New census data show that Americans are getting more creative in the way they play house.
The number of non-family households, those New Girl-like homes where none of the residents are related by birth or marriage, grew twice as fast as family households in the last decade. And more people are living alone now than in the past. There’s also been a massive increase in unmarried couples living together, and a pretty steep climb in multigenerational families as well. When people get married, they’re also increasingly wedding those from another race.
This is not to say that the family unit is no longer the norm. Two-thirds of all homes in the U.S. contain people who are related to each other. A full 87% of Americans live with somebody they’re related to. And the married-couple paradigm is still the dominant form of household in the U.S., at a stalwart 48.4% — but it’s no longer in the majority, as it was during the last census, in 2000. The ecosystem that is America’s living arrangements is becoming more diverse.
Most of this people have sensed already, either through experience or through the education provided by such cultural artifacts as Modern Family and Two and a Half Men. But the new Census Report on Households and Families, which was released on April 25, suggests we may be approaching some kind of tipping point, especially in regard to what some folks like to call miscegenation and living in sin. One-tenth of married couples in the U.S. are interracial, a growth of 27% since 2000. Unmarried couples are even more likely to be interracial: 18% of heterosexual couples and more than one-fifth of same sex couples have partners of a different ethnicity. And almost 7 million homes are headed by unmarried couples.
For all this, however, after married couples, the second most common type of household in the U.S. is the nearly empty one — homes with just one inhabitant. The proportion of singleton households grew from 25.1% to 26. 7% in the last decade. Not all of these people are antisocial or crazy Miss Havisham types; many have outlived their partners and are still independent enough to live alone. In Washington and Atlanta, an eyebrow-raising 44% of households have just one inhabitant. Conversely, in Hawaii, fewer than one-quarter of homes contain just one person, perhaps because Hawaiians are more likely than other Americans to be living with elderly relatives. Almost one-tenth of Hawaiian homes are multigenerational. (In Washington it’s 3.9% and Georgia it’s 5.1%).
The growth of unmarried couples who live together has been well documented. Homes headed by gay couples doubled in the last 10 years, but still only represent 0.6% of all households in the U.S. The number of households headed by an unmarried couple grew by 41% over the same duration. But that’s now 6.8 million homes, 10 times as many as those headed up by gay couples. The Northeastern states are popular with unmarried hetero couples: in Maine 8.4% of all homes contain an unmarried couple and in Vermont 8.1% do. For unmarried gay couples, it’s Washington D.C. They occupy 1.8% of the District’s homes, more than double the proportion in any other state.
The other big jump is in households comprised of a single dad and his kids. That’s the composition of only 5% of U.S. homes, but it’s grown by almost 20% in the last decade. There are still more families headed by a single mom — 13.1% of all homes — but the growth has not been as steep (7%).
And in yet another efflorescence of traditional family structure, more homes have become multigenerational in the last decade. The census report writers note that such homes are more likely to occur “in areas where new immigrants live with their relatives, in areas where housing shortages or high costs force families to double up their living arrangements, or in areas that have relatively high percentages of children born to unmarried mothers and where unmarried mothers live with their children in their parents’ homes.” Hawaii has the most multigenerational homes, followed by California (6.7%) and Puerto Rico (6.6%).
For some commentators, the trend lines of these numbers are not pointing in a good direction for American society. Indeed there are some worrying figures: in Mississippi and Puerto Rico, at least one-tenth of homes are headed by single mothers with kids under 18. But in nature, any system that can diversify successfully will thrive. The American family unit is diversifying whether anyone likes it or not. It just remains to be seen how successfully.