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Two-Parent Black Families Showing Gains…

December 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Health, News, Weekly Columns

(Akiit.com) The number of black children being raised by two parents appears to be edging higher than at any time in a generation, at nearly 40 percent, according to newly released census data.

Demographers said such a trend might be partly attributable to the growing proportion of immigrants in the nation’s black population. It may have been driven, too, by the values of an emerging black middle class, a trend that could be jeopardized by the current economic meltdown.

The Census Bureau attributed an indeterminate amount of the increase to revised definitions adopted in 2007, which identify as parents any man and woman living together, whether or not they are married or the child’s biological parents.

According to the bureau’s estimates, the number of black children living with two parents was 59 percent in 1970, falling to 42 percent in 1980, 38 percent in 1990 and 35 percent in 2004. In 2007, the latest year for which data is available, it was 40 percent.

For non-Hispanic whites, the figure in 2007 was 77 percent, down from 90 percent in 1970.

While expressing skepticism about an increase so large in such a short time in the number of black children living with two parents, a number of experts said the shift was potentially significant.

“It’s a positive change,” said Prof. Robert J. Sampson, the chairman of Harvard’s sociology department. “It’s been hidden.”

The 2007 figure, itself, was more or less hidden among the nearly 1,400 tables in the 2009 Statistical Abstract of the United States, a portrait-by-numbers of the nation released Tuesday by the Census Bureau.

Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, said that before 2007, a child living with two unmarried parents was usually classified as living with either a mother or a father, depending on who was the head of the household.

“The unmarried parent was invisible,” Professor Cherlin said. Given a new category, “living with both parents, not married to each other,” he added, “I think the news is that the Census Bureau estimates that about 3 percent of American children are living with two unmarried parents. Because of the increases in living-together relationships, this is probably a higher figure than a generation ago.”

Other experts generally embraced the direction of the statistics, if not the dimension of the changes they suggest.

“What we might be seeing is more cohabitation,” said Kay S. Hymowitz, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute, a research group.

Douglas S. Massey, a sociology professor at Princeton, cautioned that “a bad economy does not make for stable marriages, so it is possible that we may see a reversal in 2008.”

Professors Massey and Sampson recently edited a retrospective for the annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science on Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s seminal study of the black family.

One contributor, Frank F. Furstenberg, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, cites converging trends of single motherhood by race, with the number of non-Hispanic white children living with two parents declining over a generation.

“These racial differences have waned as a growing number of black women have begun to exercise greater control over their fertility,” Professor Furstenberg writes, “and as white women have started to experience the same sorts of constraints that blacks were feeling about their prospects of forming a lasting marriage when Moynihan focused on their plight.”

Among other facts, the Statistical Abstract reveals that West Virginia is the only state in which more people have died since 2000 than have been born; more Burmese were granted asylum than people from any other country; more people speak Italian at home than Arabic; beds injure more people than bicycles; per capita consumption of tea has surpassed that of fruit juice; enrollment of college students from Saudi Arabia and Iran has returned to the levels before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Also, women make up a majority of pharmacists, bartenders and bus drivers and nearly half the medical students granted degrees; bottled water consumption is up at the same time that per capita water use nationally is down; 91 percent of the nearly 12 million surgical and other cosmetic procedures performed in 2007 involved women; consumer complaints against airlines soared to 10,960 last year from 6,452 the year before. Among adults, Jews no longer outnumber Mormons; 57 percent of teenage girls reported having sexual contact in the previous 12 months.

Americans are spending more on prescription drugs ($259 billion in 2007, compared with $72 billion in 1995); the number of people living on the Atlantic Coast of Florida has risen 13 percent since 2000; gambling revenue at American Indian sites nearly doubled to $26 billion since 2002; nearly half of Americans under age 5 are Hispanic or nonwhite; the number of people 75 and over has doubled since 1980 to 18 million; only 5.5 percent of workers age 16 to 24 are represented by unions.

The Statistical Abstract includes a wealth of data from the Census Bureau and other sources. Most of it had been previously released, but not necessarily in context or in such an accessible format.


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