Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Demographic Trends in the United States: A Review of Research in the 2000s

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Demographic Trends in the United States: A Review of Research in the 2000s

Article excerpt

Demographic trends in the 2000s showed the continuing separation of family and household because of factors such as childbearing among single parents, the dissolution of cohabiting unions, divorce, repartnering, and remarriage. The transnational families of many immigrants also displayed this separation, as families extended across borders. In addition, demographers demonstrated during the decade that trends such as marriage and divorce were diverging according to education. Moreover, demographic trends in the age structure of the population showed that a large increase in the elderly population will occur in the 2010s. Overall, demographic trends produced an increased complexity of family life and a more ambiguous and fluid set of categories than demographers are accustomed to measuring.

Key Words: aging, cohabitation, divorce, fertility, immigration, marriage.

In 1988, Paul Glick, the founder of the field of family demography, wrote the first overview of the field to appear in this journal, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary (Glick, 1 988). He organized his article around the stages of the family life cycle, a concept he had developed decades earlier (Glick, 1947). It assumed that most people experienced a linear progression from being single to getting married to having children to experiencing an empty nest and finally to death or widowhood. Glick (1988) did, to be sure, mention deviations from this path, such as single parenthood, cohabitation, divorce, and remarriage. But his assumption was that the conventional life cycle provided a useful framework for studying most Americans' family lives. It was indeed a good assumption in the middle of the 20th century, the period from roughly 1940 to 1960, when Glick did most of his pioneering work and when most Americans moved in lockstep through the cycle. It was, however, becoming less useful by the time his review of the field appeared.

The next overview was published in 2000, the first time that an article on family demography appeared in one of the journal's decennial decade in review issues (Teachman, Tedrow, & Crowder, 2000). The authors built upon Glick's framework but gave more weight to the racial, ethnic, and social class diversity of family patterns. They paid more attention to divorce and remarriage, which had become much more common in the last decades of the century than in the middle decades, and they described the effects of economic stagnation on low income families. But they made only scant mention of cohabitation and of families extending across more than one household, in large part, they explained, because so little demographic data on these phenomena were available.

Family demographers in the 2000s moved even further away from the framework of a conventional, uniform family life cycle. For one thing, an important set of studies demonstrated a troubling divergence in the family patterns of Americans according to education and income, with several indicators moving in encouraging directions (e.g., less divorce) for the best-educated segment of the population while remaining the same or moving in discouraging directions (more divorce) for the less educated (McLanahan, 2004). A half century ago, in contrast, most Americans, rich or poor, lived in two-parent families that in many ways were similar. The result is that Americans with different levels of education now tend to follow different paths through family formation and dissolution. This divergence is likely to remain a major focus of demographic research in the 2010s.

It remains unclear why this divergence is occurring, although it is tempting to associate it with trends in the labor market. Since the 1970s, the globalization and automation of production have reduced the labor market opportunities of individuals without college degrees, whereas the opportunities for those with college degrees may have increased, or at least not declined as much. Perhaps as a result, the wages of men without college degrees have fallen since the early 1 970s, and the wages of women without college degrees have failed to grow (Ellwood & Jencks, 2004; Richer, Frank, Greenberg, Savner, & Turetsky, 2003). …

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