Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Children in 2-Worker Families and Real Family Income

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Children in 2-Worker Families and Real Family Income

Article excerpt

Children in 2-worker families and real family income

In recent years, changes in marital trends and family stability, along with changes in the labor force activity of mothers, have affected the lives of many of the Nation's children. The high incidence of divorce, separation, and out-of-wedlock births during the 1970's and 1980's has led to an increase in the proportion of children living with just one parent. The rapid increase in the proportion of employed married mothers has resulted in continuing growth in the percentage of children in families in which both parents are working. And, as racial minorities have increased, so have the number and proportion of minority children.

This research summary is based on information collected annually in March as part of the Current Population Survey.(1) It reviews the changing work patterns and composition of families with children, and trends in children's median family income. This measure of income differs somewhat from the more commonly used measure--median income of families with children.(2)

Family trends

The primary change in the family situation of children has been the well-publicized increases in the proportion who are living in dual-worker families, that is, families with both parents employed (including fathers in the Armed Forces). Secondarily, the proportion living in single-parent families maintained by mothers has also increased. These developments, of course, were coupled with the decline in the number of children living in "traditional" families (two-parent families in which only the father was employed). At the same time, the total number of children under 18 years was also declining.

Dual-worker versus traditional families. In March 1988, 24.9 million children under the age of 18 lived in dual-worker families. These children accounted for 43 percent of the total in families. Just 13 years earlier, children in such families numbered 18.9 million and constituted barely 30 percent of the Nation's children. Meanwhile, the number in "traditional" families fell from about 29 million (46 percent of all children) to fewer than 17 million (29 percent of children). (See table 1.)

Children whose parents both work tend to be better off than other children. For instance, in 1987, median family income for children in dual-worker families ($41,000) was nearly 30 percent higher than for children in "traditional" families ($32,000) and more than four times that of children in single-parent families maintained by women.

Single-parent versus two-parent families. The growth in the proportion of children living in single-parent families has not been as dramatic as the shift from "traditional" to dual-worker families. In 1975, 16 percent of children under 18 lived in single-parent families; by 1988, the proportion was 22 percent. The overwhelming majority of these children lived with their mothers, but a growing segment lived with their fathers.

Though small, this shift has some important implications for the well-being of children because of the employment situation of single parents, especially mothers. As a group, these women face many difficulties that inhibit labor market success.(3) Consequently, 45 percent of the children in single-parent families maintained by a woman lived with a mother who was either unemployed (7 percent) or not in the labor force (38 percent). Of the children in families maintained by unmarried men, 21 percent lived with a father who was not employed. In contrast, only 4 percent of the children in two-parent families had no employed parent.

Thus, as might be expected, children in families maintained by women tend to have very low incomes. In 1987, median family income for children living with single mothers was only $9,000 ($15,400 if the mother worked); it was $20,800 for children living with single fathers. This compares to $35,600 for children in two-parent families.

Race and Hispanic Origin. …

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