December 30, 2015

It’s no longer a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ world for American families – but it wasn’t back then, either

Photo credit: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
Photo credit: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

It’s less common today for American children to have a family like the ones portrayed on television in the 1950s and ’60s. One of the biggest reasons is a dramatic rise in kids living with a single parent.

How the American family has changedIn 2014, just 14% of children younger than 18 lived with a stay-at-home mother and a working father who were in their first marriage. This marks a dramatic decline from the height of the postwar baby boom, when these kinds of households were more common.

But even then, what some people hold up as the quintessential “traditional” family type was far from universal: In 1960, just half of children were living in this type of arrangement. By 1980, the share had dropped to 26%. It continued to decline until the 1990s, and has since remained fairly stable, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data.

One of the biggest changes has been the increase in kids living with single parents – up to 26% from 9% in 1960. An additional 7% of children today are living with two parents who are not married. This, in turn, relates to increases in divorce, as well as higher shares of births occurring outside of marriage; in 1960, 5% of births occurred to unmarried women, a share that has since increased eightfold to 40%. 

As more mothers enter the workforce, the share of stay-at-home moms has also declined. In the late 1960s, about half of mothers with children younger than 18 stayed at home full-time, compared with only three-in-ten today. (About 7% of fathers who live with their kids are stay-at-home dads.)

Asian children most likely to live with stay-at-home mom, working dad

Asian children are the most likely to be living with a stay-at-home mom and working dad in their first marriage. Almost one-fourth (24%) are, due in large part to the high rates of marital stability among Asians; fully 71% of Asian children are living with parents in their first marriage.

Hispanic children are also fairly likely to be living in this type of situation, due in part to the high share of moms who stay at home. Fully 18% of Hispanic children are living in a home with a working dad and a stay-at-home mom in their first marriage. The same is true of 15% of white children.

Black children are far less likely to be living in this type of family than others – only 4% are. This is largely due to the fact that less than a third of black children are living with two married parents at all, regardless of their work situation. Instead, the majority (54%) of black children are living with single parents.

Family arrangements are linked to economic outcomes, which in turn are associated with the environment in which kids are raised, according to a Pew Research Center report. Kids living in cohabiting families or single-parent families are two to three times more likely than kids in married-parent families to be living in poverty. And those kids living with two full-time working parents are better off financially than those living with a working dad and a stay-at-home mom.

At the same time, kids from less well-off families are less likely to be living in a neighborhood that their parents deem an excellent or good place to raise children than are kids from more affluent families. The parents of less affluent children are also far more likely to worry about the physical safety of their children than more affluent parents – 47% of parents with family income below $30,000 worry that their child could get shot at some point, versus 22% of parents with family income of $75,000 or more, for instance.

Topics: Household and Family Structure, Marriage and Divorce, Population Trends, Race and Ethnicity, Work and Employment

  1. Photo of Gretchen Livingston

    is a senior researcher focusing on fertility and family demographics at Pew Research Center.

1 Comment

  1. James Schramek10 months ago

    I went to school from 1954 in kindergarten through high school graduation in 1967 and was not aware of any classmates who didn’t come from single parent family backgrounds until 1962 when my own mother was killed in an automobile accident. I suspect that the Minneapolis suburb where we lived was not all that exceptionally homogeneous with respect to families. The growth of the suburb was due to families of veterans purchasing first homes on the provisions for GI loans. My mother went back to work after her youngest started school. Stay at home moms in first marriage households likely was more concentrated geographically also according to the age of the children. I expect both factors are now exceedingly rare, with very few children being raised in a culture similar to that Minneapolis suburb.