The ravages of economic inequality on American families

Analysis of economic, sociological data paints a disturbing trend

Credit: Image credit: Flickr/dark4

Increasing economic disparity over the past decade has caused profound changes in the American family, according to an analysis by an Ohio State University researcher. The study by sociology professor Zhenchao Qian provides yet more evidence of the negative impact caused by economic disparity and rapid erosion of the middle class in the United States. "The state of American families has become increasingly polarized," Qian says in a statement. "Race and ethnicity, education, economics and immigration status are increasingly linked to how well families fare." As a result of changes during the 2000s, he says, "there is no longer any such thing as a typical American family." The Great Recession that began in 2008 had a particularly dramatic impact on American families, Qian says. "There is no doubt that the gap between America's haves and have-nots grew larger than ever during the 2000s," he says. "It influences the kind of families we live in and the kind of family environment in which we raise our children." Among the findings of the report, titled Divergent Paths of American Families:

* The number of cohabiting couples, which increased to 3.8 million in 2000 from 400,000 in 1960, has leveled off. Between 12% and 14% of never-married adults were living with a partner from 2008 to 2010, roughly the same percentages as in the year 2000.

* The percentage of women ages 20 to 24 who have ever married dropped to 19% in 2008-2010 from 31% in 2000. In those same time frames, the percentages for men declined to 11% from 21%.

* More Americans are remarrying after divorce, with some doing it more than once. Among currently married men, those who are remarried increased to 25% in 2008-2010 from 17% in 1980. Percentage changes for women were similar, the study reports.

* The family situations of minorities, the uneducated and the poor have seen their family situations become less stable during the 2000s when compared to whites, the educated and the economically secure.

Is there anything promising in the numbers? Seemingly not. "Economic inequality is key to the polarization of American families, and the disadvantages of children living in single and unstable families will just worsen the racial and ethnic inequalities we already have in this country," Qian says. The analysis was based on data from the 2000 U.S. Census and the 2008-2010 American Community Survey. Qain's research was sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University. Now read this:

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