More than one-quarter of these unwed mothers are living with a partner who may or may not be their child’s biological father.The rise of the cohabiting couple is another striking feature of the evolving American family: From 1996 to 2012, the number jumped almost 170 percent, to 7.8 million from 2.9 million.Sixty-two percent of the public, and 72 percent of adults under 30, view the ideal marriage as one in which husband and wife both work and share child care and household duties; back when Jimmy Carter was president, less than half of the population approved of the dual-income family, and less than half of 1 percent of husbands knew how to operate a sponge mop.Mothers are bringing home more of the bacon, and of the mortarboards, too.“It’s a mistake to think this is the endpoint of enormous change.
The facts have voted, the issue is settled, and Paycheck Mommy is now a central organizing principle of the modern American family.We lavish billion a year on weddings, more than we spend on pets, coffee, toothpaste and toilet paper combined. When an informal sample of 52 Americans of different ages, professions and hometowns were asked the first thought that came to mind on hearing the word “family,” the answers varied hardly at all. At the end of the baby boom, in 1964, 36 percent of all Americans were under 18 years old; last year, children accounted for just 23.5 percent of the population, and the proportion is dropping, to a projected 21 percent by 2050.Fewer women are becoming mothers — about 80 percent of those of childbearing age today versus 90 percent in the 1970s — and those who reproduce do so more sparingly, averaging two children apiece now, compared with three in the 1970s.Single people live alone and proudly consider themselves families of one — more generous and civic-minded than so-called “greedy marrieds.” “There are really good studies showing that single people are more likely than married couples to be in touch with friends, neighbors, siblings and parents,” said Bella De Paulo, author of “Singled Out” and a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “There are not just more types of families and living arrangements than there used to be,” said Stephanie Coontz, author of the coming book “Intimate Revolutions,” and a social historian at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.“Most people will move through several different types over the course of their lives.” At the same time, the old-fashioned family plan of stably married parents residing with their children remains a source of considerable power in America — but one that is increasingly seen as out of reach to all but the educated elite. “It’s the backbone of how we live,” said David Anderson, 52, an insurance claims adjuster from Chicago.