Friday, November 8, 2013

More on the Typical American

The majority of American adults are unmarried, but most American adults will marry sometime during their lives.  A plurality of American households, however, consists of married couples.

Earlier I introduced Jennifer, our Average American.  I thought today we would flesh out Jennifer's family and thus the average American household.  Let's first address the question of whether the average American is married.  

Is Jennifer married?  Most Americans do marry by the age of 40.  A 2011 Pew Trust poll found that barely half (51%) of American adults were married; a record low. Gallup polling in 2013 similarly finds that 72% of American adults of Americans polled have been married.  One in four Americans, however, report to Gallup they have been divorced.

So, Jennifer is married, right?  Well, here we run up against the inherent problems of creating a composite person.  Yes, most American adults will marry by age 40.  The majority in 2013 -and thus our Jennifer- have been married.  But, in the past decade the number of Americans living in households consisting of married couples has dipped below 50%.  

Source:  US Census
So, it appears Jennifer lives in a household without a husband.  Right?

Source:  US Census

Here we run into the issue of majority versus plurality.  A majority is more than half (50%+) of a population.  When there is not a majority, the plurality is the most common minority grouping.  So, while married households are no longer the majority, they are the plurality.  Moreover, the mode for household type would also be a married household.  So, while the majority of American households no longer consist of married households, we are going to say Jennifer is married because that is the mode and largest plurality among Census household categories.

However, you may ask, dear reader, about where certain household configurations fall in the graph of the Census data shown above.  Well, first of all you should know the US Census collects its data at the household level rather than the individual level.  When someone in your household completed the 2010 Census form, they did it for your entire household and listed how each person relates (spouse, child, roommate, etc.) to the head of household.  The exceptions are the 8 million people living in group quarters such as orphanages, military bases, etc. who are not included in the household data discussed in this post.

The US Census then categorizes households as either Family or Non-Family households.  

Living alone?  You are a Non-Family household.

Living with a roommate to whom you are not biologically or legally related?  Then you are in the Non-Family households represented in the graph under "Living with a Non-relative".

Cohabitating with your sweetie without being married (AKA "living in sin" as some say or "shacked up" as my mama would say)?  Then you are also a Non-Family household "Living with a Non-Relative".

What about if you are a single mom living with your three daughters?  Then you are a Family household and listed in the "Relatives Living Together".

But what if you are a married, same-sex couple?  Well, then you run into some controversy.  In 2010 DOMA, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, was still the law.  So even if a same-sex couple are legally married in a state recognizing same-sex marriage, the US Census lumped same-sex married and unmarried couples together in the Non-Family category.  The Census Bureau reports that -among only those households consisting of couples- about 1% reported they are a same-sex couple.

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