Demographic Shifts in Household Composition: Reasons & Consequences

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  • 0:00 The American Household
  • 0:48 Shifts in Demographics
  • 2:16 Reason For Shifts
  • 3:57 Consequences of Shifts
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

Since the mid-20th century, there have been huge shifts in the makeup of the American household. This lesson highlights these shifts while also explaining their reasons and consequences.

The American Household

If you said the word 'household' in the 1950s, most people would think of a dad, a mom, a few kids, and a dog named Spot. Nowadays, however, things are not so cut and dry. To explain what I mean, let's take a look at the demographic shifts which have occurred in the makeup of the household.

Since this is such a huge topic, we'll limit our discussion to the American home. As we do this, we'll trade in the Leave it to Beaver definition of household for the more modern description of all people who occupy a single residence. Under this broad blanket, a household can be a traditional mom, dad, and kids set up, a domestic partner set up, one person living by themselves, or even roommates living together to split the rent.

With this definition nailed down, let's take a look at some shifting trends.

Shifts in Demographics

Kicking off our discussion, the number of U.S. households has skyrocketed over the last 60 years or so. In 1940, there were an estimated 35 million households. By 2010, this number had mushroomed to 117 million.

Interestingly, this surge in the number of U.S. households has not been accompanied by a rise in the number of American families occupying them. For instance, in 1940, 90% of American households were made up of families living together. Adding to this, the majority of these families (about 75%) were married couples living with children or married couples without children. Only about four percent were single-parent households. Also, 1940 saw one-person residences making up only about eight percent of U.S. households.

Today, these numbers are very different. The year 2010 saw only about 66% of U.S. households being comprised of family members. Even more striking, less than 50% of these families contained a married couple. That's a drop of about 25% since 1940! Making the shift in household demographics even more profound, the bureau reported that single-parent homes now make up almost 10% of family households within the U.S., while those living alone rose to almost 27%.

Reasons for Shifts

According to experts, there are several reasons for these big swings in household demographics. One of the major ones is the aging population of America, specifically the baby boomers, those born in the years following World War II. To explain, the years following World War II saw a temporary rise in national birthrates. Men were coming home from the war, getting married, or reuniting with their wives, and baby making was in full swing, hence the huge jump in the number of households within our country. However, as these baby boomers have now become our elderly, many of them live on their own as widows and widowers, hence the rise of single person households.

Another reason for the change in household demographics is the number of children born out of wedlock. In 2013, it was reported that 40% of American babies are born to unwed mothers. Furthermore, fewer women are choosing to have children, and those who do are having less. The average 1970s woman choosing to have children had three. By 2013, this number had dropped to two.

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