A Snapshot of the New American Family
Once upon a time, dad went to work, mom stayed home to vacuum (in high heels and pearls, of course), and the kids went to school until they were old enough to repeat mom and dad’s moves. But that was a day when monogamy was conventional, and television was in black and white. Today’s family looks nothing like those of yesteryear.
And they seem to be totally OK with that.
It’s not exactly a secret; the American family has undergone a facelift over the last few decades. Lots of outside influences such as technology and economics, as well as internal influences like changing morals, has shifted the norm for modern families. The landscape is definitely changing, some for the good, some for the bad, and some that’s still undetermined.
In this article, I’ve compiled some of the latest research that’s been released on families in general, and Millennials in particular. I’ll outline what the new family looks like…and how we can have the greatest influence on them.
Let’s take a look…before everything changes again.
After 2010, just 20% of adults ages 18 to 29 are married, compared with 59% in 1960 (PewResearch). That’s a 40% shift in the last 50 years. What should we expect for the next 50?
Some are already speculating. In fact, new research reveals that half of today’s 20-year-olds will never get married.
What’s the attitude behind this? (And is it ironic that the number one song on the charts is about a Millennial wanting to get married?)
Pew Research recently released the findings of their study on Millennials’ attitudes about marriage and children. Only 29% of 18-to-24-year-olds thought that “society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority.” Across the board, the older the generation got, the more readily they agreed with that statement. On the flip side, 69% of 18-to-24-year-olds agreed with the following statement: “society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.”
It’s not that marriage is coming to an end. It’s that marriage as we’ve always known it may be coming to an end.
For example, a study that found its way into Time Magazine claims that 43% of Millennials supported a model of marriage that “involved a two-year trial – at which point the union could be either formalized or dissolved, no divorce or paperwork required.” Don’t put too much stock in this report, however; Millennials were choosing between options known as “Presidential,” where vows lasted 4 years, but after 8 years, a person gets to elect a new partner, and “Till Death Do Us Part” which was described as “divorce is illegalized.”
That said, neither should we miss Millennials’ nonchalant attitude about marriage. For them, it clearly doesn’t have the level of importance that older generations placed on the institution.
But that’s just one change. There are more.
Additional research released by Pew this summer shows that more and more families are being led by dads who don’t work outside the home. This change could be the biggest for families, both quantitatively and qualitatively. In 1989, roughly 1.1 million fathers (with kids under the age of 18) did not work outside the home. That number has almost doubled, to 2 million, in 2012.
Of course, there have been lots of factors driving this shift, but the two biggest causes have been economic and choice. 23% of stay-at-home dads have been unable to find work and attribute their situation to the economic downturn. Another 21% said they chose to stay home to care for their children or family members. Regardless of the reason, if done correctly, this shift could have a powerful and positive impact on teens’ self-esteem, but that opportunity must be seized by the dads.
But who’s running the home isn’t the only change in today’s families. How many people are living in the home is shifting, as well.
According to even more family-based studies by Pew Research, 2012 saw a record number of Americans – 57 million to be exact – living in homes that were described as “multi-generational.” A multi-generational home is just what it sounds like: a home filled with members from at least two different generations. (In some cases, multi-generational homes have members from three different generations crammed under one roof.)
In 1980, the number of Americans living in multi-generational homes was 28 million. That means the number of multi-generational families has more-than-doubled in the last 30 years! Again, most of this is for economic reasons, but health reasons also play a role.
Most surprisingly, the number of young adults (23.6%) who require a multi-generational family setting is now greater than the oldest adults (22.7%) who need the same. Also, young men are more prone to multi-generational living than their female counterparts.
Is that because the guys are playing video games in their parents’ basements?
Facing the Facts; Forging the Family
Again, none of this needs to spell doom and gloom. It’s just different (and different doesn’t always mean worse). And even if the trends did signal alarm, we still have an obligation to minister to families in various stages of need. Here are a few ideas to reach the new families right where they are.
- Make sure your church has a strong college/singles/career group. We already knew that young people were getting married later and later these days; now we know that young people definitely have some room to improve their understanding of marriage. Why not create a group specifically tasked with that goal? Select great leaders from your church – preferably a married couple – and have them engage the 18-to-28-year-olds on a weekly basis. In addition to studying what the Bible has to say about marriage, family, commitment, etc., they could also look at culture in light of God’s Word. This kind of group/class could have the potential to change lives like few others.
- Reaching dad just got (even) more important. We’ve long understood the importance of reaching dads with the Gospel because of the ensuing impact on the rest of his family members. But now, with more dads setting the pace for their families from home, that task has become even more crucial. In no way should this trivialize or demean the role of women/mothers in the home; good church leaders don’t need to turn one ministry “off” to turn another one “on.” Just closely guard what you call “men’s ministry,” and when and how you make it available.
- Think “family” instead of “age group.” You might consider making some ministries a family-based affair instead of age-based. With more and more families living in multi-generational settings, this could be a blessing to them and your ministries. For example, why not consider having adult classes at your VBS next year? This allows us to rethink and address ministry silos that separate. If kids, adults, and grandparents experience the same thing at church, that can only be a positive.
Marriages and families have been shifting for centuries, not decades; that’s normal. No matter what happens next, we must be prepared to engage them with the Gospel. After all, we are in the transformation business. Let’s influence families and marriages as deeply as possible.
Jonathan McKee, president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new Get Your Teenager Talking, The Guy’s Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers,Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the 10-Minute Talks series. Jonathan speaks and trains at conferences, churches and events across North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org. David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.