Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Portrait of Fathers and Mothers in America

Family Formation Section:

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Contents

FF1 - Marriage

Marriage is one of the most beneficial resources for adults and children alike. Children in married parent families tend to have fewer behavior problems, better emotional well-being, and better academic outcomes, on average, than children in single parent or divorced families. (1), (2) Marriage is less beneficial for children's emotional and behavioral well-being in families marked by high parental conflict. (3), (4) Fathers' attachments to their children are often contingent upon marriage - fathers tend to disengage from children they no longer live with, making less frequent visits and calls to them over time. (5) The benefits of marriage for adults help shape a positive environment for their children. For example, married men and women have higher levels of wealth than those who are separated, divorced, widowed or never married; and married people, men in particular, engage in healthier behaviors than those who divorce. (6)

Since marriage extends many resources that benefit child well-being, it is important to monitor trends in the marital status of adults. The Current Population Survey is used to track the current marital status of males and females, 18 years old and older, over the period of 1991 through 2001 (refer to Table FF1.1). The Survey of Income and Program Participation is used to report a more comprehensive classification of marital status - lifetime number of marriages - for the most recent year available, 1996 (refer to Table FF1.2).

By Gender. The percentage of men and women who are married declined modestly between 1991 and 2001 from 64 percent to 61 percent. Importantly for children, this trend is also evident among parents. Ninety-two percent of fathers were married in 1991, whereas 88 percent were married in 2001; seventy-five percent of mothers were married in 1991, whereas 72 percent were married in 2001. These numbers indicate that not only has the percentage of single parents risen for both men and women since 1991, but also that there is a higher percentage of single mothers than single fathers.

By Parental Status. Most fathers and mothers have been married at some point in their life. In 1996, 97 percent of fathers and 91 percent of mothers report that they have been married at least once in their lifetime. Among single parents, however, 94 percent of single fathers have been married previously, but only 74 percent of single mothers have.

By Race and Hispanic Origin. Among men and women, black, non-Hispanics are the least likely to be married. In 2001, 46 percent of black, non-Hispanic men were married, compared to 64 percent of white, non-Hispanics, 60 percent of Hispanic origin, 64 percent of Asians or Pacific Islanders, and 52 percent of American Indians or Alaskan natives. Among women, 38 percent of black, non-Hispanics were married, compared to about 60 percent of white, non-Hispanics and women of Hispanic origin, 65 percent of Asians or Pacific Islanders, and 56 percent of American Indians or Alaskan natives. When considering lifetime number of marriages, black, non-Hispanic men and women are still less likely than others to ever marry.

By Age. The likelihood of being married increases with age for both men and women. However, among younger adults, women are more likely to be married than men. Twenty percent of women under 25 were married in 2001, compared to only 10 percent of men. Further, among those ages 45 and older, the odds of having two or more marriages go up to about 1 in 4.

By Poverty Status. Only 41 percent of poor men were married in 2001, and as income rises, so does one's probability of being married, such that 66 percent of men living at 300 percent of the poverty level were married in 2001. The marriage gap between women who are poor and those who are not is even wider. One out of every 3 poor women is married, while about 2 out of every 3 women at 300 or more percent of the poverty level are married. The difference between poor women and poor men is also notable: forty-one percent of poor men were married in 2001, compared to 33 percent of poor women.

Furthermore, the percentage of poor men and women who were married declined between 1991 and 2001, from 48 percent to 41 percent for men, and 37 percent to 33 percent for women. At the other end of economic stability, the percentage of men and women with incomes at 300 percent or more of the poverty level stayed about the same (67 percent of men and 69 percent of women at this income bracket were married in 1991).

By Educational Attainment. Seventy-two percent of men with a college education were married in 2001, compared to 59 percent of men with a high school diploma or equivalent and only 55 percent with less than 12 years of schooling. This pattern is similar for women: Sixty-five percent of women with a college degree were married in 2001, compared to 60 percent of women with a high school diploma or equivalent and 46 percent with less than 12 years of schooling.

Persons with less than a high school education are less likely to be married than they were ten years ago. For example, 61 percent of men and 50 percent of women with less than a high school education were married in 1991, compared to 55 percent of men and 46 percent of women of this level of education in 2001. Conversely, the percent of married men and married women with a college education remained relatively stable between 1991 and 2001 (72 percent of college educated men and 64 percent of college educated women were married in 1991).

Figure FF1.1
Percentage of married adults
by poverty status and educational attainment: 1991 & 2001

Figure FF1.1 Percentage of married adults by poverty status and educational attainment: 1991 & 2001

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FF2 - Divorce

Divorce is linked to behavior problems among children, including depression, antisocial behavior, impulsive/hyperactive behavior, and school behavior problems. (7)It places daughters at greater risk of having nonmarital births. (8) Often these outcomes are the result of the processes that are set into motion when parents divorce. Children living with one parent are more likely to have household income below the poverty line than children living with both parents (9), and these children are often uprooted to new neighborhoods and schools supported by fewer financial resources. (10) Spending time in a family that is not headed by two married parents increases the likelihood that a child will experience subsequent changes in his or her family status. (11) Thus, changes in a child's family situation can cause short-term instability and also interrupt important pathways for a child's social-economic well-being in adulthood.

Data from The Survey of Income and Program Participation is used to report the prevalence of divorce among adults who have ever married. We include information for the years 1990 and 1996 (refer to Table FF2.1).

By Gender. Between 1990 and 1996, the percentage of ever-married adults who divorced remained about the same among men and declined modestly for women. In addition, only slightly more ever-married women than men reported having experienced a divorce (32 percent of ever-married females compared to 30 percent of ever-married males in 1996).

By Parental Status. Resident parents are less likely to have experienced divorce than those without children: Seventy-nine percent of ever-married fathers had never divorced by 1996 compared to 61 percent of ever-married men without children; 72 percent of ever-married mothers have never divorced by 1996 compared to 63 percent of ever-married women without children (see Figure FF2.1).

