The "nuclear family" is still doing quite well in the United States, despite some erosion in the last few decades.
Americans still love families with a husband and a wife, perhaps some kids and maybe some aunts and uncles -- all living together -- and that's the sort of living arrangement most of them still have, Census Bureau expert Dr. Paul C. Glick said yesterday.
The rate of divorce may be up and so may the number of couples living together without benefit of a marriage certificate, but about 77 percent of the people in the United States still live in husband-wife households.
According to 1977 figures compiled by Glick, there were 47.5 million married couples in such households. Those 95 million people live in households with more than 50 million children under the age of 18 and about 17 million older children or other older relatives, such as uncles, aunts and grandparents. Thus, more than 162 million people -- or 77 percent of the 1977 population -- lived in housband-wife households.
In 1940, 82 percent of the population lived in such families.
Households headed by a single parent [usually a woman] comprised 10 percent of the population. All other living arrangements [people living alone, unmarried couples and people in boarding houses, convents and other group homes] made up only 13 percent of the population.
"People still prefer the married way of life," said Glick. Although married people divorce at a high rate -- there is one divorce for every two marriages -- they marry again, and often quite soon.
"When they get divorced, they turn around and mary again -- five of six divorced men do and about three of four divorced women," Glick said.
Census experts said, however, that some trends could undermine the status of the nuclear family if they persist far into the future.
For example, while the number of men and women living together unmarried is small [2.3 million people], it has more than doubled in the last decade.
Similarly, the number of black children living in one-parent families has doubled since 1960. About two-fifths of black children live with one parent.
Glick said the family isn't callapsing, but its form is changing. "If you don't like the person you're living with, you have a better chance to change," he said. Some changes are generated by increased education and job opportunities for women and by greater public acceptance of divorce and remarriage.