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Citation Information

Type Journal Article - Diversity and disparities: America enters a new century
Title Divergent paths of American families
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2013
Page numbers 237-269
URL http://www.s4.brown.edu/us2010/Data/Report/report09112013.pdf
For a very long time, a typical American family consisted of a working husband, a stay-at-home
wife, and children. This traditional family was portrayed in popular TV dramas and sitcoms
during the 1950s and 1960s, such as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver and represented
what an ideal family looked like. Over time, especially since the 1970s, American families have
been undergoing fundamental changes. The so-called traditional family is now much less
common; the transformation of marriage as a social institution means that young adults today
have many more options about partnering and parenting (Cherlin 2004). Some young Americans
delay marriage and others forgo marriage altogether (Lichter and Qian 2004; McLanahan and
Casper 1995). Unmarried cohabitation, which is typically a short-lived living arrangement, has
emerged to be the initial coresidential choice among most young men and women. Marriage is
no longer “till death do us apart” for all because divorce and separation have become
commonplace. Over the life course, individuals experience more cohabitations, remarriages, and
relationship disruptions (Cherlin 2004).
As a result, marital and cohabiting unions have become transitory in the United States.
Men and women cohabit, marry, separate or divorce, once or even multiple times, a phenomenon
described as “American marriage-go-round” (Cherlin 2009). Family structure has become more
diverse — smaller shares of traditional families and more dual earner families, declining
percentages of married families and more cohabiting or single parent families, multigenerational
families, and same-sex couples (Casper and Bianchi 2002; Ellwood and Jencks 2004; Lichter and
Qian 2004). Consequently, fewer children today live in traditional families with both biological
parents, and more live with single-parents, with step-parents, or with parents and their cohabiting

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