living arrangements for the season, creating with their great numbers havoc in the local housing situation and probably producing the worst possible conditions for the completion of a sound and accurate population count.


As discussed in Chapter 2, the construct of the family is fundamentally linked to notions of usual residence or household composition. It is also one that varies across cultures and has shifted with time; demographic and sociological research continue to probe “the dimensions of long-run changes in the American family” (Ruggles and Brower, 2003:73):

The past 150 years have witnessed extraordinary change in American living arrangements. In 1850, for example, 70 percent of the elderly resided with their children, and 11 percent lived alone or with only a spouse; by 1990, only 16 percent resided with children, and 70 percent resided alone or with a spouse only. The changes have been almost as great for the young: since 1910, the percentage of children under age five residing without two parents has increased more than fourfold, to 27 percent in 1990; among blacks, the figure is 67 percent.9

Some of the range of contemporary household and family types is expressed in Table 4-2, which describes the number of children (under age 18) in various household compositions using data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Single-parent households are increasingly common, accounting for roughly one-quarter of childrens’ living situations; about 4 percent of children live with neither parent.

Some of the living arrangements described in this chapter constitute what Census Bureau researchers have termed “complex households”—“those where the web of relationships within the household is other than one nuclear family (i.e., nuclear family being married couple with or without its own biological children).” Examples of these complex households include the presence of nonrelatives in the household, such as unmarried partners and gay partners; more distant relatives such as grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles; children who are shared across households; and “people who may be mobile or ambiguous in terms of household membership” (Schwede, 2003:vii). The challenges involved in identifying and labeling such complex households are plentiful and interesting, including the interpretation of the census questionnaire’s relationship question depending on which household


Ruggles and Brower (2003) cite a then-forthcoming version of Carter et al. (2006) as the source of these data.

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