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Family Demographic Shifts and Their Policy Implications

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Family Demographic Shifts and Their Policy Implications

Changing Patterns: Since the 1960s, the structure of the average American family has become increasingly unstable as a result of major demographic changes. Marriage rates have fallen over the last few decades while divorce rates have remained high. At the same time, the percent of non-marital births in the U.S. has risen steadily, from approximately 5% in 1960 to 41% in 2011. In addition to this instability, family structures are becoming increasingly complex as rising numbers of single parents pursue new partners and have more children.

Importance: The potential negative impacts of these shifting demographic patterns upon the well-being of children are of particular concern to policy makers. Surveys indicate that children living in single parent households are more likely to live in poverty than children living in married households. According to the 2010 Current Population Survey (CPS), only 9% of married-couple families with children lived in poverty while 41% of single-mother families with children did so. Children born to unmarried parents also experience greater instability and complexity in family structure as a result of the shifting relationships of a parent. Over 30% of children born into single-parent households experienced 3 or more partnership transitions by a parent.

Policy Implications: Strong correlations between parental marital-status and child well-being seem to encourage policies aimed at increasing the number of children born and raised in married households. There are two distinct ways of approaching this policy goal. One strategy would be to implement programs that increase marriage rates, either by lowering divorce rates or by increasing marriage rates among non-married parents. Related programs may seek, for example, to develop interpersonal and parenting skills of

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