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Are Nuclear Families a Relic of the Past?: The Complexity of Today's Families

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

The focus will analyze drastic changes in the family structure since the 1950s-1960s era. The main inspiration that propelled my interest in this topic is a short documentary I watched called "The Changing American Family," originally broadcasted on CBS News. It discussed the drastic changes the American family has undergone since the premiere of television shows, such as "Leave it to Beaver." It was broadcast in light of the 2015 U.S Supreme Court ruling that allowed same-sex marriages to occur in ALL 50 U.S states. Furthermore, the court ruling prohibits any American State from hindering same-sex couples from marriage. The second point of discussion highlighted in the documentary was the portrayal of interracial couples with their multiracial children in the public light, namely on television. It is unfortunate that interracial relationships continue to be frowned upon and negatively scrutinized; love transcends skin color and is a universally known emotion.

Families are not what they used to be from back in the 1950s-1960s era. This particular period was around the time that timeless, beloved shows like "Leave it to Beaver," "I Love Lucy," etc. premiered on television. These shows would portray a cookie-cutter, romanticized, warm, and fuzzy image of how nuclear families were supposed to look. A nuclear family consists of a married or cohabiting couple and their children living under the same roof. During that era, society assumed men worked outside of the home and carried the role of breadwinner. Women were obligated to care for children 24/7 and perform domestic tasks.

The two most significant changes in the family over the last 50 years are the dissolution of marriages between couples and the growing rise of cohabitation. The stark reality is that there are diverse family structures, such as childless individuals and couples, single-parent households, cohabiting couples, and LGBTQ+ marriages, and it is time for society to accept and embrace it. Traditional nuclear families still exist, but they are a dime and a dozen. But regardless of family structure, the one commonality that remains the same is the everlasting connection shared among people, whether related by blood, marriage, union, or fictive kinship. I conducted additional research on the different existing family trends. The findings I came across were eye-opening and very telling of how society's views have changed on the institution of marriage.

According to the Pew Research Center, single-parent-headed households are more common than ever. About 26% of children live in single-parent families. In the 1960s, the percentage of children who lived in single-parent households was only at 9%. I discovered that black children made up the most significant percentage of children living in single-parent households measured at a staggering rate of 54%. A second considerable trend worth noting is the high rate of children born out of wedlock. In 2015 alone, around 40% of births occurred out of wedlock compared to only 5% of births delivered in the 1960s. A third pattern the Pew Research Center highlighted in the study is the burgeoning number of women choosing to pursue careers outside the home. In 2015 alone, approximately 33% of women were full-time stay-at-home mothers compared to the 1960s era. The percentage of stay-at-home mothers was 50% then. This statistic is a critical indication that women choose not to confine themselves at home to raise their children. It is more common now for both parents to work full-time jobs outside of the house.

Cohabitation is a phenomenon growing in frequency among individuals in the 25-34 age group. Society's views on marriage have significantly changed in the last 50 years or so. According to the Fast Facts on American Families infographic, about 67% of families cohabiting share child(ren) together from a previous relationship or marriage. There are a few potential influencing factors that could explain why couples decide to cohabitate with one another. One, both men and women are choosing to prolong marriage and having children. This decision could be due to financial strains, dedication to pursue one's professional goals, or the desire to explore one's options. I, myself, fall into this category. I fall into the 25-34 age group, and I have no desire or rush to settle down with anyone yet. I am focused on building financial stability and pursuing my goals and dreams. There is nothing wrong with looking out for yourself and creating your own identity. I am a work of progress. I am not where I would like to be physically, mentally, and emotionally; however, I am making great strides, and that's what matters!

I want to leave readers with some insightful statistics to highlight some significant implications of our country is heading in terms of family structure. The USA contains the largest share of children who live in single-parent households with a prevalence rate of 23% out of a total of 130 countries and territories for a 2019 report from the Pew Research Center. Furthermore, the prevalence rate of children living in two-parent households has been significantly decreasing. In 2014 alone, 69% of children lived in two-parent families; 62% of children lived in two-parent homes with legally married parents. 26% of children resided in single-parent households. A second takeaway I gained from the 2015 report from Pew Research Center is that parents' perception and the perception of others of the quality of their parenting is significant to them. More than half(57%) of mothers from the Millenial generation believed they were doing a great job raising their children compared to Millenial fathers(26%).

A third key insight I read from the report is that bullying and mental health concerns were the two most common concerns that parents had for their children, regardless of income status. The social determinants model can be a beneficial tool to analyze how community/societal factors, such as low-quality childcare/after-school programs, crime, or poverty can impact a child's developmental trajectory. However, I should note that the data can be disaggregated further by race, class, and income status. For example, parents from lower-income backgrounds were more likely to be worried about their child(men) facing legal troubles, coming in contact with law enforcement, or being kidnapped. Whereas, parents from higher-income households were more likely to be significantly concerned about their children battling mental health issues, namely depression/anxiety or being bullied by their peers.

A nuclear family with their two young children.
A big sister capturing her family with a photo


Conerly, T. R., Holmes , K., & Tamang , A. L. (2021, June 3). Introduction to Sociology 3e. OpenStax.

Kramer, S. (2019, December 12). U.S. has world's highest rate of children living in single-parent households. Pew Research Center.

Stepler, R. (2015, December 17). How parenting is changing in the U.S.: 5 takeaways. Pew Research Center.

University, B. G. S. (Ed.). (2021). Fast Facts. National Center for Family and Marriage Research{NCFMR}.


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