WASHINGTON — A recent survey by the U.S. Census Bureau confirms a long-running trend in American families. It seems that only a minority of American families have dependent children at home today, while the percentages of married men and women over the age of 55 has increased.
The annual census, which samples 100,000 U.S. households, measures demographic shifts in families and lifestyles. The 2009 survey — the results of which the Bureau released to the media last week — reveals that no more than 46% of families in the United States have children under 18 living at home. In addition, nearly 40% of American married men are 55 years old or older, and about one-third of married women in the country are at or over 55.
These new statistics show how much family norms have changed over the last century, especially the past 50 years. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 75% of married couples in the United States in the year 1880 had children at home. That percentage dropped to a lower but still healthy 60% by the early 1960s. As of 1968, the percentage of married men 55 and older was under 30%, while the same statistic for women was only 22%.
The trends appear to result from the longer life spans Americans are likely to have today, as well as lower fertility rates. As the divorce rate continues to hover around 50%, it would appear that multiple marriages are becoming the norm in American life, with older couples seeking mutual satisfaction and happiness rather than children in their later marriages.
“This is a massive experiment,” Stephanie Coontz, an author and expert on the history of marriage, told the Chronicle. “People have to try to sustain marriage long past the time people were expected to live, long past the time of childbearing and rearing.”
One wonders how the current economic climate will affect the make-up of American families in the next generation. Will it cause married couples to avoid having children because of limited financial resources? Will it increase or decrease the marriage rate? And how will it affect the divorce rate? Only time will tell.
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