There are faces behind the statistics, the paper mountains of new facts and figures that describe Washington as the leader in the nation's shift away from traditional notions of family and life style.
A 27-year-old legislative counsel on Capitol Hill who has to balance the demands of her career with her aspiration of someday getting married and raising a family seems less unusual these days.
So does an elderly woman who lives by herself in an apartment on upper Connecticut Avenue and says "loneliness is my middle name."
Or an auto mechanic who splits housing costs with three unrelated women who live with him in a four-bedroom Arlington house.
A Germantown husband and wife say they live from paycheck to paycheck on $31,000 a year, about the median income for area families.
A 25-year-old Bowie woman decides to put her 3-year-old in a day-care center so she can take a job, and though she and her husband had planned a large family, they now plan to have no more than two children because of the problems and expense of child-rearing.
Here are some of the people behind the numbers:
Whether she's in her sparsely appointed one-bedroom apartment in Dupont Circle or her office filled with congressional files, calls on hold and half-written memorandums, Michelle Dorene Stent, 27, is in high gear.
"Sometimes it's just like this," she says, quickly snapping her slender fingers, one-two-three, to give her listener a hint of her daily pace: high-powered meetings, brainstorming sessions, Capitol Hill receptions. And sometimes, Stent adds, the life of a single, professional woman here is chock full of contradictions.
The New York City native is the legislative counsel to the House subcommittee on Human Resources -- a job, she says, that would be difficult at best for a woman with husband and family. Never married, she wants both.
"When the time came to have to balance those [career] priorities with the traditional roles of what women are, I think I'm part of a growing number who have to think out, speaking of many of my girlfriends, how to handle that," Stent says.
Since graduating from Howard University Law School two years ago, Stent says, she has found her work rewarding: "I feel like something I do is worthwhile." She earns more than $25,000 a year.
But the flip side of that has been postponing the marriage and children she would like to have, instead dating men who, though espousing a liberated litany of reasons why they prefer professional women, harbor a very real desire for a more traditional mate.
Stent says there are times she envies women who have taken the traditional route. "I very much would like to have one person only to come home to," she says. "I think that would be wonderful. . . . I am not overly thrilled with 10 dates a week."
The daughter of professionals -- her mother is a professor and head of departmental studies at New York's City College and her father is head of nuclear medicine at Harlem Hospital -- Stent is hopeful that she, too, can find a way to raise a family and be successful in law.
But she adds, "Maybe women have expectations that are too high here."
In an unassuming two-story red brick house situated in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood in Arlington, Eric Narden has found the solution that many Washington-area residents from all walks of life, economic strata, race, sex and creed are discovering to cope with the problem of wildly accelerating housing costs.
Narden, a 32-year-old automobile mechanic in Tyson's Corner, lives in a group house.
He shares the living expenses with three other people who are neither family -- nor, before he answered a newspaper advertisement three months ago, were they even friends.
"It just got to the point where you can't live alone in an apartment anymore," Narden says. "Maybe people can't afford their own piece of America. I guess they have to scale down their own goals."
For $187.50 a month, Narden traded his $350-a-month, one-bedroom apartment, up six flights of stairs near Rosslyn, for a four-bedroom house with a yard and a vegatable garden, a driveway and garage, a sunken living room and a full basement.
"The way the house is laid out, you can't stand in one place in the house and see everything," Narden says.
"You have privacy. Everybody here kind of leads their own lives and nobody gets in anybody's way."
And Norden says the fact that his three housemates are women doesn't complicate the situation in the least.
"I personally like the idea because a lot of men are kind of sloppy and I don't like to live in that kind of environment," he said. "Women are generally more concerned about keeping a place tidy."
No one is assigned specific duties. Because everyone works, they all generally wake at about the same time each day. Narden says everyone usually fixes his or her own breakfast.
Sometimes, especially on the weekend, someone may prepare a meal for the household. But that's strictly voluntary.
What is mandatory is attendence at a monthly house meeting in which utility, telephone and food bills are divided, house problems are aired and answers sought.
And there have been problems.
For example: Who pays for the cable television service on the communal TV in the living room?
Eighty-four-year-old Beatrice Bransky, a vivacious, white-haired widow with failing eyesight, spends her days reading the newspaper, playing Chopin on her piano, doing the housework, watching the soap operas on television, taking naps and occasional walks and, once a week, going to the neighborhood beauty salon.
