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It's Complicated

Meet The New American Family

According to a recent report by trend forecaster Irma Zandl and her team at The Zandl Group, the make-up of the American family has changed drastically — and shifts in women's roles, in particular, have played a large part in its evolution. The report notes that "women are increasingly educated and upwardly mobile, with rising income levels ... their reliance on a husband's earnings is waning, contributing to the decline in marriage." However, this doesn't mean we are less family-oriented as a culture. Rather, families are becoming increasingly flexible in structure. As more couples choose to cohabitate instead of marry and more women in their 30s and 40s have kids on their own, the so-called nuclear family is an icon of the past. Here's a look at what constitutes a typical family today ... —Glo

By Kristen Meinzer for YourTango

It goes without saying that we no longer live in the time of the Huxtables (much less the Cleavers). But what makes families today different from how they used to be? With the help of Census data and recent studies on child-rearing, work and marriage — including a new book by New York Times columnist Tara Parker Pope entitled For Better: The Science Of A Good Marriage we've narrowed down seven qualities that characterize the new American family:

1. Lower Overall Divorce Rates

Contrary to what the naysayers and celebrity cheating scandals might have you believe, traditional marriage has not gone the way of the dogs. In fact, divorce rates have been falling since the 1970s, according to Pope's book. "Changing patterns of marriage and divorce have improved the odds of staying married," she writes. "Divorce is getting less common."

2. Longer Marriages

According to the Census Bureau, in the 1950s, few women attended college and the average marriage age was 20. Today, women make up 58 percent of the students on our nation's college campuses and, on average, wait until they're 26 to walk down the aisle. What does this mean? That they can plan on being married a very long time. According to a study by Betsey Stevenson at the Wharton School of Economics, just over 80 percent of college-educated couples who tied the knot after the age of 25 will stay together long enough to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversaries.

3. Happier Parents

According to the Pew Research Center, in 1990, teens had more kids than women over 35 (13 percent and 9 percent respectively). But in 2008, the reverse was true — 10 percent of births were to teens, compared with 14 percent to women 35 and older. At the same time, mothers in recent years have been more educated (54 percent attended some college, compared to 41 percent in 1990). And birth rates have been declining — in 1960 families had, on average, 3.6 children; in 2008, the average family had 2.1 kids. Today, many children are born to parents who both want and are ready for them — 87 percent of parents now say they had their first child for “the joy” of it.

4. More DIY and Non-Nuclear Families

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage — at least, that's what our grandparents told us. But things have changed a lot since their time. In 1960, only nine percent of children lived in a step-family arrangement; in 2003, nearly a third did. Also disrupting the aged sing-song, in 2006 nearly 57,000 babies were born via assisted reproductive technologies, and, in 2007, roughly 40 percent of women who gave birth were unmarried, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Are these numbers proof that the family unit is no longer valued or upheld? Or do they suggest that we're more open to, and benefit from, a variety of family arrangements? We think the latter.

5. More Parent-Child Time

According to an article Pope recently wrote for the New York Times, prior to 1995, mothers spent 12 hours a week with their children. By 2007, that number was 21 hours for college-educated moms and 16 hours for those with less education. For dads, the hours more than doubled among the college-educated (from 4.5 hours to 9.6 hours) and nearly doubled among those with less education (from 3.7 hours to 6.8 hours). While these numbers show that women are still doing the majority of the diapering and doctors' appointments, they also indicate two happier facts: Men are taking their parenting duties more seriously and children are getting more time with the grown-ups they love the most.

6. An Increase In Shared Housework

Women still do about two-thirds of the housework in dual-income families, according to the University of Wisconsin National Survey of Families and Households. But men do far more dusting and washing than they used to. In the past fifty years, men's contributions to housework have doubled. And as one might hope, this bodes well for the state of marriage. American couples who share employment and housework responsibilities are less likely to divorce than couples who don't, according to research by Lynn Prince Cooke of the University of Kent.

7. More Female Breadwinners

Although more men than women still work outside the home, with men still earning more money on average than women, significant changes have taken place in the workforce. In 2008, women made up 47 percent of the workforce, compared to 35 percent in 1960, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. At the same time, the percentage of wives who bring home the big bucks has shifted. Today, women are the primary breadwinners in 22 percent of couples, up from merely seven percent in 1970. Not surprisingly, these numbers aren't just good for women — they're also good for marriages. A 2009 report from the Center for American Progress found that in states where more wives had paid jobs, the divorce rate tended to be lower.


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It's Complicated
Meet The New American Family
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