By John Besl
In my last blog, I discussed the remarkable growth in recent decades in the number of births to unmarried parents, both locally and nationally. In this month’s space, I’d like to talk about another trend, one that’s related to last month’s topic, but also reflects a separate “megatrend” - the aging of America.
If you ask a baby boomer what the typical American household looks like, most would probably describe a mom and dad with at least one child under the age of 18. This household type has been immortalized in TV sitcoms ranging from “Ozzie and Harriet” to “The Cosby Show” to “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Results of the 2010 Census, however, reveal that what I prefer to call the “traditional” family now accounts for only one in five U.S. households.
Before going any further, a few definitions are in order. A household, in Census Bureau parlance, includes all the people who occupy a housing unit (i.e., a house, apartment, mobile home, etc.) A household can consist of a person living alone, a husband and wife with their children, a bunch of college roommates sharing a house, two elderly sisters sharing a small apartment, or a number of other variations. One person in each household is designated as the householder. This is the person, or one of the people, in whose name the housing unit is either owned or rented. Household type is determined by the sex of the householder and the presence or absence of relatives. There are two general household types: family and nonfamily. If one or more other individuals in the household are related to the householder by blood, marriage, or adoption, the household is considered a family. A nonfamily household, on the other hand, is occupied by a householder either living alone or with nonrelatives only.
The standard Census Bureau term for the household type that I call a “traditional” family is “Husband-wife family with own children under 18 years.” It’s a subset of families, one with a married householder and his or her spouse (of the opposite sex), along with at least one child under the age of 18 who is a daughter or son by birth, a stepchild, or an adopted child of the householder. In 2010, there were approximately 23.6 million husband-wife families with own children under 18 in the United States, a decline of 1.25 million, or 5%, from 10 years earlier. Map 1 below depicts the 2000-2010 percent change in the number of traditional families for each state. Ohio is one of nine states in the lowest category, having witnessed a loss of 158,000 traditional families, or 15.9%. Each of the states with the largest losses also experienced a drop in population under age 18, so it’s not particularly surprising that they would also have declines in the number of married-couple families with children. Nine other states in the west and south added traditional families, bucking the national trend. All of these states experienced substantial gains in their child populations.
Map 2 below displays the percent share that traditional families represent among all households in each state. It’s not surprising to see that Florida and South Carolina, where lots of retirees settle, are among the states with the lowest shares of husband-wife families with young children. Although Maine and West Virginia are not retirement hotspots, they have older populations that generally fit the Florida age profile. Low shares of traditional families in the South reflect significant race and ethnic differences in marital status among adults with children. Husband-wife families with children under 18 make up only 13% of black households nationwide. In comparison, traditional families comprise 20% of white households and 31% of Hispanic households in the U.S.
Zeroing in on the Cincinnati MSA, I’ll focus on geographic differences across four component areas, represented in Map 3. The MSA and all four component areas saw declines in the household share of traditional families, as shown in Figure 1. One in five MSA households was a husband-wife family with children in 2010, mirroring the national share. In the City of Cincinnati, however, the comparable share was only one in twelve (8.4%). Between 2000 and 2010, the household share of traditional families fell 6.8 percentage points in the outer suburban ring, the sharpest drop among the four component areas.
Figure 1. “Traditional” Families as Percent of All Households, 2000 and 2010
A number of factors influence change in this household type over time. The steep increase in births outside of marriage, detailed in my last blog obviously plays a role. The dual trends of delayed marriage and higher divorce rates have further reduced the number of married couples with children, while increasing the share of single-parent families. Migration to and from adjacent counties and other states can increase or decrease the number of traditional families in a given area. Population aging also plays a major role. Imagine a husband and wife in the year 2000 with two children, ages 9 and 12. Even if the parents stay together and the family stays in the same house, the children will be older than 18 by 2010 and the family would no longer qualify as a “traditional” family. Births to unmarried women, delayed marriage, high divorce rates, migration, and population aging all contribute to the change shown in Figure 1 above.
Figure 2 examines the numeric change in households overall and traditional families between 2000 and 2010. The number of households in the metro area increased by 51,000, but the number of traditional families fell by 20,000. In all three suburban areas, the number of traditional families declined, despite positive household growth. This pattern was reversed in the city, where the number of households fell by 15,000, but the number of traditional families fell by less, only 5,000.
It’s worth noting that 14 of 15 counties in the MSA saw an increase in the number of households in the 2000-2010 decade, but only two – Boone County and Warren County – experienced an increase in the absolute number of traditional families. Boone and Warren had spectacular growth rates exceeding 35% in both population and households, and more that 20% in traditional families.
Figure 2. 2000-2010 Change in Households and “Traditional” Families
The final chart presents essentially the same data featured in Figure 2, but displays percent change. The most notable difference, to my eye, is in the depth of the decline of traditional families in Cincinnati city. Although the city’s numeric loss in traditional families was smaller than the household loss, the percentage drop is much larger. Nearly a third of the city’s traditional families in 2000 had either transitioned to a different household type or moved out of the city by 2010.
Figure 3. 2000-2010 Percent Change in Households and “Traditional” Families
Household composition says a lot about how we live and who we are collectively. An aging population, along with several other social and demographic factors referenced above, has transformed the household landscape in our region and nation.