- A new analysis from Pew Research Center looks at the composition of modern families.
- Compared to 1970, far fewer adults are living with a spouse and at least one child.
- It reflects how socioeconomic challenges are changing what families look like.
Gone are the white picket fences, the two-and-a-half children in the suburbs, and married parents. The American nuclear family is officially dead, according to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center — even if some Americans haven’t accepted it.
In 1970, nearly 70% of American adults ages 25 to 49 were living with a spouse and at least one child. As of 2021 — the most recent year for which they have data — that’s fallen to 37%. At the same time, other family arrangements have become more common: In 1970, essentially no one was reported to be cohabitating unmarried with kids; by 2021, that rose to 5%. And, significantly, 18% of American adults were married with no kids in 1970. As of 2021, that’s risen to 21%.
“Family living arrangements are becoming more and more diverse in their composition,” Carolina Aragão, one of the authors of the Pew report, told Insider. While married adults with kids are still the most common family arrangement, “they are far less common than they were in the past.”
That makes sense: Americans are getting married less, and later in life, and they’re also having fewer children. You can chalk some of that up to how millennials — and, increasingly, Gen Z — are navigating their own socioeconomic challenges. For instance, millennials have powered a rise in multigenerational households, as Insider previously reported; Pew finds that 11% of adults were living with other family members in 2021, up from 5% in 1970.
Meanwhile, the Census Bureau found that the median age for first marriages has risen substantially for both men and women. In 1957, women got married for the first time at age 20.5; in 2022, that was 28.2. It’s similar for men, who got married for the first time at age 23.7 in 1957 and age 30.1 in 2022.
At the same time, who’s getting married is changing: Pew finds that 16% of married American adults are in an interracial marriage, up from just 4% in 1970. The percentage of same-sex marriages has also increased since it was ruled legal nationwide in 2015.
But marriage is increasingly becoming something that not every American seems to have access to. In 1970, Americans with a high school diploma were just as likely as Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree to be married. That’s not true anymore. It also means that Americans with less education — along with Black Americans and Hispanic Americans, who have seen their marriage rates plunge — are missing out on the greater net worth and greater chance of homeownership associated with marriage.
“Nowadays, what we see is that individuals who have a bachelor’s degree are much more likely to be married than individuals who have a high school education,” Aragão said. During the time period that Pew looked at, “we know that socioeconomic inequalities in the United States have increased,” Aragão said, and that’s “reflected in how families look like today.”
But even as the American family changes, it doesn’t mean Americans feel good about it. Pew found that Americans are pessimistic about the future of the family and marriage, although more said that having a job or career they enjoy is more fulfilling than having children, a lot of money, or being married.
“We definitely still view that nuclear family as the most acceptable and ideal form, even though families are becoming more and more different and they’re much more diverse than they were in the past,” Aragão said.
Are you living in a nontraditional family, or putting off marriage or kids due to financial concerns? Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.