Types of Family Structures in America

American households are getting more diverse, more astonishing, and more perplexing, day by day. Buzzle has compiled the "always changing" family structures in the US.
American family structures
Did You Know?
More than one-quarter of the unwed mothers are living with a partner who may or may not be their child's biological father.

According to US Census Bureau, a family has been defined as a heterosexual couple and their offspring, sharing a common dwelling and dividing work by gender. In this definition, the woman takes care of the children inside the home, and the man works outside the home. In fact, according to the US Census Bureau, in 2006, only 15 percent of all American families resembled the so-called typical American family.

American children live in a variety of family forms. For example, some children live in a nuclear family, many others live with a sole parent, while some others live with one biological or adoptive parent and one stepparent. Some are taken care of by other relatives or foster parents. The parents of some children are married, while others are not. Some children live with parents of the same-sex. It is important to mention that couples without children also constitute a family.

The trends that are being followed up these days are close buddies starting a "voluntary kin" movement, sharing households and wills, Atheists marrying Baptists, Democrats joining Republicans, Blacks tying it with Whites, men getting married to men, and women to women.

It is, therefore, vital to learn about various family structures and constructs, and to understand that different families deal with different strengths and values, as well as different needs and issues.

The Conventional Family Groupings

Nuclear Family (The Formal Type!)

nuclear family

A nuclear family is considered to be the most traditional family, consisting of a mother, a father, and the children. This family type is long held in esteem by society as being the ideal one to raise children. It is believed that children are more stable from the two-parent structure and get more opportunities due to financial ease of the two adults. However, with changing times, it has been observed that the nuclear structure has become less prevalent.

Single Parent Family (Mostly the Breadwinner Parent!)

single mother
Single mother
single male parent
Single father

A single parent (also termed as a lone parent or sole parent) is the one who takes care of the child, without the assistance of other (usually biological) parent. The child can be by birth or adoption. Single parent families are often the result of death of a spouse, separation, or divorce of a couple with children, or child abuse/neglect. There's another case wherein adults who want children but do not have a partner, adopt kids―usually termed as single parent adoption. This single parent is also called the primary caregiver, for parenting the child solely for majority of the time.

Grandparent-led Family (The Wrinkled Affection!)

grandparent family

Gobs of grandparents are raising their grandchildren today. Reasons can be varied, like parents' death, or unfit parents, or when both the parents work. Many grandparents need to go back to their working phase for finding a source of income to raise their grandchildren.

Blended and Step Family (Sometimes the Black Sheep Type!)

step family

Two separate families merging into one new unit leads to the creation of a blended or step family. Step families are becoming mundane in America. Over half of the marriages end in divorce, and many of these individuals prefer getting remarried, thereby creating the step family. It can consist of a new husband and a wife, and their children from previous relationships or marriages. In blended ones, biologically unrelated children may live together. These families tend to have more problems, owing to the adjustments and discipline issues. They need to learn to work together. Also, the parents should work with their exes for smooth running of their current family.

Extended Family (The More, The Merrier!)

extended family

An extended family is the one that enlarges beyond the immediate family; which can consist of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and likewise, living under a single roof. There are certain pros to such family groups. The members (especially children) feel more secure and safe due to elder guidance and sharing of resources during a crisis, and have more role models to help maintain desired etiquette and values.

Childless Family (Child-free Companions!)

childless family

While most people think of family as including children, there are couples who are very young and intend to have children later, or those who cannot, or choose not to have children. This type is sometimes called the "forgotten family", as it does not meet the traditional definition of family set by society. It has been observed that many of the childless families own pets or have external contacts with their nieces and nephews as a substitute for having their own children.

Other Types of Family Groupings

Foster and Group Home Family (The Caretakers!)

The children that were given up at birth, abandoned, or were unable to be taken care of by their biological parents are given to foster houses or child care institutions. The children referred by the courts or government agencies are being raised and taken care of by the institutional child care workers or simply by their foster parents.

Commuter Family (The Backpackers!)

Here, the parents live and work in different towns or states. The primary residence is provided by one parent, while the other parent comes home for shorter durations, like on weekends and holidays. This can occur due to varied reasons. For instance, finding two professional jobs in the same city, or one or both parents may have military obligations that require them to stay away from their families for certain time periods.

Cohabiting Family (The Live-in Types!)

In this kind of family, a man and woman live together, but are unmarried. If there are children, at least one of the adults is a biological or adoptive parent. The cohabitation lifestyle is becoming more popular. People prefer this for it is cheaper and simpler. Owing to the hike in divorce rates, the desire to get married isn't attractive among couples who aren't sure of their long-term plans. Studies say, the number of heterosexual unmarried couples in the US has increased tenfold, from about 400,000 in 1960 to more than five million in 2005.

The Controversial Types

Same-sex Marriage/Parents

gay parents
Gay parents
lesbian parents
Lesbian parents

Families in which the couples are Lesbian or Gay choose to raise children. Adults may bring children from an ex-heterosexual relationship, or may have been adopted or conceived by assisted reproductive technologies. There can be cases like one parent being the genetic one and the other parent adopting the child. Other times, one is the gestational parent, while the other is the genetic parent. According to reports, there are around 66% of female same-sex couples and 44% of male same-sex couples who live with children under 18 years of age.

African-American Family Structure

African American family

Some of the influences that shape the dynamic African-American families are racism, poverty, migration during 20th century, or recent immigration. Generally, these are extended families, and so are more hierarchical, and likely to be strict, following a certain standard in behavior and discipline. The African-American children are mostly in contact with their male cousins, uncles, and other men in their community, even if their biological father is not present.

Some Formulas for Family Structure-related Terms

Average Family Size: Number of all the people in families divided by the total number of families is the Average Family Size.
Formula: [Number of all people in families]/[Number of families]

Average Household Size: The number of people who share a housing unit as their usual place of residence divided by the total number of households.
Formula: [Number of all people in households]/[Number of households]

Marital Status by Gender: The percentage of men and women over age 15 who either have never married, are currently married, are widowed, or are divorced.
Formula: ([Number of unmarried men]/[population of men age 15+]) X 100

Families with Children: The percentage of families that have children under 18 years old.
Formula: ([Number of married-couples with children under 18] + [Number of single men with own children under 18] + [Number of single women with own children under 18])/[total number of families]) X 100

Single-parent Families: Of families with children, the percentage headed by a single parent, either male or female.
Formula: ([Number of single men with own children under 18] + [ Number of single women with own children under 18])/[total number of families with children under 18]) X 100

Source: US Census Bureau

Teen Pregnancy Rate: Number of pregnancies per thousand teen females.
Formula: ([Number of pregnancies to females age 15-17]/[Number of females age 15-17]) X 1000

Births to Unwed Mothers: The percent of live births that are to unmarried women.
Formula: ([Number of births to unwed women]/([Number of births to unwed women] + [Number of births to wed women]) X 100

Source: Oregon Department of Human Services, Center for Health Statistics

As you can see, there are various family structures. The American society tends to promote the traditional family as the norm through literature, schools and television; children who fall under other categories of families may feel that theirs is not a real family. They may get self-conscious about being part of a family which is "different". In some cases, they might face social challenges too.

As a parent of the unconventional family, you can help your children cope up with complicated situations by encouraging open discussions. It is important to let children know that the so-called "traditional family" is less common than many other types in the US. It is also crucial to help children understand that the family structure doesn't matter as much as the love and affection shared by members of the family, living under a roof.
Published: July 29, 2014
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Very colorful and easily understood. :) - Fudgy [July 31, 2014]