The Nineteenth Century Essay, Research Paper
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Family Structure Changes
Data and Methods
Results and Discussion
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Family structure in the United States has undergone a dramatic change since the 1960’s. The percentage of female-headed households increased while the percentage of married couple households declined. This paper uses data from the Urban Underclass Database to explain the roles the transforming economy (from manufacturing to service) and the subsequent employment dislocation play in the family structure change. Results for the largest 100 cities in the United States find support for a relationship between changes in the economy, subsequent male unemployment, and family structure change. Male unemployment had a positive effect on the growth of female-headed families in both 1980 and 1990. This effect continued even when decade changes were controlled.
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Transformation of American Families: Employment Dislocation and the Growth of Female-Headed Families
Family structure in the United States has undergone a dramatic change since the 1960’s. The percentage of female-headed households has increased tremendously while the percentage of married couple households has fallen. Using 1970-1990 data from the Urban Underclass Database this paper seeks to explain the role the transformation of the economy and subsequent employment dislocation have played in transforming the urban family.
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Traditionally the most dominant family form in the United States has been the married couple family. The image of two parents with children living under one roof is the norm for a married couple family. In a married couple family one or both parents work and income levels are generally above the poverty threshold. But family structure has changed significantly since the 1960’s. In 1960, 87.5 percent of all families were married couple families while 10.0 percent were female-headed (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1961). By 1990 married couple families accounted for 79.2 percent of all families (10.5 percent decline from 1970) and 16.5 percent of all families were female-headed (65 percent growth) (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1990).
These changes are most dramatic if the living arrangements of children are examined. In 1960 for all children under age 18, 90.0 percent lived in married couple families while 6.1 percent resided in female-headed families (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1991). In contrast, by 1990, 72.5 percent of all children under 18 lived in married couple families while 21.6 percent lived in mother-only families. Additionally, if differentiated by race, 19.9 percent of all black children lived in female-headed families in 1960. By 1990, this number increased to 51.2 percent.
Single parent families, especially those headed by a female, differ greatly from married couple families in their characteristics. Single parent families are more likely to be poor, receive welfare, and contain young children. In 1990 female-headed households had a poverty rate of 33.4 percent while poverty rates for married couple and male-headed households were 5.7 and 12.0, respectively. (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1991a). As reflected by their higher poverty rate, the earnings power of women heading households is far less than that of married couples or male only households. Females are more likely to work at lower paying jobs and consistently earn less money for the same jobs as males (Wilson 1987). Finally, reflecting family structure differences in poverty rates and because of changing family structure, 42 percent of white children and 86 percent of black children born in the late 1970’s will spend at least part of their childhood in a female-headed family (Bumpass 1984). In addition, many black children will grow up in a family in which their mother has never been married (Wilson 1987).
Given the negative effects of growing up in a female-headed household on income levels and for children, it is important to examine why family structure has changed so dramatically in the last 30 years. Is it due to increasing divorce rates, to increasing numbers of out-of-wedlock births, or simply to changing family values – the catch phrase for conservatives in the 1990’s? These are the reasons most commonly cited to explain the growth in female-headed households. But another underlying cause is the transformation of the economy from a manufacturing based economy to a service based economy. This change was especially significant in cities of the Northeast and Midwest and led to employment dislocation or widespread increases in unemployment and underemployment in those areas.
According to Wilson (1987), the restructuring of the U.S. economy in the 1970’s had a tremendous impact on life in urban areas, especially for the urban underclass. In particular, male joblessness, especially for blacks, is a leading cause in the growth of female-headed families. Women are likely to delay marriage or to never marry instead of marrying an unemployed male (Wilson 1987). Using data from the Urban Underclass Database developed by Kasarda (1992), a set of longitudinal data for the top 100 cities by population size in the United States, this study builds upon the ideas of Wilson to explore the potential impact changes in the economy have had on changing family structure. The focus is on the role the transforming economy and subsequent employment dislocation play in family structure changes, specifically the growth of female-headed families. It is hypothesized that:
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1. The transformation of the economy in the 1970’s and 1980’s led to employment dislocation or increased unemployment in urban areas.
2. By 1980, employment dislocation was an important source of growth in female-headed families.
Figure 1 illustrates the general model of family structure change that the hypotheses follow.
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