Michigan State University Extension
Issue Identification Information - II493007
Families and households in Michigan now come in more shapes and sizes than ever before. And just as Michigan families and households are coping with the changing society, so society is learning to deal with changing family patterns.
The definition of "family" is expanding - in the courts and in practice - to include unmarried couples and other kinds of alternative families. Divorce and remarriage rates continue to be high, producing more single-parent, step and blended families.
With changes come varying perspectives on family values that sometimes clash with and challenge governments and institutions as they relate to new and old family patterns.
According to the 1990 Census, a household includes all persons who occupy a housing unit. A family household is one in which persons are related by blood, marriage, or adoption. Nonfamily households are made up of people who live alone or share living quarters but are not related.
- In Michigan, about two of every four households has a married couple as head; one of every four households has a single parent householder; and one of every four households does not include a family.
- Over the past decade, the percent of households headed by a single parent and percent of households that do not include a family have increased substantially.
The Look of Families is Changing
Over the past decade in Michigan:
- Married couples with children have decreased.
- Single-parent families with children have increased from less than 20 percent of all families with children to nearly 26 percent. This is the fastest growing type of family.
- Nearly three in five households contain no children under 18.
- The percentage of childfree couples (married couples not living with under 18) has risen slightly and will continue to rise as more couple choose not to have children.
- The trends of delaying or forgoing marriage, coupled with the aging of America, have also resulted in a dramatic rise in single-person and partnered households.
How Families are Changing in the '90s
- People are marrying later and having fewer children. Likewise many women are having children later in their reproductive years. The median age of marriage has risen about 2 years for both brides and grooms to age 24 for women and age 25.5 for men in 1990. Though the birth rate is expected to decline for Michigan women, the number of births is increasing as the "baby boom" generation moves through the child-bearing years.
- Nearly two out of three children will live in a single-parent family before reaching the age of 18. These children are more likely to live in poverty, have trouble in school, and have health problems.
- Births to single women continue to increase as a percentage of all births. This is not just a trend of teen-age mothers, but increasingly of adult women. Approximately one in every four births is to a single mom.
- "Boomerang kids" are common. These are young adults who have left home, only to return because of a job loss, divorce, or other economic problems. Of these, many move in and out with parents several times before permanently moving into their own homes.
- In 1992, Michigan ranks low, relative to other states, on indicators of children's well-being, such as percentage of low-birthweight babies, percentage of young people graduating from high school, and percentage of children in poverty.
Increasing Ethnic Diversity Among Young People
As discussed in Section Four, Michigan's minority population has increased substantially. Family patterns differ among race and ethnic groups.
- Minority families tend to be younger and are more likely to have dependent children. Twenty-two percent of Michigan's children are from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
- Minority men and women are less likely to marry.
- In Michigan, African-Americans have the highest divorce rate and Asian/Pacific Islanders have the lowest divorce rate among all race and ethnic groups.
- More than twice as many Black children as White children live in households headed by a relative other than their parent.
Employment of Adults Outside the Home
More mothers are in the workforce. Over half of all mothers with children under age 6 now work to support their families, and three-quarters of mothers with children ages 6 to 17 are working outside the home. More women working increases the demand for child care outside the home.
Other factors that have made a major change in families are the rise in work hours and commuting time, and the decline in days off. Americans are spending 158 hours more each year (or an extra month) at work than they did in 1969, and so parents and children are spending less time together at home today than in the past.
Economic Shifts for Children and Youths
The child poverty rates in Michigan in the 1980s were higher than for any year from 1966 to 1980. In addition, about 40 percent of all poor children were in families with incomes in the lower half of the poverty level.
Family Lifestyles and Values
- Social, economic, and technological changes since the late 1940s have fragmented community life. The results are breaks in the naturally occurring networks and linkages between individuals, families, schools and other community systems that traditionally provided the social supports and opportunities for participation and involvement necessary for healthy human development. The gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" is growing with the shrinking of the middle class/
- Expanding the safety net for children through collaborative community efforts is recommended repeatedly to improve the present status and future well-being of children, youths and their families.
- Many observers see Americans returning to a "simple life" embracing home and family in the next decade. In a 1991 TIME/CNN poll, nine out of 10 people said it was "more important today to spend time with their families"; seven in 10 would like to "slow down and live a more relaxed life"' and six in 10 agreed that "earning a living today requires so much effort that it's difficult to find time to enjoy life." Experts believe that this shift to family-centered values started with the stock market crash of 1987 and was cemented by the nation's 1990-92 recession and the Persian Gulf War.
Michigan Children and Their Families
In Michigan, there are 2.5 million children and youths under the age 18 years. Youth make up 26 percent of the 1990 state population, down from 38 percent in 1960. One reason for the declining number of children is that women are having fewer children.
- The proportion of children is expected to continue to decline, as the number of women in the prime child-bearing years drops over the next two decades.
- Studies show that families headed by single- or dual-career parents tend to have fewer children than those that are not.
- About two-thirds of all children under 6 years old have working mothers.
- In 1990, 7 of 10 children were in families headed by a married couple. This is a significant decrease since 1970 when nearly 9 of 10 children were in families with two parents.
