For Immediate Release
Contact: Virginia Rutter
email@example.com / 206 375 4139
CCF UPDATE: American family life continues to diversify. But children in two-parent and single-parent families alike face new economic and educational challenges.
February 26, MIAMI, FL— Rates of teenage childbearing – in or out of wedlock — have fallen sharply since the early 1990s, and the divorce rate has declined since the late 1970s and early 1980s. But the diversification of American family structures continues unabated, reports University of Texas sociologist Shannon Cavanagh in a review of new census data prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families.
Between 1960 and 2014, Cavanagh reveals, the percentage of children living in a mother-only household tripled, from 8 to 24 percent. There are now more children living in single-mother households than in male breadwinner-female homemaker families. Only 4 percent of children live with a single father, but this is a four-fold increase since 1960.
In 1960, 9 out of 10 children lived in two-parent households; today fewer than 7 out of 10 do so. And this figure, Cavanagh points out, understates the extent of change. Demographers estimate that half of all children will spend some part of their childhood outside a married-couple nuclear family.
Cavanagh discusses the complex relationship between education, family structure, and poverty. Children in married-couple families, she confirms, are less likely to be poor than children in single-parent families, especially when their parents have a college education. But people from low-income backgrounds are less likely to marry and much more likely to divorce than individuals from higher-income families. And access to education, as well as to marriage, has become increasingly unequal over the past 40 years. Between 1970 and 2013, the percentage of youths from high-income families who had earned a four-year college degree or higher by age 24 rose from 40 to 77 percent. But the percentage of young people from the lowest income bracket who had earned a degree rose much more modestly, from 6 to 9 percent.
Financial security helps children more than a particular family structure. While having two parents may help in keeping children out of poverty, writes Cavanagh, it is no guarantee: Witness the fact that that there are almost as many poor or near-poor children in two-parent families as in one-parent ones. She explains, “Financial security, even more than household composition, shapes children’s everyday experiences in ways that contribute to growing inequality.” For example, as Sandra Hofferth reported last month in another study for CCF, financial resources are a better predictor of participation in extracurricular activities than family structure. And access to such activities in turn predicts better academic achievement. “Although having a second parent in the household may be important, having financial resources may be even more important, and having a second parent by no means guarantees such resources,” concludes Cavanagh.
Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s Director of Research and Public Education, notes that this report confirms two trends that family researchers have been seeing for several years now. “First, there is no longer any such thing as ‘the typical’ American family – and most people will experience several different family or living arrangements over the course of their lives. Second, the marriage gap is more result than cause of increasing inequality. Claiming that we wouldn’t need anti-poverty programs if everyone got married and completed college is like saying we wouldn’t need bridges if everyone got a boat.” Coontz asks us to consider this: of the 25 fastest growing occupations, 20 do not require a college education nor do most pay a living family wage. “Most Americans, whatever their political ideology, are concerned about the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. We cannot have a reasoned discussion of possible solutions if we don’t understand the complex interactions between economic trends, educational opportunities, and family stability,” concludes Coontz.
Link here to read the full briefing report, An Analysis of New Census Data on Family Structure, Education, and Income.
For Further Information
Contact Shannon Cavanagh, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Sociology & Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, 512.471.8319, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Council on Contemporary Families, based at the University of Miami, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of family researchers and practitioners that seeks to further a national understanding of how America’s families are changing and what is known about the strengths and weaknesses of different family forms and various family interventions.
The Council helps keep journalists informed of notable work on family-related issues via the CCF Network. To join the CCF Network, or for further media assistance, please contact Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education, at email@example.com, cell 360-556-9223.
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DATE: February 26, 2015