Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Single-adult households have displaced two-parent families with children as the most common kind of U.S. household, the Census Bureau reported yesterday.

The change demonstrates “the growing complexity” of American households, researchers said in a new report, “Examining American Household Composition: 1990 and 2000.”

“It’s breathtaking how many people still think that the ‘mom, pop and two kids’ is the majority of households,” said Peter Francese, the founder of American Demographics magazine.

Nuclear-family households — two married parents and a child — were the most common as recently as 1990, when there were 25 million such households.

But by 2000, nuclear-family households fell to second place, both because there were almost a half-million fewer of these type of homes and because the number of single-adult households surged past 27 million.

Married households without children remained the third most common, with 20 million in 1990 and 22 million in 2000.

Mr. Francese, who has studied U.S. demographic trends for 35 years, said single-adult households are continuing to grow and might even hit 34 million by the 2010 census.

This is because people are most likely to live alone “at either end of the life cycle” — in youth or as senior citizens — he said, and baby boomers are just starting to move into their 60s.

The sex disparity — more women live alone than men — is also likely to continue, he said. Women are most likely to live alone because of the death or divorce of a partner. Already, among those 65 or older, there are 6 million more women than men.

In contrast, he said, men are most likely to live alone if they’ve never married, and both widowers and divorced men are likely to find a partner.

However, not all of those adults living alone are living completely alone, said Mr. Francese, who tracks trends for the Ogilvy & Mather marketing communications firm.

Professional, commuter couples might live alone during the week, but share weekends together, he said. Single parents might regularly have their children in the home, and single adults might have lengthy visits from friends or lovers.

“There is a tremendous diversity in this [living-alone] group,” he said.

In its report, the Census Bureau also found an increase in multigenerational households.

Fifty-five percent, or 57.7 million of the 105 million U.S. households, had only one generation living in it, researchers wrote, referring to a person who lives alone or who lives with a spouse, unmarried partner or sibling.

However, 41 percent of households included people from two generations, such as a child or a grandparent, and 3.9 percent of households had three generations. The latter category saw the most dramatic growth, rising from 3 million multigenerational households in 1990 to 4.1 million in 2000.

The bureau offered details on the “top 20” types of living arrangements because those represented 92 percent of all U.S. households. However, the nation’s broad diversity in living arrangements can be seen in the 786,000 possible household combinations that the bureau now tracks, researchers said.

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