Family Structure

Publication Date:

Aug 23, 2016

Key facts about family structure

  • From 1960 to 2017, the proportion of children living with two married parents fell from 88 percent to 65 percent.
  • Overall, the proportion of children living in each major type of family structure (two married parents, single parent, and no parent) has not changed considerably since 2010, with fluctuations of only 1 to 2 percentage points.
  • Black children are about twice as likely to live in single-parent families as children in other race/ethnicity categories included in this indicator.

Trends in family structure

From 1960 to 1996, the proportion of all children under age 18 living with two married parents decreased steadily, from 88 to 68 percent. This proportion was stable during much of the late 1990s and into the 2000s, but had decreased to 64 percent by 2012. The proportion was again stable from 2012 to 2016, and was at 65 percent as of 2017.

In 1960, the proportion of children living in mother-only families was 8 percent, but that proportion had tripled to 24 percent by 1996. Since then, it has fluctuated between 22 and 24 percent, and was 23 percent in 2017. The proportion of children living in father-only families increased from 1 percent in 1960 to 4 percent in 1996. Since then, this proportion has fluctuated between 3 and 5 percent, and was 4 percent in 2017. The proportion living without either parent (with either relatives or nonrelatives) has remained steady, at around 3 to 5 percent.

In 2017, 7 percent of all children lived in the home of their grandparents; in two-thirds of these households, one or both parents were also present. The proportion of children living with their grandparents increased until the mid-1990s, from 3.2 percent of children in 1970 to 5.6 percent in 1995. After remaining at around 5 percent until 2006, the proportion increased slightly until 2011, but has since remained steady at 6 to 7 percent (Appendix 2).

Differences by race/Hispanic origin*

Black children are less likely than other children to live with two married parents. In 2017, 36 percent of black children were living with two parents, compared with 86 percent of Asian children, 74 percent of white children, and 61 percent of Hispanic children.

Most children who live with just one parent, regardless of their race or Hispanic origin, live with their mothers. Nearly half of all black children and around one-quarter of all Hispanic children live with their mothers only. Among white and Asian children, smaller proportions (about one in five, and one in 10, respectively) live with their mothers only.

In 2017, 7 percent of all black children did not live with either parent, compared with 4 percent of Hispanic children and 3 percent of both white and Asian children.

* Hispanic persons can be of any race. Estimates for white persons in this report do not include Hispanic persons.

Cohabiting couples

In 2017, there were 2.9 million heterosexual cohabiting couples (unmarried) with children under age 18.* This number has been steadily increasing: In 1996, it was 1.2 million. The number of all unmarried couples (with or without children) has increased even more during the same period.

Compared to their married counterparts, cohabiting couples with children tend to be younger, less-educated, lower-income, and hold less-secure employment. In cohabiting couples with children, just over two-fifths of parents are 25 to 34 years old, compared with around one-quarter of parents in married couples. About three in 10 parents in cohabiting couples are 35 to 44 years old, compared with four in 10 parents in married couples (Appendix 3).

Among women in cohabiting couples, 15 percent have no high school diploma, and another 35 percent have a high school diploma or a GED but no college-level education. Among women in married couples, 9 percent have no high school diploma, and 20 percent have a high school diploma but no college-level education (Appendix 3).

In cohabiting couples with children, 63 percent of women and 83 percent of men were employed in 2017, compared with 67 and 91 percent of women and men in married couples, respectively. In 7 percent of cohabitating couples with children, neither person was employed, compared with 3 percent among married couples with children (Appendix 3). Compared to children born to married parents, children born to cohabiting parents have lower rates of remaining in a stable family: Two-thirds experience family instability before age 12, compared with about one-quarter of children with married parents.[1]

* Same-sex couples with children are not included in the analysis because, in some states, the distinctions between married and unmarried couples are unclear. Additionally, due to the small proportion of same-sex couples who have children, estimates are more susceptible to measurement error.

[1] Manning, W. D. (2015). Cohabitation and child wellbeing. Future of Children, 25(2), 51–66.

Other estimates

State and local estimates

State and local estimates of children’s family structures are available from the KIDS COUNT Data Center at https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data#USA/2/23/2488,24,2592,26,2721/char/0.

International estimates

Data for selected countries (1980–2009) are available in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 Statistical Abstract of the United States, available at https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/2011/compendia/statab/131ed/2012-statab.pdf (See tables 1337 and 1338).

Additional international data are included in the 2015 World Family Map, available at http://worldfamilymap.ifstudies.org/2015/articles/world-family-indicators/family-structure.

Data

Data sources

Raw data source

Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau.

http://www.census.gov/cps/

U.S. Decennial Census.

https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/decade.2010.html

Appendices

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Appendix 3

Definition

For this indicator, unless otherwise specified, a two-parent family refers to parents who are married to each other and living in the same household. They may be biological, adoptive, or step-parents. The Current Population Survey (CPS) identifies all parents who are family or subfamily heads. Where cohabitants are concerned, the CPS did not ask whether that person was also the parent of the child until 2007. Single-parent families refer primarily to those in which only one parent is present; however, before 2007, this category included some families where both parents were present but unmarried. No-parent families refer to families where neither parent of the child lives in the household. Data about children living with grandparents reflect those living in households headed by their grandparents, and do not include families where a grandparent is in the household as a dependent. Parents may or may not be present in such cases.