Figure FF2.1
Percentage of ever-married parents and nonparents
who have never divorced: 1996

Figure FF2.1 Percentage of ever-married parents and nonparents who have never divorced: 1996

By Marital Status. The majority of those who were married in 1996 had never had a divorce (81 percent of men and 82 percent of women). Experiencing one divorce, however, may lead to another divorce. About 27 percent of previously married men and women had actually experienced two divorces or more.

By Race and Hispanic Origin. Hispanics are the least likely to divorce among race and ethnic groups. In 1996, seventy-nine percent of Hispanic males (and 75 percent of females) had never divorced, 69 percent of white, non-Hispanic males (68 percent of females), and 63 percent of black, non-Hispanic males (58 percent of females).

By Poverty Status. For ever-married men, the likelihood of divorce differs little by poverty status (see figure FF2.2). Among ever-married women, however, the poor are more likely than higher income women to have been divorced at least once (44 percent among the poor compared to 29 percent for those at or above 300 percent of the poverty line in 1996).

The likelihood of divorce among ever-married men and women who are currently poor decreased slightly between 1990 and 1996. Among women, for example, the percentage decreased from 53 percent to 44 percent.

Figure FF2.2
Percentage of ever-married adults
who have experienced divorce, by poverty status: 1996

Figure FF2.2 Percentage of ever-married adults who have experienced divorce, by poverty status: 1996

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FF3 - Age at First Marriage and Divorce

The age at which parents marry helps determine the stability of a child's living arrangements. Marriage at a young age increases the likelihood of future instability. For example, 59 percent of marriages to brides under age 18 end in separation or divorce within 15 years, compared to 36 percent of those married at age 20 or over. (12) When women delay marriage in pursuit of higher education and stable employment, this may foster the attainment of economic resources that make them attractive marriage partners; these resources also bode well for child health, social and emotional well-being, and academic achievement. (13) The probability of remarriage is significantly higher for women who are younger at divorce, although, once again, a younger age at remarriage (e.g., under 25) places women at higher risk of experiencing future marital dissolution. (14)

Data from The Survey of Income and Program Participation is used to track age at first marriage for respondents in the years 1990 and 1996, and age at first divorce in 1996 (refer to Tables FF3.1 and FF3.2).

Age at First Marriage

By Gender. Consistent with traditional patterns, men marry at a later age than women. In 1996, the average age at first marriage for men was 25 years; women first married at 23, on average.

By Parental Status. Age at first marriage is similar for those who are currently parents than it is for men and women who do not have children. However, between 1990 and 1996, it did rise one full year for parents. Fathers married, on average, at the age of 24 in 1990 and 25 in 1996. Mothers married, on average, at the age of 22 in 1990 and 23 in 1996.

By Race and Hispanic Origin. In 1996, black, non-Hispanics had the highest ages at first marriage (26 and 23 years for males and females, respectively). They are followed by Hispanics (25 for men and 23 for women), and white, non-Hispanics (25 for men and 22 for women).

By Educational Attainment. College educated women first married at an average age of 25 years, while those with a high school education or equivalent married at 22, on average, and those with less than that first married at 21 years of age, on average. Among men, differences by level of education are more modest (see Figure FF3.1).

Age at First Divorce

By Gender. The age at first divorce is higher for men than it is for women. Men first divorce at an average age of about 34, while women first divorce at an average age of about 31. There is little difference across any of the other subgroups studied.

Figure FF3.1
Average age at first marriage by educational attainment: 1996

Figure FF3.1 Average age at first marriage by educational attainment:
1996

Table FF3.1
Average age at first marriage: 1990 & 19961
  Males Females
1990 1996 1990 1996
Total 24.1 24.9 21.9 22.5
Race and Hispanic Origin2
White non-Hispanic 24.0 24.7 21.7 22.3
Black non-Hispanic 24.6 26.1 22.4 23.2
Hispanic 23.9 25.2 21.9 22.8
Asian/Pacific Islander * * * *
American IndianlAlaskan Native * * * *
Poverty Status
Poor (0 to 99% poverty) 23.6 25.0 21.2 22.0
Extreme poverty (at 50% or less) 23.5 24.9 20.9 22.1
Nonpoor      
100 to 199% of poverty 23.9 24.7 21.3 22.1
200 to 299% of poverty 23.9 24.6 21.6 22.2
300% or more of poverty 24.4 25.1 22.3 23.0
Marital Status
Currently married 24.2 25.1 22.0 22.8
Not currently married 23.7 24.3 21.6 21.9
Parental Status
Resident parent 23.7 24.9 21.5 22.5
Nonparent 24.4 25.0 22.1 22.6
Age of Respondent
18 to 24 years old 20.8 20.9 19.7 20.0
25 to 44 years old 23.8 24.9 21.9 23.0
45 years and older 24.6 25.2 22.0 22.4
Educational Attainment
Less than high school 23.6 24.6 20.9 21.3
High school diploma or GED 23.6 24.3 21.4 21.9
Vocational/technical or some college 24.0 24.5 22.1 22.4
College graduate 25.5 26.3 24.1 24.8
Employment
Not in labor force 24.9 25.6 22.0 22.4
Looking for work 23.6 25.3 21.2 22.3
Less than 35 hours per week 24.9 24.7 21.7 22.3
35 hours or more per week 23.8 24.7 21.7 22.6
1 This table is limited to the ever-married population.
2 Estimates for all race categories exclude Hispanics of those races. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
*= This information has been suppressed due to an insufficient number of cases.
Source: Estimates supplied by S. Eshleman Systems Management. based on data from the 1990 and 1996 Survey of Income and Program Participation

