The Modern Definition Of Family
By Alexandra Temblador
Family portraits in America have transformed over the years from a stiff and formal painting over the fireplace to an old black and white photo in a wooden frame to today, a bright and colorful LCD photo on cell phone home screen and Facebook pages. And just as the portraits have changed over the years so has the makeup of our families.
Many websites contest that a family is made up of two parents and children living under the same household. This definition does not fully reflect the diversity and complex intricacies of families in America today. Can someone not live in the same household and still be a part of your family—of course! What if you have only one parent or no children, does that constitute a family? You bet it does!
Unfortunately the U.S. Census Bureau has a limited definition of family as well. They define “family” as consisting of two or more people related by birth, marriage, or adoption residing in the same housing unit.
Therefore, the definition of family does not currently encompass the diversity of families in America today. It does not reflect the different colors of a family, the ages, the structure, or the sometimes oddly looking family tree. Fortunately, a few television shows like Modern Family, Raising Hope, The Fosters, and Baby Daddy portray the modern-day family.
It’s 2015 and this year should mark a permanent shift in the definition of family. I think you will agree after reading the following seven facts about the modern family.
Families are multi-generational.
Family can be defined in such a way to reflect our ancestry but many present-day family units are multi-generational. Since 1980 the percentage of Americans living in multi-generational homes has doubled to 18.1 percent. About 3 percent of households include both grandparents and grandchildren and about 60 percent of these families are headed by the grandparent. Similarly, 1 in 4 Americans who are 25-34 live in multi-generational households and are actually the highest contributor to multi-generational families.
Families are shrinking.
No longer do parents need twelve kids to work the farm. Long gone are the days of our grandparents who had seven plus siblings. From 1980 to 2010 families shrunk from 3.29 members to 3.16. Many married couples consider themselves a family as do many single individuals.
Parental diversity is the new normal.
As of 2010 married households dropped to 48.4 percent of the population from 51.7 in 2000. So what does this mean for families? Many families include single parents with children. From 1940 to 2010 these numbers increased from 4.3 percent to 9.6 percent. Cohabitation with and without children is also increasing and many of these family types last for many years even without leading to marriage.
Casey E. Copen of the CDC stated in a cohabitation study that “Cohabitation is a common part of family formation in the United States and serves as both a step toward marriage and as an alternative to marriage.” Similarly, Pamela J. Smock, director and research professor at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor stated that, “cohabiting families are choosing to stay together, they are becoming more committed and they are seeing their families, many with children, as a legitimate family form and are feeling less pressure to marry. It’s the new normal.”
Family doesn’t discriminate on love.
As of 2011 about 605,472 households were occupied by same-sex couples and 168,092 of these same-sex couples were married. Four years later and with the rise of marriage equality in the United States, the amount of families headed by same-sex married couples is increasing. Additionally, 16 percent of these same-sex families had a child, whether biologically, step, or adopted.
Families are more colorful.
Interracial and multi-ethnic families are much more common in America today. For instance 10 percent of opposite-sex married couples are in multi-racial or multi-ethnic relationships, as is another 18 percent of couples in the population who are not married. Similarly, 21 percent of same-sex unmarried partners are in interracial and multi-ethnic relationships. And if you consider the probability that many of these individuals will have children with their partners then you can only imagine the beautiful and colorful families that will be created.
Biology does not matter to family.
The 2010 census revealed that 2.3 percent of children in households were adopted. Alaska sports the highest adoption rate, probably due to the cultural practice of informal adoption in their American Indian communities. Similarly, a higher percentage of African American children are adopted in the U.S. while 25 percent of adoptions in the U.S. are international adoptions and over half of these are from Asian countries. And as of 2007, 40 percent of children adopted were part of a transracial, trans-ethnic, or transcultural adoptions. These statistics make for more culturally mixed families in the U.S.
Some families are blended.
It is difficult to find a clear divorce rate in the United States. The American Psychological Association reports a 40-50 percent divorce rate while the CDC reports that 3.6 marriages per 1,000 end in divorce. Regardless of the actual rate, divorce is a modern-day reality for many families and so is remarriage.
For instance, most spouses in remarried relationships have children whether they live with them or not and half of all households involved in remarriage include children under 18 from a previous marriage. Four percent of children under 18 in the household are stepchildren and even those numbers may be higher with people now defining stepchildren as children who live in a house with a biological parent who is cohabitating with a partner. These blended families make for large and intricate family dynamics. A child may have seven siblings, some step-siblings and some half-siblings, and a stepmother and stepfather due to these modern-day blended families.
The modern-day family has an entirely new portrait from the ones just ten years ago. Families in America could include one or two or all of the above facts about modern families. Many times the family unit evolves over the years to include new members. Today families look different, they might not live together all the time, and in many ways they came together in nontraditional ways. However, they still make a family.
For 2015 I say we change the definition of “family.” Let’s define it as a close-knit unit of individuals joined together without distinction to race/ethnicity, biology, sexual orientation, age, generation, or presence in households, cemented through one common characteristic: love.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Roper