NOVEMBER 24, 01:00 ESTFace of U.S. Families Changes
By MARTHA IRVINE
Associated Press Writer
CHICAGO (AP) The percentage of American households made up of married couples with children dropped from 45 percent in the early 1970s to just 26 percent in 1998, a survey found.
Researchers at the University of Chicago said their findings, which were being released Wednesday, are yet another sign that the face of the American family has changed. They also said Americans are becoming more accepting of those changes.
``The single-earner families with young children still present in the household have become the exception rather than the rule,'' said Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey, conducted annually by the university's National Opinion Research Center.
The figures paint an even starker picture of marriage in the 1990s than the U.S. Census has. Census takers found that married couples with children younger than 18 fell from 50 percent of all households in 1970 to an estimated 36 percent in 1997.
The figures reflect the increasing number of people waiting to have children and the growing number of baby boomers becoming ``empty nesters.''
The survey found that in 1998:
Fifty-six percent of adults were married, compared with nearly 75 percent in 1972, when the survey was first taken.
Fifty-one percent of children lived in a household with their two parents, vs. 73 percent in 1972.
The percentage of households made up of unmarried people with no children was 32 percent, more than double the rate in 1972.
And the percentage of children living with single parents rose to 18.2 percent, vs. 4.7 percent in 1972.
The researchers interviewed 2,832 Americans age 18 and older between February and May of last year.
While June Cleaver might not approve, Americans seem to be accepting of what Smith called the ``modern family.'' For example, 67 percent of people surveyed last year disagreed that parents ought to stay together just because they have children; that question was not asked in previous surveys.
Stephen Kraus, a Connecticut-based market researcher for Yankelovich Partners, agreed that Americans are becoming more tolerant of divorce partly because many people who are starting families may be products of divorce themselves.
Bahira Sherif, a professor of individual and family studies at the University of Delaware, said Americans continue to see marriage as an ideal even if they don't think it's always best to get married or stay married.
``We are a very marriage-happy society,'' Sherif said. ``There's a basic ideology that building a family means stability.''
Smith expects Americans to continue to look for ways to make untraditional families work from finding better child care to coming up with non-traditional work weeks so single parents can spend more time with their children.
``We've only had a generation to figure out how to make the modern family work,'' Smith said. ``It's going to take some time.''
Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.