Table FF3.2
Average age at first divorce: 19961
  Males Females
Total 33.7 31.2
Race and Hispanic Origir2
White non-Hispanic 33.8 31.1
Black non-Hispanic 33.7 31.7
Hispanic 33.3 31.2
Asian/Pacific Islander * *
American Indian/Alaskan Native * *
Poverty Status
Poor (0 to 99% poverty) 33.3 31.0
Extreme poverty (at 50% or less) 33.2 30.5
Nonpoor    
100 to 199% of poverty 33.7 31.0
200 to 299% of poverty 33.6 31.4
300% or more of poverty 33.9 31.2
Marital Status
Currently married 33.3 29.7
Not currently married 34.3 32.3
Parental Status
Resident parent 30.7 29.0
Nonparent 35.4 33.0
Age of Respondent
18 to 24 years old 21.2 20.8
25 to 44 years old 28.6 27.4
45 years and older 37.5 34.7
Educational Attainment
Less than high school 35.9 31.9
High school diploma or GED 32.6 30.8
Vocational/technical or some college 32.5 30.3
College graduate 36.0 32.9
Employment
Not in labor force 39.7 33.4
Looking for work 34.2 28.4
Less than 35 hours per week 36.2 29.6
35 hours or more per week 32.1 30.2
1 This table is limited to the ever-divorced population.
2.Estimates for all race categories exclude Hispanics of those races. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
* = This information has been suppressed due to an insufficient number of cases
Source: Estimates supplied by S. Eshleman Systems Management, based on data from the 1996 Survey of Income and Program Participation

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FF4 - Characteristics of Current Spouse

The characteristics of parents provide resources for their children. The stable employment of both spouses gives families an economic advantage over other families. Higher levels of education and age among parents yield an increased ability to garner not only economic resources, but also other resources needed by families. (15) For example, higher levels of income and education may provide family members with more knowledge of good health habits and better access to health and preventive services, and is related to higher educational achievement in children. (16) Higher levels of men's education appear to support marriage and increase its stability, which bodes well for children. (17)

The Current Population Survey is used to track the characteristics of the spouses of males and females in 2001 (refer to Table FF4.1).

By Age. While men and women tend to marry other men and women of the same general age group, men tend to marry spouses younger than themselves. For example, 58 percent of married women under age 25 have a spouse who is 25- to 44-years-old. Only 18 percent of married men under 25 years of age have a spouse who is 25- to 44-years-old.

By Employment Status. Fifty-four percent of men working 35 or more hours a week have a wife who also works those same hours. However, 85 percent of wives working full-time have husbands who work full-time. When the wives of full-time working husbands aren't working full-time themselves, they are mainly out of the labor force (27 percent), or working less than 35 hours a week (17 percent). (see Figure FF4.1).

Figure FF4.1
Employment status of spouse
for men and women working full-time: 2001

Figure FF4.1 Employment status of spouse for men and women working full-time: 2001

Table FF4.1
Percentage of respondents by spouse characteristics: 200112
  Males
Race and Hispanic Origin of Spouse
White non-
Hispanic
Black non-
Hispanic
Hispanic Asian/ Pacific
Islander
American Indian/
Alaskan Native
Race and Hispanic Origin of Respondent3
White non-Hispanic 96 0 2 1 1
Black non-Hispanic 6 92 2 0 0
Hispanic 13 1 85 1 0
Asian/Pacific Islander 8 0 1 90 0
American Indian/Alaskan Native 45 3 4 1 47
  Age of Spouse
18 to 24 years old 25to 44 years old 45 years and older
Age of Respondent
18 to 24 years old 81 18 1
25 to 44 years old 6 89 5
45 years and older 0 15 85
  Educational Attainment of Spouse
Less than high school High school diploma or GED Vocational/ technical or some college College graduate
Educational Attainment of Respondent
Less than high school 53 32 12 3
High school diploma or GED 10 58 23 9
Vocational/technical or some college 5 31 44 19
College graduate 1 14 24 6o
  Employment of Spouse
Not in labor force Looking for work hours per week more per week
Employment of Respondent
Not in labor force 74 1 7 18
Looking for work 27 10 15 48
Less than 35 hours per week 39 2 24 36
35 hours or more per week 27 2 17 54
1.Although the numerator (the number of cases) is the same for both males and females the percentages in the male and female tables should not be expected to match due to different denominators in each table which produce different estimates.
2.Due to rounding, 0% in the table may represent any percentage less than 0.5.
3 Estimates for all race categories exclude Hispanics of those races. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
Source: Estimates calculated by Child Trends based on analyses of the 2001, March Supplement, Current Population Survey.

Table FF4.1 (cont'd)
Percentage of respondents by spouse characteristics: 200112
  Females
Race and Hispanic Origin of Spouse
White non- Hispanic Black non- Hispanic Hispanic Asian/ Pacific Islander American Indian/Alaskan Native
Race and Hispanic Origin of Respondent3
White non-Hispanic 97 1 2 0 0
Black non-Hispanic 2 96 1 0 0
Hispanic 15 1 83 0 0
Asian/Pacific Islander 15 1 1 83 0
American Indian/Alaskan Native 50 2 6 1 42
  Age of Spouse
18-24 years old 25-44 years old 45 years older
Age of Respondent
18 to 24 years old 41 58 1
25 to 44 years old 1 81 19
45 years and older 0 4 96
  Educational Attainment of Spouse
Less than high school High school diploma or GED Vocational/technical or some college College graduate
Educational Attainment of Respondent
Less than high school 61 25 11 3
High school diploma or GED 13 51 23 12
Vocational/technical or some college 6 26 40 27
College graduate 2 11 18 69
  Employment of Spouse
Not in labor force Looking for work hours per week more per week
Employment of Respondent
Not in labor force 44 2 5 50
Looking for work 9 13 4 73
Less than 35 hours per week 11 2 7 80
35 hours or more per week 9 2 4 85
1 Although the numerator (the number of cases) is the same for both males and females the percentages in the male and female tables should not be expected to match due to different denominators in each table which produce different estimates.
2 Due to rounding, 0% in the table may represent any percentage less than 0.5.
3 Estimates for all race categories exclude Hispanics of those races. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
Source: Estimates calculated by Child Trends based on analyses of the 2001, March Supplement, Current Population Survey.

