Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Married Couples as an Index of Economic Wellbeing

If married couples are an index of economic wellbeing--and I would argue that they are--then the index is trending down. According to 2010 census results, married couples head only 48 percent of the nation's households, down from 52 percent in 2000. The percentage of households headed by married couples with children under age 18 fell to 20 percent in 2010, down from 24 percent in 2000.

To put these numbers into perspective, back in the Good Old Days of 1957, fully 76 percent of the nation's households were headed by married couples. Nearly half--45 percent--were headed by married couples with children under age 18.

The urban activist and philosopher Jane Jacobs writes that nuclear families (the basic biological unit of society) and households (the basic economic unit of society) are often synonymous when times are good. But when times are tough, households "are more adaptable and resilient than families when subjected to stresses and jolts, while at the same time maintaining their elementary functions...Households, adaptable as they are, take over functions that families are at a loss to fill." (Dark Age Ahead, pages 50-51).

In other words, households and nuclear families decouple during hard times. This looks like decoupling to me:

2010 Census: Households by Type (numbers in 000s)

      number        percent
Total households 116,716 100.0
Married couples 56,510 48.4
  With children <18 23,588 20.2
Female family hh 15,250 13.1
Male family hh 5,778 5.0
Nonfamily hh 39,178 33.6
  Living alone 31,205 26.7
  Other 7,973 6.8

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