Menus Subscribe Search
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

August 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, School Principal?

Noah Davis talks to Evan Glazer about why kids aren’t getting smarter and what his school’s doing in order to change that.



August 21 • 10:00 AM

Why My Neighbors Still Use Dial-Up Internet

It’s not because they want to. It’s because they have no other choice.


August 21 • 8:15 AM

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.


August 21 • 8:00 AM

To Fight the Obesity Epidemic Americans Will Have to First Recognize That They’re Obese

There is a void in the medical community’s understanding of how families see themselves and understand their weight.


August 21 • 6:33 AM

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.


August 21 • 6:00 AM

The Fox News Effect

Whatever you think of its approach, Fox News has created a more conservative Congress and a more polarized electorate, according to a series of recent studies.


August 21 • 4:00 AM

Do Children Help Care for the Family Pet?

Or does mom do it all?


August 20 • 4:00 PM

Why Can’t Conservatives See the Benefits of Affordable Child Care?

Private programs might do a better job of watching our kids than state-run programs, but they’re not accessible to everyone.


August 20 • 2:00 PM

Oil and Gas Companies Are Illegally Using Diesel Fuel in Hundreds of Fracking Operations

An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so.


August 20 • 12:00 PM

The Mystery of Britain’s Alien Big Cats

In a nation where the biggest carnivorous predator is a badger, why are there so many reported sightings of large cats?


August 20 • 10:00 AM

Death Row in Arizona: Where Human Experimentation Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Recent reports show that chemical roulette is the state’s M.O.


August 20 • 9:51 AM

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.


August 20 • 8:40 AM

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.


August 20 • 8:00 AM

What the Cost of Raising a Child in America Tells Us About Income Inequality

You’ll spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise a kid in the United States, or about five times the annual median income.


August 20 • 6:00 AM

In Praise of ‘American Greed’

While it remains semi-hidden on CNBC and can’t claim the car chases of Cops, American Greed—now with eight seasons in the books—has proven itself a worthy endeavor.


August 20 • 4:00 AM

Of Course I Behaved Like a Jerk, I Was Just Watching ‘Jersey Shore’

Researchers find watching certain types of reality TV can make viewers more aggressive.


August 20 • 2:00 AM

Concluding Remarks About Housing Affordability and Supply Restricitions

Demand, not supply, plays the dominant role in explaining the housing affordability crisis. The wages are just too damn low.


August 19 • 4:00 PM

Can Lawmakers Only Make Laws That Corporations Allow?

There’s a telling detail in a recent story about efforts to close loopholes in corporate tax laws.




August 19 • 12:00 PM

How ‘Contagion’ Became Contagious

Do ideas and emotions really spread like a virus?


August 19 • 10:00 AM

Child Refugees: The New Barbarians

The disturbing rhetoric around the recent rise in child refugees into the United States from Central America may be shaping popular opinion on upcoming immigration reform.


August 19 • 8:00 AM

Making Police Departments More Diverse Isn’t Enough

Local police departments should reflect the communities they serve, but fixing that alone won’t curb unnecessary violence.


August 19 • 7:15 AM

Common Knowledge Makes Us More Cooperative

People are more inclined to take mutually beneficial risks if they know what others know.


Follow us


When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.

Common Knowledge Makes Us More Cooperative

People are more inclined to take mutually beneficial risks if they know what others know.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one
Subscribe Now

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