Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

The New American Families

Changes in American family forms have been staggering.

Every once in a while I read a newspaper article that is so wide-ranging, so extensively researched, so well-written, and focused on such a timely and significant topic that I wonder why the reporter did not write a book instead. That happened just a few hours ago when I read Natalie Angier’s essay for a special edition of the Science Times (in the New York Times), titled simply, “Families.” (Angier has, in fact, authored previous books, including Woman: An Intimate Geography.)

In “Families,” Angier introduces us to people living in contemporary versions of American families, including gay men raising children, blended families, immigrant families, families in which a parent is in jail, families of friends, and more. Along the way, she offers a brief history of the evolution of American family life.

There is a lot to the article so here I just want to mention a few of the points that interested me most, then send you off to find your own favorite things. (Full disclosure: I’m quoted in the article. I will, though, refrain from listing what I said as one of my favorite points.)

7 of My Favorite Points from “Families

#1 In the Colonia era, “adults who tried to live alone, particularly single men, were viewed with suspicion, advised to marry, find room and board with a ‘decent’ family or get out of town…As recently as the 1950s…unattached adults could arouse community ire.”

#2 “As the population shifted westward and the distances between dwellings opened, Americans grew accustomed to a degree of privacy and personal space that few other earthlings could share.”

#3 One of the significant trends in family life: “Good friends join forces as part of the ‘voluntary kin’ movement, sharing medical directives, wills, even adopting one another legally.”

#4 Remember what you heard about all those unwed teenage moms? Forget it: “…the birthrate among adolescent girls has dropped by nearly half since 1991 and last year hit an all-time low.”

#5 Americans “marry, divorce and remarry at rates not seen anywhere else in the developed world.”

#6 About the divorce rate: For a long time it increased steadily; then it leveled off at the 50% mark that became so infamous. Recently, the rate has been on the decline – with one big exception: “Among baby boomers, the rate of marriage failure has surged 50 percent in the past 20 years.”

#7Which families are the most stable?: “…those headed by gay men who’d had their children together.”

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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