What's a Typical Household Look Like? Just as Likely to Be Headed by a Woman

Traditional Married-Couple Households Have Fallen into Minority Status

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Marketing executives who are married with kids might be surprised to find that they represent a mere one in five households nationwide—a long way from typical. In fact, the 2010 Census found a record low 48% of U.S. households were married couples and that iconic American family, married with children, had slipped to a new low of 20% of all households.

In fact, more than 45 million women are householders (the term used by the Census for heads of households of any gender), which is a record high and double the number counted in the 1980 U.S. Census.

While traditional married-couple households have fallen into minority status, the majority of households are now an assortment of other types of families (mostly single parents) plus non-families, including people who live alone. Six in 10 of these nontraditional households are headed by women.

The major reason women householders are ascendant is their increasing earning power. The 2010 Census form did not ask about earnings. But the Census Bureau's annual March population survey in 2011 found that in 37% of the nation's married-couple families the wife was either the primary or the only wage earner.

Since 1980 there has been a 59% increase in working women's real inflation adjusted median earnings. In the same period men's real median earnings rose 4%. Why the big difference? In 1980 there were 3.5 million fewer women than men with four years of college or more and only 14% of women age 25 or older had that level of education. But by 2010 there were 1.5 million more college-graduate women than men and 30% of each gender had at least a bachelor's degree.

The above chart displays the 2010 count of households by type and gender. Since 2000 householders who are women have been rising much faster than householder men. Female householders are somewhat more diverse than male family householders. The 2010 Census found that just 36 % of white, non-Hispanic households and 32% of Asian households had a female householder, but 57% of African-American households, 45% of multiracial households and 39% of Hispanic households had a female householder.

Women who live alone are the least-diverse household type in large part because they are oldest. The average age of women who live alone is 60 years old. Fewer than one in four women who live alone are Hispanic, African-American, Asian or multiracial. In general, younger households are more diverse than older households.

Looking into the future, it's clear that around half of future American households will have women householders. One main reason is that , as our population ages, women will become an even larger majority of all adults than they are now. There are now 7 million more adult women than adult men.

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