In all societies, the family is the premier institution for all of the following: socialization of children, adult intimate relationships, life-long economic support and cooperation, and continuity of relationships along the life-course. Sociologists are leaders among scientists who study the family. They have functioned in a core assessment role for describing, explaining, and predicting family-based social patterns for the United States and other countries of the world. Sociologists have allowed us to understand the larger social and personal level trends in families.
What Is the Family?
The family structures that were very common a century ago are not nearly as common today. In the US around the year, 1900 most families had 3 generations living in one home (IE: children, parents, and uncle/aunt/grandparent) and most did manual labor. Today, most families fall into one of two types. The first is a Nuclear Family, or a family group consisting of mother & father and their children. This is the family type that is mostly preferred. The second most common form is the Blended Family, or the family created by remarriage including step siblings and parents. Today, very few families are multiple generational beyond parents and their children. Finally, all the family relations you have past your nuclear or blended family we call an Extended Family(ie cousins, aunts & uncles, grand and great grandparents).
The US Census Bureau conducts annual surveys of the US population and publishes them as the Current Population Surveys. Table 1 represents the US family Types as of October 1, 2008. You will notice that marrieds comprise the largest proportion of family types in 2008. Single never marrieds are the second largest type and include another 6.8 million cohabiters of opposite sex and an unknown number of same sex cohabiters. Next is divorced, widowed, then separated.
(see Table UC1. Opposite Sex Unmarried Couples by Labor Force Status of Both Partners: 2008 retrieved 30 March 2009 from http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam/cps2008.html).
Table 1. US Family Types, 2008
Total Families 15 and over
Taken from Internet on 30 March 2009 from Table A1. Marital Status of People 15 Years and Over, by Age, Sex, Personal Earnings, Race, and Hispanic Origin/1, 2008 http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam/cps2008.html
Look at Figure 1 below to see the US trend of actual numbers in millions of family types. It shows that the single largest type of family in the US has always been marrieds then never marrieds. The divorced overtook widowed category in the 1970s and has been higher ever since. Why are the trends upward? Simple, these are numbers and not rates nor percentages. The population has grown and therefore the population size has been steadily increasing.
Figure 1. United States 1950-2000 Numbers of Family Types (in Millions)*
*Taken from United States Census Bureau on 30 March 2009 from Table MS-1. Marital Status of the Population 15 Years Old and Over, by Sex and Race: 1950 to Present http://www.census.gov/