8/1/2012: During the Great Recession, More Young Adults Lived with Parents


Changing Family Structures in America

Zhenchao Qian ( Ohio State University)

Qian will create a descriptive portrait of changes in family structure, with a special emphasis on gender and racial/ethnic differences and geographic variations. Using the 2010 and earlier censuses and the 2005-2010 American Community Surveys (ACS), his research will highlight several trends.

Marriage rates have declined over the years. The weakened connection between marriage and childbearing, the growing popularity of nonmarital cohabitation, the stable high divorce rates, and the declining remarriage rates have all contributed to the decline in marriage rates.

The rise in cohabitation has made up for the decline in marriage rates, but cohabitation is a short-lived living arrangement, many only lasting one to two years. Qian will document trends in percentage of a householder living with an “opposite sex” unmarried partner (cohabitation) by age group and race/ethnicity. He will also examine the well-being of children in homes with frequent transitory marital and cohabiting unions, as well as trends for children living in married-couple, cohabiting-couple, same-sex-couple, male-headed, female-headed, extended and multigenerational families.

Although the effort to legalize same-sex marriage has met strong opposition in many parts of the country, gays and lesbians in the U.S. have become more visible. Are gay and lesbian couple households concentrated in particular geographic areas?

Interracial marriage reflects racial and cultural diversity in American families. Recent increases in interracial marriage have narrowed the “social distance” between racial groups; Qian will demonstrate trends in intermarriage with whites for blacks, Asian Americans, American Indians and Hispanics. He also plans to track trends in the marriage rates of black women, especially those who are highly educated, at a time where there are more black man/white woman marriages than the reverse.

Overall, the fundamental changes in American families have important implications for American children.

“With increasing shares of minority populations, Americans can no longer be viewed in simple black and white or even single-race terms,” Qian said. “Intermarriage connects married couples, families, friends, and social networks of different racial/ethnic groups; the growing population of mixed-race individuals from intermarriage further blurs racial boundaries and adds another dimension of diversity in American families.”


© Spatial Structures in Social Sciences, Brown University