7 Surprising Facts About The New American Family

happy parents and son

It goes without saying that we no longer live in the time of the Huxtables (much less the Cleavers). But what makes families today different from how they used to be?

We decided to investigate. Using facts from census data and recent studies on child-rearing, work and marriage, we've narrowed down seven qualities that characterize the new American family.

1. Longer Marriages
In the 1950s, few women attended college and the average marriage age was 20. Today, women make up 58 percent of the students on our nation's college campuses and, on average, wait until they're 26 to walk down the aisle. What does this mean? That they can plan on being married a very long time. According to a study by Betsey Stevenson at the Wharton School of Economics, only 19 percent of college-educated couples who tied the knot after the age of 25 divorced by the time they reached their 25th wedding anniversary.

2. Happier Parents
According to the Pew Research Center, in 1990 teens had more kids than women over 35 (13 percent and 9 percent respectively). But in 2008, the reverse was true—10 percent of births were to teens, compared with 14 percent to women 35 and older. At the same time, mothers in recent years have been more educated (54 percent attended some college, compared to 41 percent in 1990). And, birth rates have been declining—in 1960 families had, on average, 3.6 children; in 2008 the average family had 2.1 kids.

Correlating with all of this (or resulting from it, if you're feeling optimistic), the vast majority of children are now born to parents who want and are ready for them—87 percent of parents now say they had their first child for "the joy" of it. The New Family Man And Why You Should Date Him

3. More DIY Families
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage—at least, that's what our grandparents told us. But things have changed a lot since our grandparents' time. Cases in point:

  • In 1990, 28 percent of births were to unmarried women. By 2008, that number was 41 percent.
  • In 1978, in vitro fertilization was just being pioneered. By 2006, nearly 57,000 babies were born via assisted reproductive technologies.
  • In 1960, only 9 percent of children lived in a step-family arrangement. Today, nearly a third do.

Are these statistics proof that the traditional family unit is no longer valued or upheld? Or do they suggest that we're more open to, and benefit from, a variety of family arrangements? We'd like to think the latter is true.

4. More Parent-Child Time
Prior to 1995, mothers spent 12 hours a week with their children. By 2007, that number was 21 for college-educated moms and 16 for those with less education. For dads, the hours more than doubled among the college-educated (from 4.5 hours to 9.6 hours) and nearly doubled among those with less education (from 3.7 to 6.8). While these numbers show that women are still doing the majority of the diapering and doctors' appointments, they also indicate two happier facts: men are taking their parenting duties more seriously and children are getting more time with the grown-ups they love the most.

5. An Increase In Shared Housework
Women still do about two-thirds of the housework in dual-income families, according to the University of Wisconsin National Survey of Families and Households. But men do far more dusting and washing than they used to. In the past fifty years, men's contributions to housework have doubled. And as one might hope, this bodes well for the state of marriage. American couples who share employment and housework responsibilities are less likely to divorce than couples that don't, according to research by Lynn Prince Cooke, of the University of Kent. 5 "Man Chores" That Will Get Him To Do Housework

6. More Female Breadwinners
Though more men than women work outside the home, and though men still earn more money than women, significant changes have taken place in the workforce. In 2008 women made up 47 percent of the workforce, compared to 35 percent in 1960, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. At the same time, the percentage of wives who bring home the big bucks has shifted. Today, women are the primary breadwinners in 22 percent of couples, up from 7 percent in 1970. Not surprisingly, these numbers aren't just good for women—they're also good for marriages. A 2009 report from the Center for American Progress found that in states where more wives had paid jobs, the divorce rate tended to be lower.

7. Lower Overall Divorce Rates
Contrary to what the naysayers and celebrity cheating scandals might have you believe, traditional marriage has not gone the way of the dogs. In fact, divorce rates have been falling since the 1970s, according to New York Times blogger Tara Parker Pope. "Changing patterns of marriage and divorce have improved the odds of staying married," she writes in her new book, For Better: The Science Of A Good Marriage. "Divorce is getting less common and marriage is stronger than ever."

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This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.