Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


wedding-rings

A pair of wedding rings. (PHOTO: JEFF BELMONTE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Traditional American Family Has Been Outsourced

• September 11, 2013 • 5:10 PM

A pair of wedding rings. (PHOTO: JEFF BELMONTE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

If you’re looking for a two-parent, man-and-wife, never-divorced kind of family, head to one of those citizenship ceremonies.

If you want to find traditional American family values—a man and a woman officially married to one of their “own kind,” no plans for divorce, an older dad who is the breadwinner, a stay-at-home mom—the best place to look is … in immigrant families.

That’s one of several themes running through a new report, “Divergent Paths of American Families,” compiled by Zhenchao Qian, a sociologist at The Ohio State University. Qian began work on the US2010 research project looking to see if a “quieting” of change in family dynamics, first noticed in 1990s, had continued into the new century and through the turmoil of the Great Recession.

Depending on where you looked, family life in the U.S. had stabilized. And depending on where you looked, change was accelerating. The typical family had become, well, atypical.

“The state of American families has become increasingly polarized,” a release on the study quoted Qian. “Race and ethnicity, education, economics, and immigration status are increasingly linked to how well families fare.”

One of the most salient divergences lay between immigrants and the native-born, and what quieting could be found could often be attributed to immigrants. By 2010, the end point of Qian’s decade-long study period, immigrants made up 13 percent of the U.S. population. Those immigrants brought the customs of their various homelands with them, weird practices like getting married regardless of their income and staying married through thick and thin. (It’s true in Britain, too.)

Here are some other ways in which immigrants differ:

• At every age, they married at a higher level than U.S. natives, regardless of ethnic similarity. Asian immigrants, for example, were twice as like to ever marry as U.S.-born Asians.
• Immigrant women marry at a much younger age than do immigrant men. Hence, among those in the mid to late 20s, 62 percent of women were married but only 43 percent of men.
• Immigrant man and wife were more likely to be ethnically or racially the same compared to the U.S. average.

And because they stay hitched, immigrants don’t ride the “marriage-go-round” Qian described elsewhere in his 44-page report. “The explanation is straightforward,” he wrote. “Immigrants do not divorce as much as natives, and those who divorce are less likely to remarry.” One caveat: because they are younger and have been married relatively recently, much of the immigrant population may not have been married long enough to gear up for American-style divorce.

In 2010, some 30 percent of immigrant children lived in homes with a working father and a stay-at-home mother, nine percentage points higher than natives (and up five percentage points from 2000). And while only 18 percent live in less-traditional families such as single parent, co-habitation, or with grandparents (compared to 30 percent for natives), they did have a higher percentage of living with siblings, with one married parent, and with parents neither of whom worked.

And these kids’ parents were more likely to be among the working poor than native families, especially where the mother doesn’t having a paying job. Nonetheless, the percent in poverty actually fell during the recession, which Qian speculates could be due to slowing immigration and families returning to their homelands.

But assimilation, he says, will affect immigrant families who stayed. “It is likely that the path toward traditional families occurs only among immigrants and the immigration effect is not long lasting.”

Michael Todd
Most of Michael Todd's career has been spent in newspaper journalism, ranging from papers in the Marshall Islands to tiny California farming communities. Before joining the publishing arm of the Miller-McCune Center, he was managing editor of the national magazine Hispanic Business.

More From Michael Todd

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



November 19 • 2:00 PM

Egg Freezing Isn’t the Feminist Issue You Think It Is

New benefits being offered by Apple and Facebook probably aren’t about discouraging women from becoming mothers at a “natural” age.


November 19 • 12:08 PM

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it’s not in the rainbow and sing-along way you’d hope for. We just don’t trust outsiders’ judgments.


November 19 • 12:00 PM

As the Russian Hercules, Vladimir Putin Tames the Cretan Bull

We can better understand Russia’s president, including his foreign policy in Crimea, by looking at how he uses art, opera, and holiday pageantry to assert his connection to the Tsars.


November 19 • 10:00 AM

A Murder Remembered

In her new book, Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis, Alexis Coe takes a humanistic look at a forgotten 1892 crime.


November 19 • 8:00 AM

The End to Race-Based Lockdowns in California Prisons

The legacy of “tough on crime” legislation has historically allowed correctional authorities to conceal and pursue politics that would be illegal anywhere else. Could that finally be changing?



November 19 • 6:00 AM

Like a Broken Record

From beer milers to long-distance crawlers, the unending appeal of being No. 1.


November 19 • 4:00 AM

High School Music Groups Grapple With Gender Gap

New research finds consistently higher numbers of girls compared to boys in high school bands, orchestras, and choirs.


November 18 • 4:00 PM

I Nearly Lost My Freedom Because I Couldn’t Pee in a Cup

After 21 years in federal prison for a first-time, non-violent drug offense, I’m now living in a halfway house. I can go out to work and visit my wife, but I’m sometimes reminded how vulnerable my new life is.


November 18 • 2:00 PM

Chesapeake Energy Faces Subpoena on Royalty Payment Practices

The Justice Department’s inquiry comes after an investigation and years of complaints from landowners who say they have been underpaid for leasing land to the energy giant for drilling.


November 18 • 12:02 PM

Is McDonald’s Really Becoming More Transparent?

In an increasingly ratings-based and knowledge-rich economy, the company could suffer if consumers don’t believe its new campaign is built on honesty.



November 18 • 11:00 AM

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.


Follow us


Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

To Find Suspicious Travelers, Try Talking to Them

Brief, directed conversations are more effective at identifying liars than fancy behavioral analysis, experiment suggests.

The Big One

One company, Comcast, will control up to 40 percent of Internet service coverage in the U.S., and 19 of the top 20 cable markets, if a proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by regulators. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.