By Educational Attainment. Men and women are both most likely to marry someone with the same level of educational attainment. In the year 2001, college graduates are far more likely to marry each other than to marry someone with less education: 60 percent of male college graduates and 69 percent of female college graduates have spouses that are college graduates. Only 15 percent of male college graduates (and 13 percent of female college graduates) marry spouses with a high school education or less.

By Race and Hispanic Origin. The majority of married white, non-Hispanics; black, non-Hispanics; Hispanics; and Asian and Pacific Islanders have spouses of the same racial background. American Indians and Alaskan Natives, however, are equally likely to marry white, non-Hispanics as they are to marry someone of their same race.

Other differences also emerge. Black, non-Hispanic men are less likely to have a black, non-Hispanic spouse than are black, non-Hispanic women (92 percent compared to 96 percent). In addition, when black, non-Hispanic men do not marry other black, non-Hispanics, they are more likely than black, non-Hispanic women to have a white, non-Hispanic spouse (6 percent compared to 2 percent, respectively).

The opposite pattern seems to be true for Asian and Pacific Islanders. Ninety percent of these men, but only 83 percent of these women, have a spouse of the same ethnic background. Fifteen percent of Asian and Pacific Islander women are married to white, non-Hispanic spouses, whereas only 8 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander men have a white, non-Hispanic spouse. Hispanic men and women are about equally likely to have a Hispanic spouse (85 and 83 percent, respectively). White, non-Hispanic men and women are the most likely to have a spouse of the same race (96 and 97 percent, respectively).

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FF5 - Attitudes Toward Divorce

Public attitudes toward divorce became more favorable in the mid-1970's, and they likely helped contribute toward the passing of no-fault divorce legislation. (18) Since the 1970's, Americans have held attitudes that are by and large tolerant of divorce and divorce rates have remained quite high. (19) At the same time that the public is tolerant of divorce, most young and old Americans place great emphasis on marriage and children and plan to devote much of their lives to their roles as parent and spouse. (20)

Children with divorced parents score lower on average than children with continuously married parents on measures of academic success, conduct, psychological adjustment, social competence, and long-term health outcomes. (21) Nevertheless, the great majority of children from divorced families do well, and the differences in well-being between children from divorced families and those from intact families tend to be moderate to small. (22)

Two questions from the General Social Survey (GSS) are used to depict adult attitudes toward divorce. Respondents were asked to report how much they agreed with the following two statements: 1) "When there are children in the family, parents should stay together even if they don't get along" and 2) "Divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can't seem to work out their marriage problems." Both items were measured in 1994 (refer to Table FF5.1). It is worth noting that these two questions represent divorce in two circumstances; these attitudes are not necessarily indicative of all attitudes such as cases involving child and spousal abuse or infidelity.

Attitudes about divorce when there are children in the family

By Gender. A minority of men (20 percent) agree or strongly agree with the statement that "when there are children in the family, parents should stay together even if they don't get along." Even fewer women support this notion (12 percent).

By Marital and Parental Status. Women's low levels of support for the notion that parents should stay together even if they don't get along does not vary according to their marital or parental status. However, parenthood does have an effect on men-- only 14 percent of male nonparents believe that parents should stay together even if they don't get along, compared to 23 percent of fathers (see Figure FF5.1).

By Educational Attainment. Support for maintaining a troubled marriage if it involves children varies according to educational status. Males and females with less than a high school education are much more likely than others to agree or strongly agree that parents should stay together even if they don't get along. For example, 37 percent of men with less than a high school education support this notion, compared to 14 percent of men with a high school education or equivalent and 17 percent of men with a college education; 25 percent of females with less than a high school education agree or strongly agree with this notion, compared to 9 percent with a high school education or equivalent and 12 percent with a college education.

Figure FF5.1
Percentage of respondents who agree
or strongly agree with the statement that
"when there are children in the family, parents should
stay together even if they don't get along,"
by gender and parental status: 1994

Figure FF5.1 Percentage of respondents who agree or strongly agree with the statement that when there are children in the family, parents should stay together even if they don't get along, by gender and parental status: 1994

Table FF5.1
Percentage of adults ages 18 to 65 who agree or strongly agree
with the following statements about divorce: 1994
  When there are children in the family, parents should stay together even if they don't get along. Divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can't seem to work out their marriageproblems.
Males Females Males Females
Total 20 12 49 48
Race and Hispanic Origin1
White non-Hispanic 19 11 52 46
Black non-Hispanic 21 19 43 62
Hispanic 22 7 38 46
Asian/Pacific Islander * * * *
American Indian/Alaskan Native * 8 * 40
Poverty Status
Poor na na na na
Borderline poor na na na na
Nonpoor na na na na
Marital Status
Currently married 21 11 48 44
Not currently married 19 13 51 51
Parental Status
Parent 23 12 49 51
Nonparent 14 13 51 37
Age of Respondent
18 to 24 years old 20 9 49 35
25 to 44 years old 16 10 44 43
45 to 65 years old 24 15 56 54
Educational Attainment
Less than high school 37 25 57 53
High school diploma or GED 14 9 48 50
Vocational/technical or some college 25 6 41 42
College graduate 17 12 48 42
Employment
Not in labor force 31 17 57 53
Looking for work 4 13 36 46
Less than 35 hours per week 15 13 62 56
35 hour or more per week 18 8 47 42
Note: Scores based on three categories - Strongly Agree or Agree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, and Disagree or Strongly Disagree.
1 Estimates for all race categories exclude Hispanics or those races. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
* = This information has been suppressed due to an insufficient number of cases.
na = data not available
Source: Estimates calculated by Child Trends based on analyses of the 1994 General Social Surveys

Attitudes about divorce when a couple can't seem to work it out.

