The task of integrating family research needs to start with defining the family itself. Families consist of members with very different perspectives, needs, obligations, and resources. The characteristics of individual family members change over time—within life spans and across generations. Families exist in a broader economic, social, and cultural context that itself changes over time.
United States households and families are undergoing unprecedented changes that are shaping the health and well-being of the nation. Fundamental and rapid changes in family structure, immigration, and work and family, for example, have transformed the daily lives and developmental trajectories of Americans in recent years. This chapter summarizes four presentations, including three studies that examine family change largely from a demographic perspective and one that drew on qualitative methods to identify specific groups in a larger quantitative study. Demographic indicators provide a baseline of information for many other kinds of family research.
A particular focus in this chapter is the set of measures used to identify and track consistency and change in family structure. New and rapidly changing family forms require the development of new measures and their incorporation into existing and new instruments. New measures also need to recognize the tremendous diversity among groups that can be hidden in nationally representative averages of such family characteristics as cohabitation, marriage, family disruption, and fertility levels. As economic and cultural shifts, such as immigration, continue to diversify family structure and dynamics, researchers need to explore new ways of conceptualizing and measuring household characteristics.
MEASURING FAMILY STRUCTURE AND STABILITY: EMERGING TRENDS AND MEASUREMENT CHALLENGES
Family living arrangements and trajectories are increasingly varied and complex in the United States. Age of marriage is at an all-time high. Cohabitation, not marriage, is the typical first type of union in U.S. society. Divorce and remarriage remain common, and births to unmarried women have accelerated rapidly, from 5 percent in 1960 to about 40 percent today.
These changing family dynamics have major implications for the living arrangements of children, said Susan Brown, professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University and codirector of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research. Furthermore, these living…