Lots of hubbub today over this new finding:
…married couples with children now occupy fewer than one in every four households—a share that has been slashed in half since 1960 and is the lowest recorded by the census.
Leaving aside the cultural significance of the trend, I think it has interesting implications for urban form. As cities increase their density—and expand residential options in urban areas—you frequently hear criticsmoaning and carping that all the new condos and townhouses aren’t good choices for nuclear families. But so what?
Family size is declining. People are putting off marriage until later in life, and putting off kids too. (Even more so in the Northwest than elsewhere in North America.) It seems exactly right that many new housing options would be designed to accomodate these demographic trends. The picket fence way of life—large tracts of single-family houses with big yards—is simply becoming less and less relevant to the way that most people actually live.
Your point in the last paragraph may be true (and it would be good if it were), though it’s not clear that single family homes hold no appeal to couples without kids or even people living alone. However, the article you quote doesn’t address a decline in family size or having kids but rather a decline in marrying and having kids and a rise in shacking up and having kids. I doubt the extra space is needed to house the marriage license, so the decline of wedlock shouldn’t translate into decreased “relevance” for types of housing preferred by parents.
Eric de Place
Good points as usual, my curmudgeonly Canadian friend. I see that this post needed a bit more explanation than I provided. Here are a couple of additions:1. First, some evidence for my claims about delayed childbirth and so on. Here: http://www.sightline.org/research/population/res_pubs/highlights; and here: http://www.sightline.org/research/population/res_pubs/pop_reprieve.2. Also, as you note, SF homes are appealing to plenty of folks without kids. (Jill and me, for instance). I just meant to suggest that the appeal is probably less powerful—and alternatives more palatable—than it is for families with children. 3. Finally, I agree that my characterization of the article was a bit clumsy. What I should have said was: The decline in households that are “married with children” underscores other related trends that we’re already aware of—namely that people are delaying marriage and childbirth, and that family size is shrinking too (see #1, above). These other trends (not the decline of married households per se) are the ones that suggest alternatives to SF homes.
Always happy to sharpen a pro-density argument, and if a certain underlying irony is teased out along the way, all the better. I would think it might make you nostalgic for the nitpicking of philosophical discussion, but then again that’s also de rigueur in the blogosphere, isn’t it?Here in Montreal, many parents who have no desire to move to the suburbs buy (vertical) duplexes or triplexes that are built townhouse-style. Living on the ground floor gives them access to a yard, while density is provided by rental apartments above and the lack of space between buildings. Neighbourhoods where these buildings predominate are quite dense and many are serviced by the Metro. It’s hard for me to see how this arrangement is unsuited to the needs of a family. However, it has to be said that this is an already existing form of building here, and one whose price is still reasonable. Whether people on the West Coast would buy such buildings (if they were built) when there’s ample supply of SF homes is hard to say, esp. since being newly built they would be pricy.I do wonder to what extent the “But Think of the Families” criticism of density is a convenient rhetorical device for all sorts of people who may have no interest in having children but are certainly conditioned to dislike dense housing. Of course, that line of inquiry risks introducing a further underlying irony at my own expense.
Ahem. My old 4 census blocks in Eastern Puget Sound had 57% of HHs married with children (IIRC, it’s been a while). Many, many folks with younguns flee to outlying areas to find cheap housing and new schools that can afford to pay for decent teachers. That’s how it is. Some choose to raise kids in Belltown. But most don’t. Those done with the kids then seek amenities and move back to downtown or elsewhere if they choose and can afford it.So when you talk about these childfree HHs, you must consider Boomer empty-nesters, then you can talk about those few who want to be childfree, and of course those lucky women who can choose to delay childbirth which results in fewer kids. BUT – those who have kids often want suburbia, and we need to remember to provision housing for them.One size housing absolutely does not fit all.And BTW I attended a conference session today with Breugmann speaking, who reminded us that sprawl is grounded in history and wealth, and is a segment of society. It’s exacerbated by our population problem and our wealth. It’s the inexorable equation: I = PAT.
While I can appreciate the merits of the sentence “One size housing absolutely does not fit all” as a slogan, unless someone is actually proposing one size (or density) of housing, I don’t see what it contributes to the discussion. I=PAT has a nice intuitive feel to it, though I wonder if one could really pin down affluence without including technology, which suggests some double counting. Ignoring that for the moment, however, the equation should allow us to see that where P and A are held steady, I will vary depending on the nature of T. So, the same population and affluence could have different impacts at different population densities because of different technologies being applied. This is one of the rationales behind preferring high density: it lowers the impact on the environment if it’s done properly (that is, using the right technology(ies)).Which leaves the terrain on which your points are strongest: what people want. In reference to HHs with kids, you give two different accounts of what they want. One is “suburbia,” which is too general for me to try to address. The other is “cheap housing and new schools,” which they find in suburbia. I don’t see any contradiction between new schools and higher densities. The real question is whether one can have denser communities and affordable housing of a type that answers the needs of parents, even though it doesn’t match their ideal of a single-family home on a large lot. If one can, and if one accepts the (possibly false) assumption that parents choose their housing on the basis of what they think is best for their kids, then to the degree that they understand the future downside of our current impact on our natural environment, they should willingly choose affordable, kid-friendly density over their dream house in the suburbs. To turn the discussion back to Eric’s position, I note that fully 43% in your census blocks were not HHs with kids. This leads me once again to wonder whether families make a convenient public face for low density advocates. I suppose Eric could point out that your anecdotal evidence dates back “a while” and assert that the trends he’s pointing to along with a general trend for empty nesters to move back “downtown” are undermining what was the case then.
Kevin,I can give 10 different accounts of what people with kids want.There is no one account.Thus the problem of providing (provisioning) housing. wrt you last paragraph, some low-density advocates absolutely make that face. Two weeks ago there was an ideological diatribe in the RMN about this very thing. The responses by readers show that they see through this simplistic, fear-based argument (not on-line at time I commented).