Thursday, May 26, 2011

A New Minority

The Census Bureau today released full data on households in the United States as part of the official 2010 Census. Census results are based on a 100-percent count, weigh more heavily than projections or estimates made in intervening years—or such sources as the Current Population Survey. These data therefore have a certain added heft.

The upshot is that the trend made memorable by Robert D. Putnam in his book 2000 book, Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital, still holds and is gaining in strength. Putnam first published his view in a 1995 essay. The added attraction, in this release, is that in 2010, for the first time officially (which is what the decennial census is, the word) married couple families have now finally achieved the coveted minority status.

The data in summary: We had 116.7 million households in the United States in 2010. Of those 66.4 percent were family households, 48.4 percent were married-couple families, 18.1 percent families headed by a female (13.1%) or a male (5%), 33.6 percent were non-family households. The number that will be cited is that 48.4 percent, minority status for the traditional family category. Herewith a graphic. The 2010 data are from the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder facility; data for the other dates comes from the source cited in an earlier post here.

The chart is telling. Lines going downward indicate traditional and lines going up the modern style of life. The biggest gain in share of households is by non-family households, the overwhelming majority of which is men and women bowling alone. Other gains in share have been realized by single-parent households, more by those headed by females than males. The biggest loss is in married-couple families, declining from 70.5 to 48.4 percent of total households.

More than half of us are now alone—entirely or alone with children. It’s not surprising to hear the airwaves filled with talk of family values—a value rarely underlined in the 1950s when most of us, looking back, saw families in our past. The consequences of ever more children growing up in what the New York Times gently labeled “less traditional” arrangements this morning, covering this story, is beginning to become visible too, but that wave has not yet grown to its full size.

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