According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term “Nuclear Family” was first used in 1941. The term itself refers to the traditional notion that a family consists of two parents and their children, but considering that the term is nearly 80 years old, it can be assumed that the world has changed significantly since the term was first coined.

In fact, inherently contained in the original nuclear family were very specific familial roles where the dad would go to work while the mom stayed home to tend to the house and children. Though non-nuclear families may have been unheard of, or at the very least shunned in the 1940’s, today non-nuclear families are becoming increasingly more common, With this increase comes more understanding, but it also reflects an upward trend of single-parent households in America.

There are a number of reasons that the concept of the nuclear family is becoming outdated. According to 2016 Census data, 69% of all children in America under 18 live with two parents. This percentage is part of a downward trend starting in 1950, when the percentage of children under 18 living with two parents was 93%. In 1960, that number had already dropped from 93% to 88%.

Obviously with the downturn of the nuclear, two-parent household, comes a resulting upward rise in single-parent households. According to the 2016 Census info, the number of single-mother households nearly tripled in the last 60 years from 8% to 23%. Likewise, the number of single-father households saw an increase as well from 1% in 1960 to 4% in 2016.

The upward trend in single-parent households has coincided with the increased number of women in the workforce. According to Time, families that are led by a single (divorced, separated, etc.) are almost on par with families who have one parent remain at home for the purpose of childcare. While these changes seem dramatic when statistics are involved, these numbers don’t seem surprising when we actually look at the world around us today.

It is important to note that today, two-parent households do not necessarily imply the household is comprised of a specific child’s two parents. Along with the rise in single-parent households, as well as the decrease in stay-at-home mothers, it is becoming increasingly common for two-parent households to consist of blended families, where parents of two sets of children either remarried or begin cohabitating. While this concept may have been entirely foreign to families in the 1950s and 1960s, today the blended family is now a part of our everyday lives.

With new trends come new challenges for families, and as families change, diversity increases. It is easy to look the trends over the last 60 years and only see the negatives, but it is important that our view of the modern family changes with the reality surrounding the current modern family. It does not do us a significant amount of good to question the reasoning behind the growth of single-parent households. Instead, it is more beneficial to focus on reality and try to understand the needs of the ever-growing number of children living in single-parent or non-nuclear families.

It is important to note that the term “single-parent household” should not be used derogatorily. The information and statistics provided above were used to illustrate the growing trend of non-nuclear families, not to point to any fault or degradation of values.

Marriages today are often different than the nuclear marriages in the 1960s. For one, the number of households with two income-earning spouses has increased in lieu of the number of households with stay-at-home mothers. Also important is the understanding that society today views divorce completely differently than our society in the 1960s, where divorce was nearly unheard of. Considering the complete change in our day-to-day lives since the 1960s, trying to compare societal norms since then is like comparing apples to oranges.

Regardless of the reasons for the decreasing amount of nuclear families, it is important that we understand how non-nuclear families affect how children grow. As single-parent households become ever more common in America, it is important that our views of the “traditional family” change as well. Close to half of all American children will experience their parent’s divorce. Unfortunately, children of divorced parents, on average, have more health and psychological problems than children of non-divorced parents. Because of this fact, it is all the more important for us to keep these children in mind in order to alleviate at least some of the challenges that face children living in single-parent or non-nuclear households.

It can certainly be easy to focus on the negatives associated with the non-nuclear family; it is much more beneficial to focus on how we can turn those negatives around. One of the best things we can do is encourage the involvement of both parents in a child’s life, regardless of the structure of the family. Simply because a child lives in a single-parent household shouldn’t mean that the child should receive care and nurturing from only one parent. In nearly every divorce, children respond significantly better when both parents remain active in their lives.

Another issue we can improve on is making sure that we understand the reality of our current society. It does us no good to look down on those families that do not fit the traditional, nuclear role. Instead, as the number of single-parent households increases, we should be focusing on understanding this reality and working to provide resources to the children of these non-traditional families. When we better significant parts of our society, we benefit society as a whole.

The nuclear family was once the most common family structure in America, but over time that trend has taken a significant downturn. Non-nuclear families are becoming significantly more common as time goes on, and this means that we need to spend a good deal of effort focusing on how these living situations affect children specifically and how we can remedy the problems that can come from these situations. As society changes, it is important that our efforts change to fill in the gaps we cause. While the number of non-nuclear families increases, we must make sure that the number of negative factors affecting children of non-nuclear families does not increase as well.   

About the Author: Rachel O’Conner is a freelance content writer located in San Diego, California currently writing for Crouse Law Group. Over the course of her career, she has written a variety of health, parenting, and fitness articles. In her free time, she enjoys running along the beach with her two puppies and practicing yoga.