By Gender. About half of all men and women agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that "divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can't seem to work out their marriage problems."

By Race and Hispanic Origin. Over half (62 percent) of black, non-Hispanic women agree or strongly agree that divorce is the best solution when a couple can't seem to work out their marriage problems, while less than half of white, non-Hispanic, Hispanic, and American Indian/ Alaskan Native women support this statement. (23) In addition, about 50 percent more black, non-Hispanic women than black, non-Hispanic men support divorce.

By Marital and Parental Status. About fifty percent of men, regardless of their marital or parental status, agree with the statement that divorce is the best solution to marital problems. Women who are married, however, are somewhat less likely to endorse this view than unmarried women (44 percent compared to 51 percent). Women who do not have children are less likely than mothers to agree with this point of view (37 compared to 51 percent).

By Age. Tolerance of divorce varies by age among women. Women under 25 years old are less likely to endorse divorce than females age 45 or older
(35 percent and 55 percent, respectively). Men, however, hold about the same opinion of divorce, regardless of age.

By Employment Status. Men and women who work full-time are less likely than others to support divorce. Forty-seven percent of men working full-time agree or strongly agree that divorce is a good solution in the face of marital problems compared to 62 percent of men who work less than 35 hours a week. Forty-two percent of women working full-time agree that divorce is a good solution to marital problems compared to 56 percent of women working less than 35 hours a week and 53 percent who are not in the labor force.

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FF6 - Cohabitation Status

Cohabitation among adults is an increasingly common element in the formation of children's families. The majority of marriages and remarriages now begin as cohabiting relationships. (24) Among cohabitating couples with children, 70 percent have the biological children of only one partner. (25) Further, about 40 percent of all 'nonmarital' births can actually be attributed to cohabiting couples. (26) The birth of a child to a cohabiting couple tends to lead to marriage for white, non-Hispanic parents, but not for black, non-Hispanic parents. (27)

While some research suggests that children living in cohabiting families are worse off economically compared to children living with married parents (28) and are at risk of experiencing future instability in their living arrangements, (29) it is important to note that children already disadvantaged in terms of parental income and education are relatively more likely to experience this family form. (30), (31)

Data from the Current Population Survey March Supplements are used to track current cohabitation status in the years 1991 through 2001 (refer to Table FF6.1).

By Gender. The percentage of adult men and women who cohabit rose between 1991 and 2001 (see Figure FF6.1). Four percent of all men cohabited in 1991, rising to about 5 percent in 2001. Three percent of all women cohabited in 1991, rising to about 5 percent in 2001.

These percentages are higher when considering only those who are "available" to cohabit - men and women who are not married. Eleven percent of unmarried men cohabitated in 1991, rising to 13 percent in 2001. Eight percent of unmarried women cohabitated in 1991, rising to 11 percent in 2001 (see Figure FF6.1).

By Poverty Status. Cohabitation is clearly linked to poverty status. Thirteen percent of poor men and 11 percent of poor women cohabited in 2001. These percentages shrink at higher income levels, such that only 3 percent of men and women with family incomes at 3 times the poverty level cohabited in 2001 (see Figure FF6.2).

Figure FF6.1
Percentage of cohabitors, by gender: 1991-2001

Figure FF6.1 Percentage of cohabitors, by gender: 1991-2001

By Parental Status. Men cohabit at similar rates, whether or not they are parents (about 5 percent in 2001). However, mothers cohabit at lower rates (4 percent in 2001) than women with no children (5 percent in 2001). Overall, 40 percent of all cohabitations among men and women involve parents with children in the household. (32)

By Age. Females under age 25 are more likely to cohabit than men of the same age (9 percent of females and 6 percent of men), mirroring patterns of age at marriage by gender. Also, the proportion of cohabitors among those ages 45 and older is much smaller than among those under 45 years old. Only three percent of men and two percent of women ages 45 or older cohabited in 2001.

Figure FF6.2
Percentage of cohabitors, by poverty status: 2001

Figure FF6.2 Percentage of cohabitors, by poverty status: 2001

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FF7 - Age at First Cohabitation

Although marriage rates have been on the decline, increasing rates of cohabitation have largely offset this trend. (33) Furthermore, the proportion of births to unmarried women in cohabiting families increased in the period between 1980-84 and 1990-94, accounting for almost all of the increase in unmarried childbearing. (34) In short, cohabitation has increasingly become an alternative to marriage for couples, and may influence child development. Cohabitation at a young age may increase the likelihood of a nonmarital birth, and children born into cohabiting unions are likely to experience future instability in their living arrangements. (35) Births to older, and likely more economically stable, cohabitors may have different implications for children's living arrangements.

Data from The National Survey of Families and Households are used to track age at first cohabitation for respondents in 1988 (refer to Table FF7.1).

By Gender. The average age at first cohabitation was about one-and-a-half-years older for men than women in 1988. In general, it is notable that age at first cohabitation did not vary widely across other demographic groups. College graduates and high income men and women (300+ percent of poverty) first cohabited at older ages, on average, than those with less than a college degree or who were living in poverty (see Figure FF7.1).

Compared to Age at First Marriage. Age at first cohabitation was about one year lower for both men and women compared to age at first marriage in the late eighties. The average age at first cohabitation was 23 for men and 21 for women in 1988 (refer to Table FF7.1). The average age at first marriage was about 24 for men and 22 for women in 1990 (refer to Table FF3).

