Policy makers are undermining American families by failing to recognize that the 1950s family of breadwinning father and stay-at-home mother is no longer typical, a study by the Population Reference Bureau concludes.

"Indeed, family life in the 1990s will be marked by its diversity,", said the study.

Carol J. De Vita, a senior research demographer at the Washington-based private, nonprofit group and an author of the report, said that, though "family values" has been a recurring theme in the presidential campaign, the study did not look at particular legislation or proposals.

But in policy-making generally, she said, "the discussion focuses on the `traditional family."' In doing that "you're leaving out a lot of other people....What we need to do is broaden our view of what the family is."

Only 1 in 5 married couples with children now fits the 1950s stereotype, the study found.

About 36 percent of all American families are married couples with children, but a growing number of those are "blended" stepfamilies. Half of all Americans will live in stepfamilies by 2000, the report said.

Nearly 1 in 8 families was headed by a single parent last year, and that parent was five times more likely to be a woman.

About a quarter of all children lived with only one parent in 1991. That's double the percentage of 1970 and nearly three times that of 1960.

In 1991, the most common family unit was the married couple with no children living at home. They constituted 42 percent of the families, but they included couples in various situations - younger couples planning to have children, older couples whose children had left home, couples childless by choice, and others.

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