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Research has confirmed what many have long suspected: So-called “traditional” households — headed by a mom and dad in their first marriage — are now a minority.

Less than half (46 percent) of US children under 18 now live in this type of household, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. That’s a steep drop from 1960, when 73 percent of US kids did, and even from 1980, when 61 percent did.

The rest of today’s households present a mixed picture. Just over one-third of children live with a single parent, up from 9 percent in 1960 and 19 percent in 1980. Another 15 percent live with two married parents, one or both of them remarried. Five percent live with neither parent. (In most cases, they live with a grandparent.)

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Higher divorce rates and more births outside of marriage contribute to the findings. Today, 41 percent of births happen without an exchange of vows, compared to just 5 percent in 1960, says Pew senior researcher Gretchen Livingston, who conducted the analysis.

Last month’s Pew analysis did not touch on how the shifts in household structure have affected children. Yet a hint, at least for more recent years, may come from an unrelated study, Duke University’s recent Child and Youth Well-Being Index Report. The report shows rates of binge drinking, smoking, and teen suicide have fallen in the past two decades, while teen births have gone down quite steadily since 1995. At the same time, the number of bachelor’s degrees earned and pre-school enrollment are up. All too often, so is obesity.

So while many will debate the implications of the numbers, we continue to navigate many new traditions.


Ami Albernaz can be reached at ami.albernaz@gmail.com.