WASHINGTON—U.S. Census Bureau data shows that, while slightly more than 60 percent of American children live with their biological or adoptive parents, the downward trend has flattened out and may be heading in a positive direction, according to the Institute for Family Studies (IFS).
“As recently as 1960, less than two in 10 children lived apart from two married parents, a reality which was approximately stable as far back as 1850,” according to IFS research fellow Lyman Stone, author of the new study published Jan. 15.
“But while the present situation leaves many children bereft of the care, attention, and material benefits of a married household, it’s actually not as bad as it has been in the past,” Stone writes, noting that “since 2014, the share of children living with two married parents has risen ever-so-slightly, from 61.8 percent to 62.3 percent in 2018.”
Stone adds that early data for the past year “suggest that 2019 will show further improvement.”
His analysis is based upon data from the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey, which is a joint effort of the bureau and the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Even so, the odds that a newborn child in the U.S. will grow up in an intact two-parent family remain heavily dependent upon ethnicity, according to Stone.
“Asian kids are by far the most likely to grow up with two married parents: From 2001 to 2018, a steady 80-85% of Asian children grew up in intact households. Whites come in second, while Hispanics and non-Hispanic other, and multi-racial kids are essentially tied for third,” Stone reports.
“At the other end of the spectrum, only about 40% of Native American kids grow up in married, two-parent households, and only about 30% of black kids” do so.
The precipitous decline in the percentage of intact two-parent families in the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon, according to Stone. From 1850 through 1960, between 80 and 90 percent of all U.S. children lived in such families. The earliest U.S. population count for which estimates can be derived on the question was 1850.
But from 1960 to 2014, the percentage plummeted to 62 percent from 87 percent. The biggest declines overall during those years were among black and Native American families.
Intact two-parent families reached a high point in the black community in the early 1920s, but then began a steady decline that reached 60 percent in the mid-1960s and dipped below 50 percent for the first time in 1975. The figure is now at 30 percent, where it has remained in recent years.
Stone acknowledges that there is a continuing debate about the causes of the long decline in intact two-parent black families, saying “slavery systematically dismantled black families for centuries, and black kids make up the majority of these children at least until the 1970s.”
Similarly, he notes, “high rates of incarceration disrupt ‘marriage markets’ for many minority-majority communities. Alternatively, some, including me, have argued that specific features of the modern welfare state may have systematically punished minority families and discouraged marriage.”
The sharpest recent declines have been seen in the Hispanic and Native American communities, where, Stone points out, “the odds of growing up in an intact family have fallen sharply.”
Those declines are particularly worrisome, he said, because “these are also the groups that have seen the biggest declines in birth rates: they’re having fewer kids, and of the kids they are having, more are growing up without two parents.”
As a result, there are “considerable and growing challenges for Hispanic and Native American kids and families [as] family conditions have deteriorated markedly over the last two decades” for both groups.
The IFS is a Charlottesville, Virginia-based nonprofit research institute that focuses exclusively on family issues.
Contact Mark Tapscott at [email protected]