2-Parent Family Makes Comeback, Study Finds

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The traditional two-parent family is on the rebound in the United States after a two-decade slump, a new demographic study concludes.

Between 1990 and 1995, the number of two-parent households with children increased by more than 700,000, reversing a 20-year pattern of decline, according to the study released this month by the Population Reference Bureau Inc., a Washington-based research organization.

The researchers used statistics from the U.S. Bureau of the Census and other government reports to create a demographic sketch of the country at mid-decade.

A more stable divorce rate also seems to show that the American family unit is growing stronger, the researchers say.

The divorce rate was 4.6 per 1,000 people in 1994, slightly lower than in 1990, when the rate was 4.7 per 1,000. This may signal that the divorce rate is leveling off after a steady rise during the 1980s, the report says.

The percentage of women having children out of wedlock has also slowed in recent years after climbing sharply for half a century, the study found. During the 1980s, the number of births to unmarried women rose by 6 percent per year on average. During the early 1990s, the pace slowed to a 2 percent annual increase.

"The radical changes we've seen in family patterns in the past 20 to 30 years have found a new plateau and are perhaps behind us," said Carol J. De Vita, the author of the report.

"We have found a new footing for families," she said.

Ms. De Vita added that one cause of the more stable pattern is that the baby boom generation has hit middle age and is settling into raising children and focusing on family life.

But some academics who follow family demographics say the study's conclusions about a comeback of the two-parent family are exaggerated.

Overblown Conclusion?

"Their claims of a trend toward family stability are overblown," said Reynolds Farley, a professor of population trends and sociology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

The evidence isn't strong enough to conclude that there has been a reversal of the trend in recent years toward more unmarried couples living together and more single-parent families, he said.

Mr. Farley added that the larger number of two-parent households could be explained by the fact that the population of people who are reaching the age at which most people marry has swelled in recent years.

The U.S. population as a whole quickened its growth during the early 1990s. The nation's population grew 1 percent per year on average between 1990 and 1995, the report said, a small increase from the 0.9 percent annual growth rate recorded during the 1980s.

In addition, the number of American children under 17 reached 68 million in 1994, a 6 percent hike from 64 million children in 1990, the report notes. The U.S. population reached 262.8 million in 1995, making it the third-largest country in the world.

The authors project that the size of the school-age population will increase by about 10 percent during the next decade.

The country's recent growth spurt has been fueled by a small baby boom as well as an influx of foreign-born residents, the report says.

The impact of the growing population of children born to immigrant parents is evident in the heightened focus on bilingual education, the researchers say. Federal funding for bilingual-education programs in 1995 reached $156 million, a 10-fold increase since 1970, according to the study. About 6 percent of all K-12 students--or 2.6 million children--were identified as having limited English proficiency in the 1992-93 school year, the report says.

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