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July/August 2017Vol. 18, No. 5Changing Trends in U.S. Family Dynamics

The dynamics of the family unit have changed significantly since the 1960s, with an upswing in the number of complex families that include multiple adult parents across households, stepfamilies, and single-parent households. This—as well as the decline of marriage and the rise in cohabitation, divorce, and childbearing outside of marriage—can lead to unstable home environments for the children within these families across racial and ethnic groups, levels of education, and socioeconomic status. Research shows that complex and unstable family environments are detrimental to children's development and can lead to unmet care needs, financial instability, and even poverty.

The Population Bulletin report, Understanding the Dynamics of Family Change in the United States, highlights these changing trends in family structure and provides an up-to-date overview of key demographic research on the state of marriage, cohabitation, divorce, repartnering, childbearing, and the processes of family change, as well as the challenges in designing programs to promote child and family well-being. These challenges include addressing the barriers and disincentives to marriage, such as a combined income in marriage often leading to a decrease in benefits from programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also referred to as food stamps. 

The ever-evolving family dynamic has a significant impact on how programs are tailored to help families; therefore, it is important to keep abreast of and accurately measure the composition, size, and living arrangements of complex families to ensure they are provided with the support they need to thrive. 

The full report, Understanding the Dynamics of Family Change in the United States, is available at (720 KB).