The highlight of her days, she says, is the hot lunch she eats with other elderly people at the Adas Israel Synagogue, across the street from the upper Connecticut Avenue apartment building that has been her home since 1954. Sometimes the group goes on trips--to the Arboretum, the White House, the art museums, the Kennedy Center.
Otherwise, Bransky doesn't get around Washington much. "I'm scared to death of being mugged," she says. "We all are. I used to go to Friday night services, but I don't anymore. . . . I also fear falling down and hurting myself."
She lives in a $316-a-month, one-bedroom apartment at the 12-story apartment building. A lot of old people live there, and Bransky jokes, "They call it the infirmary."
Bransky -- who married at age 19, raised two children, was married for 50 years and never worked a day in her life -- seems to feel financially secure. "I'm not a big spender," she says. The last movie she saw was "Funny Girl." A maid comes every two weeks. She says she receives $540 a month from her husband's Social Security, which he never collected while he was alive. He died 15 years ago, at age 73. She also collects some money from money market funds one of her sons-in-law invested for her, estimating her total income at about $25,000.
Life as an old woman living alone in the city is not a paradise. "Loneliness -- that's my middle name," she says. "I received a marriage proposal six months after my husband died, but I knew I didn't want to marry again. I was married 50 years, and it was a beautiful time."
Tom Kranz, 33, has taught for 12 years in Montgomery County schools and now is the resource teacher in charge of special education alternative and remedial classes at Montgomery Blair High in Silver Spring.
His wife Karen, 37, used to teach elementary school. But she quit her job to stay home and raise their 4-year-old daughter, Terri. "We made a value judgement," says Tom Kranz, who puts the family's income at about $31,000. Five years ago, he says, it was closer to $35,000 a year and the family was "very comfortable."
"I've never been rich, I've never felt rich and I've never missed being rich, either," he says. "I come from a family of German and Polish immigrants who've always worked, who've always felt a lot of satisfaction in working."
He and his wife bought a split-foyer, two-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath townhouse at Fox Chapel North in Germantown nine years ago and have had it up for sale for about six months without getting a single prospective buyer, even when they dropped the price from $67,000 to $62,000.
"We've been very happy here, but we'd like to move," Kranz says. "We're trying to figure out how to do it. I guess I want that all-American dream -- I'd love to have a single-family home with a little land around it so our daughter could play in it."
The family income includes Kranz's salary plus supplemental jobs -- teaching in-service courses to other teachers, cutting trees here and there, occasionally painting houses. "I don't think of myself as struggling. We make it from paycheck to paycheck. Do whatever I can."
They are a cautious couple who budget carefully -- she plans the week's menus down to the last recipe -- and are planning for long-term savings by participating in government tax shelters and annuity programs available to teachers.
"I'm always concerned about money," Kranz says. "But I try not to worry about it. My mother says worry is like a rocking chair: It gets you nowhere." I count it and budget for it. I try to plan for it."
Next month, Ginny and Larry Noell's son, Ryan, will be three years old. The following month, the young couple will celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.
They live in a small three-bedroom, one-bathroom house in the development of Collington in Bowie, four miles from where Ginny, 25, works as an assistant to an oral surgeon for less than $10,000 a year.
Larry, 27, is a manager at Shopper's Food Warehouse in Olney, a 45-minute commute each way from the house. He earns about $32,000 a year. Their neighborhood is filled with other young couples like them.
The Noells go out with friends sometimes but spend a lot of time at home with their son. They also take him on outings, to the Enchanted Forest, Wide World and Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Last summer they spent four days in Ocean City.
Ginny says she cooks most nights. Occasionally they go out to dinner at a cafeteria-style restaurant in Bowie, where dinner for the three of them is $15. Or they might go to a country-style family restaurant where it costs them about $30.
Ginny works four days a week, from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. On the way to work she takes her son to the Redeemer Child Care Center in Bowie, which costs $30 a week. Baby sitters are hard to come by in the neighborhood.
"I was hesitant at first. I felt so guilty," she says. "I didn't like to take him and had my husband take him at first. . . . I thought that was the thing you were supposed to do."
They both grew up thinking they would like to have large families. But they since have changed their minds for reasons of economy and because they worry about the difficulties of raising children today. They plan to have one other child.
"I always wanted a large family," she says. "But I changed my mind after having our first child. It's a lot of work. And I worry if I can cope with all the teen-age problems -- like drugs."