Changes in the American Family

By Jerilyn WatsonThe American family is changing. Many people in the United States are forming different kinds of families than in the past. I'm Sarah Long.And I'm Shirley Griffith. We tell about changes in family life and their effects on the nation on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

In Nineteen-Sixty, forty-five percent of American homes had married parents with children under the age of eighteen. Population experts call this a traditional family. By Two-Thousand, fewer than twenty-five percent of American homes had these traditional families.

The United States Census Bureau counts the population every ten years. It also tells how Americans live. The Census of Two-Thousand reports many changes in the American family from the last census ten years ago. It reports that married men and women occupy more than half of American homes. But it also shows that more children live with only one parent than ten years ago. Other children live with a mother and father who are not married. Many of these children share homes with children not related to them.

Still other people may live with many family members. And more people of the same sex are making a home together in the United States today.

Census officials reported these observations last month. They say the changing American family will have important effects on government, education and business.Population experts give several reasons for the decreased number of traditional families. For example, young Americans today are not in a hurry to establish traditional families. Most women do not have to marry for financial security. They have good jobs and can support themselves. Men and women are marrying later in life than they did ten years ago. These couples also are having children later.

Both women and men now are living longer than they once did. This means many married couples will spend years together after their children have grown and left home.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Census officials say the number of people living alone increased in the Nineteen-Nineties. More than twenty-seven-million people live alone. This is about twenty-six percent of the population. Some people who live alone choose never to marry. Others live alone before marrying, or after a marriage has failed. Other people who live alone are over the age of sixty-five. Many of these people live by themselves because their husbands or wives have died.The United States has more than one-hundred-million homes, also called households. The Census of Two-Thousand shows that homes headed by single mothers increased twenty-five percent during the Nineteen-Nineties. There are now more than seven-million single mothers. This is a result of the high rate of marriages that end in divorce. It also is a result of the high rate of unmarried women having babies. During most of the past ten years, about one-third of all babies born in the United States were born to unmarried women.

Some public officials and policy organizations fear the effects of the increase in such families on government. They say these families will make added demands on social service agencies. This is because many single mothers earn less money than two-parent families.Single fathers now head about two-million American homes. This is a big increase from ten years ago. Like single mothers, single fathers also can have financial problems.

For example, a thirty-six-year-old man works for a Maryland computer company. He and his wife ended their marriage a year ago. The court decided that the couple's two-year-old daughter would live with the father. He is happy to have his little girl live with him. But he says he is always worrying about money.

He pays separate housing expenses for himself and his former wife. He pays someone to care for his daughter while he works. But sometimes his daughter is sick and cannot go to the care provider. So he had to bring the child to his office several times. He says he could lose his job if this happens too often.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Dorian Solot is a leader of the Alternatives to Marriage Project in Boston, Massachusetts. She helped organize the project in Nineteen-Ninety-Eight to advise unmarried people. Its members include single people, unmarried couples and couples of the same sex.

Years ago, many Americans said they strongly disapproved of unmarried couples living together. More recent opinion studies have shown that many people no longer feel this way. Perhaps this is one reason that the number of unmarried couples has increased seventy-one percent since Nineteen-Ninety. There are now eleven-million unmarried people living with a partner.

Ms. Solot says she expects more unmarried couples to live together in the future. But she says there is still great pressure on them to marry.The Family Research Council in Washington, DC has expressed concern about children living with unmarried parents. It reports the results of a Nineteen-Ninety-Seven study of American families. The study says these children are more likely to be poor. It says they are less likely to do well in school. And the report says they may have emotional problems later in life.A mental health expert for the public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, works with children from several kinds of nontraditional homes. She says these children are sometimes poorly supervised. Sometimes a number of different people care for them.

Often their caretakers are other children. Some children have no supervision at all. Money problems can force their families to move from place to place. This means the children must change schools often.

However, the mental health expert says many nontraditional families are happy and successful. She says children do best when they receive continued loving care from the same adults. She believes this is true no matter who the adults may be.The National Education Association is a union that represents American teachers. The association urges schools to help parents and children of nontraditional families. It points to the example of the Ensley Elementary School in Pensacola, Florida. The school is in one of the poorest areas of the United States. It has many nontraditional families. A high number of students move into and out of the area every year.

Florida state educators and a parent group have joined forces to improve student life at Ensley Elementary School. The goal is to develop strong relations between the school and the parents.

For example, classes after school show parents how to use computers. This prepares them to help their children with school work. Other classes train mothers and fathers to work with children who do poorly on tests. Parents can borrow books and teaching materials from the school. Men in the community provide a male presence to children whose own fathers do not live with them. These men help teachers in classrooms. They organize special money-raising events. They also do needed repair work at the school.Over the years, many American businesses have presented their sales messages for traditional families. They designed this advertising for married people with children.

Some businesses continue to target advertising to the traditional family. For example, many food ads show such families. Other businesses, however, direct their sales messages to nontraditional households.

For example, a current television advertisement for a large investment company is aimed at single mothers. It shows the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. She is the former wife of Britain's Prince Andrew. Now she is a divorced mother. She is telling a bedtime story to a little girl. The story is about a beautiful young woman and a brave warrior long ago. The knight marries the woman, takes her to his castle and gives her everything she needs.

But then Sarah Ferguson tells the little girl that she should learn about investing her money. She says this is important because people sometimes do not live happily ever after.

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Sarah Long. Join us again next week for another program about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.