Figure FF7.1
Average age at first cohabitation: 1988

Figure FF7.1 Average age at first cohabitation: 1988

Table FF7.1
Average age at first cohabitation: 1988
  Males Females
Total 23 21
Race and Hispanic Origin
White non-Hispanic 23 21
Black non-Hispanic 23 21
Hispanic 22 21
Asian/Pacific Islander * *
American Indian/Alaskan Native * *
Poverty Status
Poor (0 to 99% poverty) 22 20
Extreme poverty (at 50% or less) 23 20
Nonpoor 23 22
100 to 199% of poverty 22 20
200 to 299% of poverty 21 21
300% or more of poverty 24 22
Parental Status
Resident Parent 24 23
Nonparent 22 21
Age of Respondent
18 to 24 years old 19 18
25 to 44 years old 23 22
45 years and older 27 24
Educational Attainment
Less than high school 22 19
High school diploma or GED 22 20
Vocational/technical or some college 22 22
College graduate 25 24
Employment
Not in labor force 23 21
Looking for work 21 19
Less than 35 hours per week 23 21
35 hours or more per week 23 22
1 Estimates for all race categories exclude Hispanics of those races. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
* = This information has been suppressed due to an insufficient number of cases.
Source: Estimates calculated by Child Trends based on analyses of the 1988 National Survey of Families and Households

[Go To Contents]

FF8 - Characteristics of Current Partner

Cohabitation is often short-lived--about 50 percent of these couples are likely to marry or disrupt their relationship within one year, and up to 90 percent within the first five years. (36) Parents of children in cohabiting unions typically have much lower earnings and higher rates of poverty than parents of children in married couple families. (37) Cohabiting parents are likely to have lower levels of parental education and income than married parents, (38) and their children may not have legal access to paternal resources.

The Current Population Survey (CPS) is used to identify the characteristics of men's and women's opposite-sex partners in 2001 (refer to Table FF8.1). The CPS is also used to identify the characteristics of men's and women's spouses (refer to Table FF4.1).

By Race and Hispanic Origin. Like married adults, the majority of men and women cohabit with someone of their same race; however, it appears that there is slightly more heterogeneity among cohabiting couples than among married couples (see Figures FF8.1 and FF8.2). Ninety-two percent of married black, non-Hispanic men have a black, non-Hispanic spouse, whereas only 82 percent of cohabiting black, non-Hispanic men have a black, non-Hispanic partner. Eighty-five percent of married Hispanic men have a Hispanic spouse, whereas only 74 percent of cohabiting Hispanic men have an Hispanic partner. Ninety-seven percent of married white, non-Hispanic women have a white, non-Hispanic spouse, whereas only 91 percent of cohabiting white, non-Hispanic women have a white, non-Hispanic partner. Finally, 90 percent of married Asian or Pacific Islander men (and 83 percent of women) marry someone of the same ethnicity, whereas only 63 percent of cohabiting men (and 46 percent of women) have a partner who is also of Asian or Pacific Islander descent.

Figure FF8.1
Percentage of married/cohabiting men who
have spouses of the same race or ethnicity,
by race/ethnicity of respondent: 2001

Figure FF8.1 Percentage of married/cohabiting men who have spouses of the same race or ethnicity, by race/ethnicity of respondent: 2001

Figure FF8.2
Percentage of married/cohabiting women who
have spouses of the same race or ethnicity,
by race/ethnicity of respondent: 2001

Figure FF8.2 Percentage of married/cohabiting women who have spouses of the same race or ethnicity, by race/ethnicity of respondent: 2001

Table FF8.1
Percentage of respondents by current partner characteristics: 20011,2
  Males
Race and Hispanic Origin of Current Partner
White non-Hispanic Black non- Hispanic Hispanic Asian/ Pacific Islander American Indian/ Alaskan Native
Race and Hispanic Origin of Respondent3
White non-Hispanic 93 1 3 2 1
Black non-Hispanic 13 82 3 2 0
Hispanic 23 1 74 2 0
Asian/Pacific Islander 29 3 5 63 0
American Indian/Alaskan Native 53 0 2 0 45
  Age of Current Partner
18-24 years old 25-44 years old 45 years older
Age of Respondent
18 to 24 years old 77 20 3
25 to 44 years old 20 72 8
45 years and older 1 32 67
  Educational Attainment of Current Partner
Less than high school High school diploma or GED Vocational/ technical or some college College graduate
Educational Attainment of Respondent
Less than high school 41 38 20 1
High school diploma or GED 13 50 29 8
Vocational/technical or some college 7 27 46 20
College graduate 3 11 24 61
  Employment of Current Partner
Not in labor force Looking for work Less than 35 hours per week 35 hours or more per week
Employment of Respondent
Not in labor force 41 3 10 45
Looking for work 15 15 18 52
Less than 35 hours per week 15 6 21 58
35 hours or more per week 17 4 11 68
1 Although the numerator (the number of cases) is the same for both males and females the percentages in the male and female tables should not be expected to match due to different denominators in each table which produce different estimates.
2 Due to rounding, 0% in the table may represent any percentage less than 0.5
3 Estimates for all race categories exclude Hispanics of those races. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
Source: Estimates calculated by Child Trends based on analyses of the 2001, March Supplement, Current Population Survey.

Table FF8.1 (cont'd)
Percentage of respondents by current partner characteristics: 200112
  Females
Race and Hispanic Origin of Current Partner
White non- Hispanic Black non- Hispanic Hispanic Asian/ Pacific Islander American Indian/ Alaskan Native

Race and Hispanic Origin of Respondent3

White non-Hispanic

91 3 4 1 1

Black non-Hispanic

4 95 1 1 0

Hispanic

21 4 74 1 0

Asian/Pacific Islander

39 8 7 46 0

American Indian/Alaskan Native

* * * * *
Age of Current Partner
  18 to 24 years old 25 to 44 years old 45 years and older

Age of Respondent

18 to 24 years old

53 46 1

25 to 44 years old

6 78 16

45 years and older

2 20 78
  Educational Attainment of Current Partner
Less than high school High school diploma or GED Vocational technical or some college College graduate
Educational Attainment of Respondent
Less than high school 51 33 12 4
High school diploma or GED 20 55 19 6
Vocational/technical or some college 12 36 38 14
College graduate 1 16 27 56
  Employment of Current Partner
Not in labor force Looking for work Less than 35 hours per week 35 hours or more per week
Employment of Respondent
Not in labor force 29 5 5 62
Looking for work 10 19 8 63
Less than 35 hours per week 12 9 11 68
35 hours or more per week 11 5 5 79
1Although the numerator (the number of cases) is the same for both males and females the percentages in the male and female tables should not be expected to match due to different denominators in each table which produce different estimates.
2 Due to rounding, 0 % in the table may represent any percentage less than 0.5
3 Estimates for all race categories exclude Hispanics of those races. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race
* = This information has been suppressed due to an insufficient number of cases.
Source: Estimates calculated by Child Trends based on analyses of the 2001, March Supplement, Current Population Survey.

