Moms Columns & Blogs

Kids living in 'traditional' families on the decline

By Heidi Stevens

Chicago Tribune


Less than half of American kids live in a "traditional" home, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of 2013 American Community Survey data.

Forty-six percent of children younger than 18 live with two heterosexual parents in their first marriage, compared to 61 percent with such an arrangement in 1980 and 73 percent in 1960.

A jump in the number of kids born to unmarried mothers accounts for much of the shift away from tradition. The percentage of kids born outside of marriage is now 41, compared to just 5 percent in 1960, according to Pew.

"Thirty-four percent of children today are living with an unmarried parent - up from just 9 percent in 1960, and 19 percent in 1980," the study says.

A point worth noting, however: Children whose parents are in a same-sex marriage are folded into the "single parent" column because of Pew's concerns about the reliability of gay marriage data. So in some ways, our data collection hasn't caught up with our social progress.

Another point worth noting: Fifteen percent of kids live with two parents who are in a remarriage, according to the study. Meaning at least 61 percent of kids (46 plus 15) are living in households with two parents - even more if we consider all the partnered same-sex parents who were counted as "single" here.

So while some will read this data as a societal shunning of traditional values, I read it - at least in part - as a societal willingness to embrace an ever-widening definition of family.We're increasingly able to shape our lives in ways that would have been socially impossible in decades past - extracting ourselves from unhappy marriages, creating homes with committed same-sex partners and fulfilling lifelong dreams of parenthood despite marital status.

Certainly children enjoy countless advantages when they're raised in homes with two loving, engaged parents. There's no question. But an honest look at the data indicates the number of children living with two parents hasn't dipped since 1980, and has possibly even risen.

It's also worth considering the newly released National Child and Youth Well-Being, produced annually by Duke University, which shows that violent crimes, suicide rates and teen births have decreased significantly in the past two decades, as have smoking and binge drinking. High school graduation rates, bachelor's degrees earned and preschool enrollments, meanwhile, are on the rise.

Change can be good. So can tradition. Thankfully, we live in a world with room enough for both.

Twitter @heidistevens13

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