Demographers and experts on family issues say one reason why the region has so many nuclear families is the influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants, who are much more likely to be part of a traditional family than whites or blacks.
Other factors include Northern Virginia’s high education levels, relative youth and higher income levels, all of which play a role in decisions to marry and have children.
As marriage rates have declined nationwide and the number of unmarried partners with children has soared, researchers say the decision to marry and have children is linked to class and income.
“College-educated young adults have been able to find good jobs, marry and then have children,” said Andrew Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist who studies families. “But people with less education have struggled to find jobs in our globalized economy and are much more likely to have children in cohabiting relationships.”
The trends have become increasingly evident in 2010 Census data on household relationships, being released piecemeal this summer.
Virginia’s figures were to be made public Thursday, and similar patterns are expected when statistics for Maryland and the District are released next month.
Virginia is a microcosm of the growing split.
More than a third of Asian and Hispanic households are nuclear families.
Among non-Hispanic white households, just one in five are married couples with children. Blacks had the lowest ratio: one in seven.
But in Northern Virginia, blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics all accounted for higher numbers of traditional families than their counterparts elsewhere in the state.
The place in Northern Virginia with the highest percentage of nuclear families is South Riding, near Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County and home to many Asian Indian families. More than half of households there are married couples with children.
Both culture and necessity can contribute to the prevalence of nuclear families among Asians and Hispanics, particularly for recent immigrants. Asians have high marriage rates and low divorce rates, and Hispanics tend to have more children, Cherlin noted.
“Both have strong family traditions of staying together,” said Qian Cai, director of demographics at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center. “Even if they’re not happy, they stay together. As immigrants, it’s a survival strategy.”
Emma Violand-Sanchez, a member of the Arlington County School Board, notices a distinct difference between the individualism of American culture and the more-communal family values in Hispanic culture.
“We grow up with a concept of we, versus I,” she said. “If you have toys, those toys belong to the entire family, not to one child.