By Age. Like married adults, the majority of cohabiting men and women have partners their own age. However, it appears that there is more heterogeneity in cohabiting partners, especially among those ages 45 and older. Ninety-six percent of married women 45 or older have a spouse in their same age group, whereas only 78 percent of cohabiting women have a partner in this age group, and 22 percent have younger partners. Eighty-five percent of married men 45 and older have a spouse of the same age group, whereas only 68 percent of cohabiting men have a partner in this age group.

Among younger cohabitors, as among married couples, women tend to cohabit with older men. Forty-six percent of cohabiting women ages 15 to 24 have a partner ages 25 to 44, whereas only 20 percent of cohabiting men ages 15 to 24 have a partner ages 25 to 44.

By Educational Attainment. Married women with college educations are more likely to have a college-educated spouse than cohabiting college-educated women. Sixty-nine percent of married women with college degrees have a spouse who is a college graduate, whereas only 56 percent of cohabiting women with a college degree have a partner with a college degree.

By Employment Status. Married women who work full-time are more likely to have a spouse who also works full-time than cohabiting women with full-time jobs. Eighty-five percent of married women working full-time have a spouse who is also working full-time, whereas only 79 percent of cohabiting women have a partner who also works full-time. However, only 54 percent of married men working full-time have a spouse who is also working full-time, and 68 percent of cohabiting men who work full-time have a partner who also works full-time.

[Go To Contents]

FF9 - Attitudes Toward Cohabitation Without Intent to Marry

Approximately 4 in 10 children will spend some of their childhood living in families headed by a cohabiting couple. (39) Children living in cohabiting families are more likely to be worse off economically than children living with married parents, (40) and are at a higher risk of experiencing future instability in their living arrangements as well as fewer legal claims to child support or to other sources of family income. (41) Furthermore, parental attitudes and experiences, including those related to marriage, are associated with their children's behaviors throughout their lives. (42) For example, young females whose mothers believed cohabitation was acceptable cohabited at higher rates than young females whose mothers opposed cohabitation. (43)

Cohabitation between adults, and births to unmarried cohabiting couples, have risen in the 1990s. It is essential to monitor attitudes towards cohabitation, as well as current policies that affect an adult or child's experience of this event. To capture adult attitudes toward cohabitation without intent to marry, respondents of the General Social Survey (GSS) were asked to report how much they agreed with the following statement: "it is all right for a couple to live together without intending to get married." This item was measured in 1994 and 1998 (refer to Table FF9.1).

By Gender. Women are substantially less likely to support cohabitation without intent to marry than men. For example, in 1998, only 38 percent of women either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that "it is all right for a couple to live together without intending to get married," whereas about half of men supported cohabitation without the intent to marry.

By Marital Status. Married men and women are less likely to support cohabitation without an intention to marry than those who are not married. For instance, only 40 percent of married men supported cohabitation in 1998 compared to 59 percent of unmarried men. Similarly, only 30 percent of married women compared to 42 percent of unmarried women supported cohabitation in 1998.

By Parental Status. Fathers and mothers are less likely than nonparents to support living together without an intention to marry (see Figure FF9.1). For instance, 44 percent of fathers supported cohabitation in 1998 compared to 64 percent of men who were not parents. Similarly, only 32 percent of mothers supported cohabitation compared to 57 percent of women who did not have children.

By Age. Those who were young adults in 1998 were more likely than older men and women to agree that living together without intending to get married was all right. Seventy-seven percent of males under age 25 in 1998 supported cohabitation without intent to marry compared to 58 percent of males ages 25 to 44, and 39 percent of those aged 45- to 65-years-old. Females show a similar pattern, albeit with lower percentages in each age group.

By Employment Status. Men and women who are not in the labor force are less likely than those who work to believe that it is all right to live together without intending to get married, though that relationship is partly accounted for by the fact that those not in the labor force are more likely to be older and retired.

Figure FF9.1
Percentage of respondents who
agree or strongly agree that it is all right
for a couple to live together without intending
to get married, by parental status: 1998

Figure FF9.1 Percentage of respondents who agree or strongly agree that it is all right for a couple to live together without intending to get married, by parental status: 1998

Table FF91
Percentage of adults ages 18 to 65 who agree or strongly agree that it is all right for a couple
to live together without intending to get married: 1994 & 1998
  Males Females
1994 1998 1994 1998

Total

49 51 37 38

Race and Hispanic Origin1

White non-Hispanic

51 53 38 39

Black non-Hispanic

44 36 31 32

Hispanic

44 55 46 46

Asian/Pacific Islander

* * * 44

American Indian/Alaskan Native

* * 39 22

Poverty Status

Poor

na na na na

Borderline poor

na na na na

Nonpoor

na na na na

Marital Status

Currently married

38 40 34 30

Not currently married

58 59 39 42

Parental Status

Parent

40 44 35 32

Nonparent

66 64 47 57

Age of Respondent

18 to 24 years old

71 77 61 56

25 to 44 years old

61 58 52 49

45 to 65 years old

32 39 21 24

Educational Attainment

Less than high school

38 47 32 38

High school diploma or GED

54 52 37 34

Vocational/technical or some college

60 49 36 45

College graduate

46 55 43 44

Employment

Not in labor force

33 35 22 28

Looking for work

72 * 53 *

Less than 35 hours per week

62 58 43 37

35 hours or more per week

51 55 49 47

Note: Scores based on three categories - Strongly Agree or Agree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, and Disagree or Strongly Disagree.
1Estimates for all race categories exclude Hispanics of those races. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
* = This information has been suppressed due to an insufficient number of cases.
na = data not available
Source: Estimates calculated by Child Trends based on analyses of the 1994

[Go To Contents]

Endnotes for Family Formation Section

1. Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62(4), 1269-1287.

