Living Arrangements of Kids in the U.S. Remain Fairly Stable

October 19, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The living arrangements of children in the U.S. seem to have become pretty stable in the past 18 years or so.  That’s the takeaway from the linked-to piece by Wendy Wang who is director of research at the Institute for Family Studies and a former senior researcher at Pew Research Center.

So, for example, about 65.3% of all kids under the age of 18 now live with both of their married biological parents.  That’s down from 68% in 2000, so not a lot of change.  Just 3.6% live with both parents who aren’t married and 4.2% live with one of their parents.  Both of those are down from 2000, but not greatly so.  Overall, since 2000, living arrangements for kids have generally stabilized after 30 years of declining rates of marital childcare.

Of course, all that varies by race and/or ethnicity.  Some 44% of black children live with a single parent, usually their mother and that is by far the most common living arrangement for them.  Just 36% of black kids live with their married biological parents.  By contrast, 74% of white children and 85% of Asian ones live with both of their married parents.

Single parenthood of course is associated with a wide range of poor results for children.  And, since cohabiting couples are significantly more likely to break up than are married ones, cohabitation tends to equal instability for children. And that instability too is a problem.

The growing share of children living in a cohabiting family, whether with their own parents or with one of their parents, adds another layer of complexity to American families today. Children can struggle in adapting to parents’ new living arrangements and navigating the relationships between their parent, his or her partner, and their other parent who does not live with them. Cohabitation is also associated with greater family instability, as most cohabitations in the U.S. are short lived. And family instability, in turn, is strongly linked to poorer child outcomes. Nevertheless, more and more children today find themselves living in a cohabiting family—at least for a time.

In short, we want couples who choose to have kids to be married.  It’s by far the best arrangement for the children and adults alike.

Unsurprisingly, adults who’ve attained higher levels of education tend to have kids within marriage rather than while single.

 It is well-documented that a parent’s higher education, especially a mother’s, is associated with better child outcomes. One of the reasons is that highly-educated and economically better-off adults are more likely to marry and stay married, which provides a relatively more stable environment for their children’s development.

Having a college-educated mother is associated with a much higher chance that children live with two married parents. For children whose mother is college educated, 86% live with two married parents in 2018, down slightly from 2007 when it was 88%.2 In contrast, 60% of children with high-school educated mothers live with married parents in 2018.

Children of college-educated mothers are less likely to live in a cohabiting family: only 4% live with cohabiting parents, and about 10% live with a single mom. The share is higher among children whose mothers do not have a college degree. For example, 11% of children with high-school educated mothers live with cohabiting parents and 28% live with a single mom.

Given the ever-increasing levels of education in this country, perhaps we can anticipate lower levels of unmarried childbearing and couples with children cohabiting in the future.

I guess we’ll see.

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