What Is a Non-Traditional Family? - Definition of Options

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  • 0:01 Traditional vs.…
  • 0:55 Single Parenthood
  • 1:18 Cohabitation
  • 1:59 Same-Sex Families
  • 2:26 Polygamy
  • 3:04 Singlehood
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
Although traditional families once dominated many neighborhoods, today, there are lots of ways to form a family beyond the traditional idea of a married mother and father raising children.

Traditional vs. Non-Traditional Families

There's no denying that the concept of family has certainly changed in American society over the last few decades. Statistics continue to show that fewer Americans are getting married, and those who do so are having fewer children or none at all. More marriages are ending in divorce. More people are living alone, cohabiting with someone, or marrying more than once in a lifetime and creating stepfamilies.

Traditional families once dominated every neighborhood. A traditional family consists of a husband and wife, plus their children, whether biological or adopted, if they have any. Today, American society displays greater diversity, and many American households can be considered non-traditional under this definition.

Family structures that may be considered non-traditional or alternative include single parenthood, cohabitation, same-sex families, and polygamy. Let's take a brief look at each of these.

Single Parenthood

Single parenthood was fairly common prior to the 20th century due to the more frequent deaths of spouses. But at that time, there was a certain stigma surrounding being a single parent. Today, single parenthood is considered more acceptable. One-parent families may still result from the death of a significant other, but now also come about through circumstances, including a parent's choice or divorce.


Cohabitation is the sharing of a household by an unmarried couple. This arrangement continues to gain popularity in the U.S., and cohabiting couples and their children made up approximately 15 million households according to the 2012 U.S. Census. Cohabitation can be seen as an alternative form of marriage, and in many ways, it is similar to marriage. It can be used by couples wanting to test their compatibility or by couples whose marriage would not otherwise be legal. However, it does not receive the same formal recognition or legal benefits as marriage, and cohabiting adults may face social disapproval from family or faith communities where traditional marriage is considered the ideal or standard.

Same-Sex Families

Up until June 26, 2015, same-sex marriage, that is a marriage between two men or two women, was not legal in most states. This long-simmering and controversial issue was legally settled by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, making same-sex marriage legally recognized in all 50 states. However, same-sex families may still face social resistance.

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