, but the infant mortality rate increased for the first time since 1958. The preliminary report noted increases in low birth-weight babies, preterm births, and multiple births as factors contributing to higher risk of infant death during the first twenty-eight days of life. Overall death rates continued to decline. The divorce rate fell, but so did the marriage rate. The live birth rate and fertility rate, however, both increased slightly. (See Table 1.5.)

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