- Less than a third of two- parent families include both birth parents, however, so step- or blended families are now the norm in America.
- Younger children and Black and Hispanic children are less likely to live in families headed by a married couple. For example, only a third of Black preschoolers live in a married couple family and 61 percent live with a single mother.
- According to the U.S. Census, one child in five is poor. Almost half of all single-mother families with children under 18 live in poverty.
- Currently, about 10 percent of all families with children are headed by single parents. Single parents have the least time, money and social support available to manage child care and other family responsibilities. They also have the most problems effectively juggling care with work.
Characteristics of Elderly Families
- Most elderly families live independently in the community despite physical frailty.
- Most elderly families are in touch with their families by telephone or actual visits at least weekly.
- Older adults are most frequently supported by family and friends. Secondly, Cooperative Extension, public health departments, and the aging network (senior centers and other services of the Older Americans Act) are broadly used but increasingly have inadequate funding to meet the need. New county-level structures to create synergism among all elements of the support system must be created.
- Less than half of the elderly poor population in 1990 received any means-tested assistance from the federal government. That is, they did not receive Medicaid, food stamps or supplemental income, or live in subsidized housing. This excludes Medicare and Social Security, which are not means-tested.
- Many older adults are reluctant to use government or community services. Better linkages are needed between community service providers and professionals such as physicians who interact with older adults.
- Frequently, frail older families are thrown into crisis by a health problem such as cognitive impairment or hospitalization or a health-related problem such as loss of a driver's license. The most effective mechanism for dealing with such a problem is a geriatric assessment center or a care management program. These are not always available throughout Michigan, nor widely recognized as a resource when they exist. Short- and long-term crisis management is needed.
Changes in Child and Elder Care
Changing family patterns, including a dramatic rise in dual-career, single-parent, blended and sandwiches families - those with both children and elders to care for - have altered the workplace and the home. Yet state, local and federal public policy, and private employers, have generally lagged in adapting to changing demographics and social trends. Many programs targeting family issues are still more appropriately designed for the traditional American family of the 1950s with two parents, including a stay-at-home female spouse, and two children.
- The aging of the baby boomers over the next decade will result in workers having growing family responsibilities for both children and elderly dependents.
Women in the Labor Force
- Though 85 percent of all new entrants to the workforce are female or minority, and more fathers are taking a more active role in parenting, women still consistently spend more time on child care than men. Research shows that when both parents in families with young children work, employed mothers decrease their time spent on household chores rather than child care.
- Working mothers are absent from work more often than working fathers. Overall, research shows that female employees tend to have a greater preoccupation with family matters and experience mor interrole conflict and overload than male employees.
- Research also shows that having children impedes the career advancement of women because of career interruptions, temporary departure from the labor force or lowered job responsibilities, sometimes the result of choosing a "mommy track" and sometimes because of supervisory beliefs that mothers have decreased commitment to the workplace.
- Research shows that employed women still perform the majority of child care tasks and are more likely than employed men to be concerned about and directly involved in child care arrangements.
- Families with access to a family member for assistance with child care for at least part of the week have better attitudes toward work and fewer child care problems than those that do not.
- Working parents do not necessarily make one arrangement per child and plans are varied and often change.
- The growth in child care outside the home is a relatively recent trend in the United States. For example, one study shows that as late as 1979, over 90 percent of working parents with children under 13 years of age arranged for child care in the home by a relative or a non-relative, or in a relative or non-relative's home.
- Most parents prefer to have child care in their neighborhoods.
- Working mothers tend to prefer parental leaves, part-time work and flexible work schedules as forms of employer assistance with child care.
- Only 12 percent of U.S. firms with at least 100 employee provide any form of dependent care benefits.
- The U.S. Special Senate Committee on Aging predicts that by the year 2010, there will be 22 elderly persons per 100 persons of working age, and that the figure will increase to 38 elderly per 100 working age persons by the year 2050.
- Currently 22 percent of people over age 85 are in nursing homes. For every nursing home inhabitant, there are at least two others with equivalent disabilities that are not institutionalized.
- Eighty percent of non-institutional care is provided by family members, who can suffer emotional, physical and financial strain as a result. Nearly a third of all persons caring for elderly people are employed outside the home, a figure that is expected to grow rapidly. Research shows that employment status is unrelated to the overall amount of help provided to elderly persons, particularly if the employee/caregiver is female.
- A key difference between child care and elder care is that the bulk of elder care tends to be informal, such as helping with personal and household tasks. These are generally done daily by women, regardless of whether the elder is a parent or an in-law. Men help more with such elder care responsibilities as transportation and financial management and home repairs, which are done more sporadically.
Public Policy Implications
- Because the federal government has not jumped to deal with the child and elder care concerns - i.e., the problems of cost, quality and supply - many employers and state and local governments will sponsor more initiatives to help families. Decreasing public monies available for new initiatives and recessionary times, however, will make it increasingly difficult for local governments and Michigan businesses to do so.
- Research shows that children whose parents are more involved in their education have higher achievement, suggesting that policies that are designed to enable greater parental involvement with children may be beneficial.