The Changing Nature of the American Household

September 3, 2013

This article is included in these additional categories:

Boomers & Older

Census-Changing-US-Household-Types-1970-2012-Sept2013Marketers often look at household groups, whether they be TV households or high-income households. But what does the typical American household look like? A new study [pdf] from the Census Bureau analyzing a couple of its broader population surveys shows that the constitution of the American household has evolved considerably in the past 4 decades or so, such that there really is no typical household type anymore. For example, as of last year, so-called “nuclear families” accounted for just 19.6% of US households, down from 40.3% in 1970.

While the percentage of households made up of married couples with children has seen a marked decline, other household types have grown more common. Men living alone now represent 12.3% of all households, up from 8.6% in 1980 and just 5.6% in 1970. Additionally, women living alone account for 15.2% of all households, up from 11.5% in 1970.

To be fair, the biggest changes in household dynamics occurred between 1970 and 1980, as the above chart illustrates. But each of those trends has only continued to strengthen since 1980: in the past decade alone, the share of households counted as married couples with children has dropped by almost 5% points.

Households are increasingly limited to a single individual: last year, more than one-quarter of households were either men or women living alone. Interestingly, women aged 65 and older represented one-quarter of such one-person households last year, compared to just 10.4% for men of those ages. Given that disparity, one might expect that the share of households maintained by older women has grown over time, while declining for men. However, the opposite is actually true: back in 1980, women aged 65 and up represented 31.8% of single-person households; men of that age accounted for just 7.6%.

Other Findings:

  • The number of households with children under 18 who had at least one unemployed parent grew from 2.4 million in 2005 to 3.2 million in 2011.
  • There were 605,000 same-sex couple households in 2011 (both married and unmarried), of which 321,000 were female couples and 284,000 were male.
  • 72% of men aged 65 and up lived with their spouse last year, compared to 45% of women in that age bracket.

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