New census figures chart changing shape of the American family

Mom doing the dishes, Pop earning the wages, and the children growing up in a united family . . . that's the way it used to be in America. Now it's changing.

The new 1980 census, just collated, shows American family bonds are under strain. In 1960, only 9 percent of children lived in single-parent households; now it's about 20 percent. A lot of people have moved from farms to cities; more wives are working; divorces have increased. Profound changes that began decades back are continuing.

Out of about 63 million children, the census indicates, some 12.7 million are living with only one parent, usually the mother. The census separates these figures by race and reports that the percentage of single-parent black families is about twice as high as that of white families.

Here's the story for 20 years: In 1960 about 84 percent of the US population lived in households headed by a married couple including parents, children, and other relatives. This included remarried parents.

Ten years later (1970), two-parent households had declined slightly to 82 percent. Now in the latest census (1980), the percentage is down to 73.5.

A family with a single parent, usually the mother, tends to be closer to indigency and welfare. While 9.6 percent of families were living in poverty overall, families with children headed by a single woman had a poverty rate of 40 percent. In numbers this was 2.3 million households out of 5.6 million.

Other trends: There has been a rise in divorces, a jump in births to unmarried women, and a big increase in the number of women in the labor force. Back in 1940, a quarter of all jobs were held by women; today it is 52 percent.

The annual divorce rate has risen from a mere 0.9 per 1,000 back in 1910, to about 5.3 today. The marriage rate was 10.3 per 1,000 back in 1910 (including remarriages); now it's 10.6 per 1,000.

Births to unmarried women continue to rise, particularly among nonwhites. In 1950 white children born out of wedlock numbered 1.7 percent; by 1979 it was 9.4 percent. The equivalent figure for nonwhites was 16.8 percent to 48.8 percent.

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