Thursday, February 21, 2008

America’s family trends held steady in 2004, with most American children living with their married biological parents, a new federal report says.

In the 1970s, U.S. family trends went through major changes, but since the 1990s, “for the most part, it’s pretty level,” said Rose M. Kreider, author of the Census Bureau report, “Living Arrangements of Children: 2004,” released yesterday.

The health of the American family remains a hot topic in social science. But researchers generally agree that a cultural acceptance of premarital sex, birth control, no-fault divorce, women entering the work force, unwed co-habiting, unwed childbearing and single parenting, as well as welfare laws that discouraged poor families from having “a man in the house,” all have been big influences.

Yesterday’s report said that in 2004 almost 70 percent of the nation’s 73 million children lived with two parents, while about 27 percent lived with one parent. A small minority of children lived with someone other than their parents, most often grandparents or other relatives.

The most popular family type remained the nuclear family: Nearly 43 million children, or 58 percent, lived with their married biological parents.

The number of children in two-parent homes swelled even larger, to 51 million, when adoptive parents, remarried parents and unmarried-but-cohabiting parents were added in.

Another 19 million children lived in single-parent homes, nearly 17 million with their mothers.

Of the 2.8 million children who lived without any parent, 1.5 million lived with grandparents and another 641,000 lived with other relatives.

Last year, the federal government reported that 4.2 million children were born in 2006 —the most since 1961 — and the total fertility rate rose to the healthy population-replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman.

A reason for this may be that Americans are successfully melding work and family, said Steven Martin, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Maryland, who recently wrote a paper on family trends for the Council on Contemporary Families. “Compared to other countries,” he said, “we might have greater opportunities within the workplace culture for mothers to be able to advance.”

“A lot of moms waited to become mothers until their 30s…and a lot of us have waited because we don’t want to make mistakes we’ve seen other people make,” said Alicia Murray, a married mother who writes the “Balancing Motherhood” blog.

“But it’s still a juggling act” with a husband, young family and career, she said yesterday. “We still have to figure everything out.”

Other report highlights:

• About 1.1 million children lived with a parent who had a divorce in the last year.

• Around 29 million children lived with two or more siblings, 28 million lived with one sibling and 16 million lived with no siblings.

• There were an estimated 1.5 million adopted children in 2004, slightly more that the 1.1 million seen in the 1991 Survey of Income and Program Participation.

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