Census: Fewer nuclear families in Maine

When it came to Maine households, the nuclear family was already in the minority. According to the latest U.S. Census figures, it's become even more rare.

Just over 99,000 homes consisted of a husband, a wife and at least one child under 18 in 2010. That's down from nearly 117,000 in 2000, a 15 percent drop.

Other types of families are on the rise in Maine, including those led by single fathers, those with unmarried partners and those with at least one non-family member living under the same roof.

It's a trend experts have seen coming

"It doesn't surprise me at all," said Luisa Deprez, sociology professor at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. "The census is really an indicator of directions that the country, people, are in fact taking. A lot of those directions really emerge out of loosening up of some very traditional norms."

Released today, the census figures show the nuclear family represents fewer than 18 percent of all households in Maine, down from 23 percent a decade ago. Experts say the drop reflects decades of societal trends. Women represent at least half of the work force, so they don't feel the need to marry to support themselves or have children. And although divorce rates have dropped about 4 percent since the early 1980s, they remain high, leading some divorce-leery people to wait longer to marry.

"I think that's meaningful. I think people began to see the wisdom in making better choices with regard to lifetime partners," said Robert Milardo, professor of family relations at the University of Maine in Orono.

But even if Mainers aren't marrying and having children at the rate they once were, they are creating families in other ways.

More women are raising children without husbands. More men are raising kids without wives.

More grandparents are living with grandchildren.

More people are sharing their homes with at least one non-relative.

More same-sex couples are living together. And more men and women are living together as partners without getting married. 

Although experts say they could have predicted some of those changes, particularly the jump in men and women living together and the increase in same-sex couples living together, other changes came as a surprise. Milardo was caught by the fact that more Maine men — nearly 35 percent more in Androscoggin and Oxford counties and nearly 24 percent more statewide — are raising children without spouses.

"Traditionally, single-parent fathers have had great difficulty maintaining involvement with their children," he said. "One result of that is more children living in poverty. It's an extremely important issue. So when I see a number that speaks of more fathers having sole custody, that to me means, great, more fathers are staying involved. That's really excellent."

So what will happen between now and the next census? Milardo expects to see even more unmarried couples living together. 

"People live their relational lives in ways that work for them," he said. "Sometimes that involves marriage; sometimes, not."

Deprez believes the changes seen in this census may continue, but at a much slower rate. 

"We've got that kind of pendulum that's still swinging a little bit," she said. "Like every pendulum, it does need to come to rest."


Heather McCarthy/Sun Journal Graphic

An infographic on how Maine families have changed since the 2000 Census.

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Rose Monez's picture

Nuclear Families...

In quite a few situations an unmarried couple with a young family fairs better for income taxation then if they were married. It is a sad statement to think that our tax system would award unmarried couples with two incomes and dependents then married couples with dependents.

Dave Bussey's picture

Raise your hands

All those willing to live on you can receive from welfare programs, please raise your hands. (What you can actually get, not what your imagination leads you to think you can get.)

Sharon Dudley's picture

I couln't have said it better myself

The thought came to me before I even read your response. Why get married? It is indeed more profitable to let the state pay the bill for food, medical, childcare, etc.


Nuclear Families

This should not come as a surprise to anyone. When it is more profitable to not marry and let honest taxpayers take care of you why would the marriage ratio not go dowwn. This State is the ideal location for welfare receipants to come to and for welfare mothers to become baby factories.

Jim Cyr's picture

Nuclear Families and

also speaks well of the moral fiber in existence in todays society, and especially in those heavy welfare states such as Maine.It seems celebrating "Dependence" is a higher priority then celebrating "Independence".


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