Family Structure and Family Formation among Low-Income Hispanics in the U.S.

BlogFamiliesOct 15 2014

While National Hispanic Heritage Month ends October 15, the importance of celebrating Hispanic achievements and exploring issues relevant to Hispanic families continues year-round. Today, the National Research Center for Hispanic Children & Families, funded by a grant from the Office of Research, Planning and Evaluation within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, releases its first report— Family Structure and Family Formation Among Low-Income Hispanics in the  U.S.

Hispanic Americans have been a fundamental part of the U.S. landscape since this country’s inception. In fact, Hispanics were the first settlers of what is today the southwest of the United States. (The umbrella terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are often used interchangeably to refer to people of Latin American or Spanish ancestry, regardless of country of origin.) In 2013, there were approximately 54 million Hispanics living in the United States, making up 17 percent of the total U.S. population, and the number continues to grow, shifting national demographics. As the Hispanic population has grown, another important demographic shift has occurred: a shift in how families form. Fewer people are marrying and many more births are occurring outside of marriage. However, changes in family structure have not impacted all racial/ethnic groups in the same way, and we know less about Hispanic families than we do about many other groups.

In this research brief, we use recent nationally-representative data to describe the relationship and childbearing histories of low-income Hispanic men and women. Importantly, we distinguish by nativity—i.e., born in the U.S. versus in some other country—as there are large differences in these histories by nativity status.

Because the family circumstances into which children are born are so closely linked to the resources children have access to, such as money and parents’ time, understanding family structure and formation patterns is critical for the development of effective programs that provide services to communities throughout the country. Having this understanding of Hispanic populations is particularly important, as roughly two-thirds of Hispanic children live in low-income households, and roughly one-third of Hispanic children live in poverty. And, it is relevant to the country as a whole. Hispanic children comprise one in four of all children today. By 2050, one in three of all children are projected to be Hispanic. As such, how Hispanic children fare will have profound implications for our country’s future prosperity.

Key findings in the  Family Structure and Family Formation Among Low-Income Hispanics in the  U.S. brief include:

  • Hispanic women enter marital and cohabiting unions early. Over half of low-income Hispanic women—both the foreign-born and the U.S.-born—have entered a marriage or cohabiting union by age 20; only three in ten Hispanic men have.
  • Hispanics have children early, too. Roughly half of low-income Hispanic women—both the foreign-born and the U.S.-born—report a birth by age 20. Among men, early childbearing is the most common among U.S.-born Hispanic men.
  • Most births to low-income Hispanics occur in a marital or cohabiting union. This is particularly true for the foreign-born. Eight in ten births to foreign-born Hispanic women and nine in ten births to foreign-born Hispanic men occur in a marital or cohabiting union.
  • Multiple partner fertility is more common among low-income, U.S. born Hispanic men than it is among the foreign-born. More than 30 percent of low-income, U.S.-born Hispanic men (with two or more children) report having children with more than one woman, compared to one in ten foreign-born Hispanic men.

As Latinos increasingly represent a larger segment of the country, these patterns provide important context and information for programs and services seeking to improve the wellbeing of low-income Hispanics.