In 1960, I was 7 years old. Every school day, my dad went off to work in the morning and my mom stayed home. I think that was true of just about all of my little friends in the neighborhood where I grew up.
That wasn’t specific to my small town. All around the U.S. in 1960, 65% of children under the age of 15 were living in a household with a married mom and dad, and only the dad was a wage earner.
It is very different now. As of 2017, only 21% of kids in the U.S. under the age of 15 are living in a husband-breadwinner, wife-homemaker household. That’s a decrease from nearly two-thirds to only about one-fifth.
All those kids who used to grow up like I did back in 1960 – how are they living now? Well, all sorts of ways.
University of Maryland sociologist Philip N. Cohen created a graph of the differences for his “Family Inequality” blog, which he has made available for sharing. As you can see, in 1960, the graph is dominated by dark green, which represents the husband-breadwinner, wife-homemaker households. The other permutations are represented by different colors. As Professor Cohen puts it, the graph shows a “fanning out from a dominant category to a veritable peacock’s tail” of different arrangements.
If I were in grade school today, it would be much more likely that both of my parents would be working for pay than only my father.
Many more kids today than in 1960 are being raised in single-mother households. Kids being raised by single fathers are on the increase, too, from just a sliver in 1960 to 5% now.
Children in two different kinds of households were not even counted in 1960: those whose parents were cohabiting without being married, and those who were being raised by same-sex parents. By 2017, 7% of kids were in a household in which their mother and father were cohabiting, and about a half of 1% had same-sex parents.
Many traditionalists are troubled by these trends. They think kids did better in the olden days. For the most part, Cohen does not share their concerns (and neither do I). He notes that some of the driving forces behind the changes have been positive ones. For example, fewer women are staying home because, over time, they have had more opportunities to pursue higher education and better jobs. And, as more women are going out into the workplace, more men are taking a more active role in raising their kids.
Even the children who are not being raised in one of the newer types of households often have friends or relatives who are. They can see that all sorts of possibilities are open to them, including same-sex relationships, cohabiting without marrying, raising kids on your own, and living single. Fewer of them will feel compelled to pretend to be someone they really aren’t.