2. McLanahan, S. & G. Sandefur. (1994). Growing up with a single parent: What hurts, what helps? Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

3. Hetherington, E. M., Cox, M., & Cox, R. (1985). Effects of divorce on parents and children. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), Nontraditional families (pp 233-288). Lawrence Erlbaum.

4. Amato, P.R., Loomis, L.S., & Booth, A. (1995). Parental divorce, marital conflict and offspring well-being during early adulthood. Social Forces 73, 895-915.

5. Seltzer, Judith A. (1994). The consequences of marital dissolution for children. Annual Review of Sociology, 20, 235-266.

6. Waite, L. (1995). Does marriage matter? Demography, 32(4), 483-507.

7. Peterson, J.L., & Zill, N. (1986). Marital disruption, parent-child relationships, and behavior problems in children. Journal of Marriage and the Family 48, 295-307.

8. Bianchi, S., & McArthur, E. (January 1991). Family disruption and economic hardship, the short-run picture for children. Census Bureau Current Population Reports, P-70, No. 23.

9. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. America's children: Key national indicators of well-being, 1999. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

10. McLanahan, S. & Sandefur, G. (1994). Growing up with a single parent: What hurts, what helps? Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

11. Wu, L.L. & Martinson, B. (1993). Family structure and the risk of a premarital birth. American Sociological Review 58, 210-232.

12. Bramlett MD & Mosher WD. (2001). First marriage dissolution, divorce, and remarriage: United States. Advance data from vital and health statistics; no. 323. Hyattsville, Maryland: National Center for Health Statistics.

13. White, L., & Rogers, S.J. (2000). Economic circumstances and family outcomes: A review of the 1990s. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1035-1051.

14. Bramlett et al. (2001).

15. Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C.E. (1989). Social causes of psychological distress. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

16. National Center for Health Statistics (1997). Health and selected socioeconomic characteristics of the family: United States, 1988-90.

17. Goldsheider, F.K., & Waite, L.J. (1991). New families, no families?: The transformation of the American home. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

18. Cherlin, A. (1992). Marriage, divorce, remarriage. Harvard University Press: Cambridge.

19. Thornton, A. & Young-DeMarco, L. (2001). Four decades of trends in attitudes toward family issues in the United States: The 1960s through the 1990s. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63(4), 1009-1037.

20. Thornton, A. & Young-DeMarco, L. (2001).

21. Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and the Family,62(4), 1269-1287.

22. Amato, P.R. (2000).

23. Differences not significant compared to Hispanic women.

24. Smock, P. J. (2000). Cohabitation in the United States: An appraisal of research themes, findings, and implications. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 1-20.

25. Smock, P.J. (2000).

26. Bumpass, L., & H.H. Lu. (2000). Trends in cohabitation and implications for children's family contexts in the United States. Population Studies, 54, 29-41.

27. Brien, Michael J., Lee A. Lillard, & Linda J. Waite. (1999). Interrelated family-building behaviors: cohabitation, marriage and nonmarital conception. Demography, 36(4), 535-551.

28. Manning, W. D., & Lichter, D.T. (1996). Parental cohabitation and children's economic well-being. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58, 998-1010.

29. Graefe, D.R. & D.T. Lichter. (1999). Life course transitions of American children: parental cohabitation, marriage and single motherhood. Demography, 36(2), 205-217.

30. Bumpass, L., & H.H. Lu. (2000) (as summarized by Smock).

31. Graefe, D.R. & D.T. Lichter. (2000) (as summarized by Smock).

32. Statistic calculated by Child Trends based on March 2001 Current Population Survey data.

33. Bumpass, L.L., Sweet J.A., & Cherlin A. (1991). The role of cohabitation in declining rates of marriage. Journal of Marriage and the Family 53(4), 913-27.

34. Bumpass, L., & H.H. Lu. (2000). Trends in cohabitation and implications for children's family contexts in the United States. Population Studies, 54, 29-41.

35. Graefe, D.R. & D.T. Lichter. (1999). Life course transitions of American children: parental cohabitation, marriage and single motherhood." Demography, 36(2), 205-217.

36. Bumpass, L., & Lu, H. (2000). Trends in cohabitation and implications for children's family contexts in the United States. Population Studies, 54, pp.29-41.

37. Manning, Wendy & Dan T. Lichter. (1996). Parental cohabitation and children's economic well-being. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58, 998-1010.

38. Graefe, D.R. & D.T. Lichter. (1999). Life course transitions of American children: Parental cohabitation, marriage and single motherhood. Demography, 36(2), 205-217.

39. Bumpass, L., & H.H. Lu. (2000). Trends in cohabitation and implications for children's family contexts in the United States. Population Studies, 54, 29-41.

40. Manning, W. D., & Lichter, D.T. (1996). Parental cohabitation and children's economic well-being. Journal of Marriage and the Family 58, 998-1010.

41. Graefe, D.R. & D.T. Lichter. (1999). Life course transitions of American children: Parental cohabitation, marriage and single motherhood. Demography 36(2), 205-217.

42. Korbin, F.E. & L.J. Waite. (1984). Effects of childhood family structure on the transition to marriage. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 46, 807-816.

43. Axinn, W.G. & A. Thornton. (1993). Mothers, children, and cohabitation: The intergenerational effects of attitudes and behaviors. American Sociological Review, 58, 233-246.


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