It’s no surprise that the typical “American Family” has changed throughout the years. In 1950, women provided the bulk of unpaid care in families but were supported by the family wage of the man they married. They tended to marry at young ages, have all their children with the same man and stay married to him throughout life. In 2013, American mothers are still rushing about but in families that are far more complex and where women’s labor force participation is as important as men’s to the economic well-being of their families. The tension between the time needed for work and family becomes more apparent when a nation’s unpaid caregivers, women, join the workforce in great numbers. Today, equal labor market opportunities for men and women has become a widely shared goal in developed economies and increasingly, in the developing world as well.
There has been a dramatic delay in entering into legal marriage and a rise in unmarried heterosexual and same sex cohabitation. The median age at first marriage has risen to 28 years old for men and 26 years old for women in the United States. Despite the increasingly late start, most Americans eventually marry but those marriages frequently end in divorce or separation. The divorce rate has risen from 26 percent to 40 percent since 1960. 10 percent of women in the United States have had three or more partners by the time they reach the age of 35. These high rates of partnering and re-partnering make for a much more turbulent family state, especially if one takes the perspective of children.
Fertility is also distinctive in the United States because it remains high, however, this tends to mask important variation by social class in the United States among the highly educated; children are postponed but most are born to two married parents. Currently, 40 percent of US births are to women who are not married at the time of the birth. In many of these cases, the father lives with the mother at the time of the birth but these families are quite fragile. Among unmarried mothers, at