Monday, May 21, 2001

Nonfamily units boom in city

Traditional families more common in suburbs

By Patrick Crowley and John J. Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Although the Tristate is known for its family values, the latest Census data show the percentage of Greater Cincinnatians in traditional, nuclear families — a married couple with children — isn't much different than in the rest of America.

        And the local picture on married couples with school-age children also mirrors the national one, with 24.1 percent of local families bearing some resemblance to the idyllic TV clans of the Cleavers, the Nelsons and the Huxtables.


County by county numbers
Biggest gains, falls by communities

        While families — defined by the census as people living with a blood relative — still make up two-thirds of Tristate households, their numbers grew at a slower rate here than nationally during the 1990s, according to data released last week.

        Meanwhile, the number of nonfamily households — be they roommates, unmarried heterosexual couples, gay couples or people living alone — increased by 24 percent, a rate faster than occurred nationally.

        That doesn't mean the traditional family is dying in the Tristate. Look at Liberty Township in Butler County, which saw the Tristate's top gain in the number of traditional families in the 1990s, adding 2,605 — including Colleen and Lindsey Pyron, the parents of two boys ages 5 and 3.

        “We like the schools, we like the convenience, we like being around other families with kids,” said Mrs. Pyron, a stay-at-home mom. The community is also close to Mr. Pyron's job at EST Analytical, in Fairfield.

        What's happening to the composition and location of Tristate families mirrors what's happening nationally.

        “There is definitely a changing concept of what the American family is,” said Kelly Balistreri, Ohio state data center coordinator for the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University. “All of the data we are seeing points to the fact that families are much more complex than in earlier decades.”

Century of decline

        According to The First Measured Century, a book on American trends, here's what's adding to that complexity and fueling a century-long shrinking of the nuclear family:

        • A rise in cohabitation among straight couples, often preceding marriage, as such arrangements grow in acceptance.

        • A surge in families maintained by one person, usually the mother.

        • The increasing number of people living alone, particularly the elderly.

        The new census data give insight on how the latter two trends are shaping the Tristate. But the data also confirm that the traditional family is alive and well — and mostly living in the suburbs.

        Indeed, if you want to find Ozzie and Harriet and their kids, just go to the two fastest growing areas in the Tristate — Warren County in Ohio and Boone County in Kentucky.

        Officials in both counties are struggling with growth, particularly in building schools.

        The Boone County Board of Education has opened two elementary schools in the last three years to handle the influx of students, said Superintendent Bryan Blavatt.

        “The demographics show that we are going to continue to get about 350 new kids moving into the county every year,” Mr. Blavatt said. “That's enough to build a new school every two years. Our biggest challenge is to make room for the new students but still maintain the quality of education in the Boone County Schools.”

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        Warren and Boone counties also come closest to the national average in family size. Throughout the Tristate, the average family size decreased between 1990 and 2000 to 3.11 members compared to the national average of 3.14. Demographer Ron Crouch, who heads the State Data Center at the University of Louisville, said the shrinking family size shows that couples are putting off having children, and having fewer children as they concentrate on their careers.

        The Tristate municipality that saw the biggest drop in the number of traditional families also saw the biggest population loss — the city of Cincinnati. Only 11 percent of Cincinnati families now are nuclear families, the census shows.

        When the Pyrons moved back to the Tristate a year ago, they didn't even look at houses inside the city.

        “When we were first married, we lived in Mount Lookout,” said Mrs. Pyron. “I really like the city. But unfortunately, I just don't believe the schools are what they should be.”

Other families grow faster

        The Tristate was slightly ahead of one trend in the latest census numbers — there was a bigger increase in Greater Cincinnati in the number of families with children headed by a single father.

        Far more common, however, were families headed by single mothers, which grew by 18.4 percent in the Tristate during the 1990s, a rate slower than the national average.

        “There is a lot of negativity in the media and in people's minds about single moms,” said Angela Brown, 37, a Silverton resident who has been raising her 10-year-old son, Mark, alone since her divorce four years ago. “But people have to realize that the majority of us are working every day and we do the best we can by our children.”

        Ms. Brown admits the difficulty of trying to do the work of two parents, particularly when it comes to homework, youth sports, making dinner and other responsibilities.

        “I think initially (after a divorce) a lot of parents try their best to fill two roles, but that's impossible for one person to do,” Ms. Brown said. “Once you realize that, you can start to remove some of the stress in your life.”

        To spend more time with her son, she left a job with a Cincin nati investment firm, which often required late hours. In 1998, she took a position as an internal auditor with the City of Cincinnati, a job with more stable hours.

        She also finds support from other single moms and from members of her church, Peace Baptist Church in Avondale.

        The number of families headed by single mothers is often used as an indicator of social problems. That's because about 40 percent of single mothers in Ohio live below the poverty level and their children often struggle financially after they are grown, Ms. Balistreri said.

        What helped keep the Tristate from seeing as big an increase in single mother-led families as occurred nationally was a slower increase in such families in Hamilton County — and in Cincinnati, in particular — which was just a 1.3 percent rise.

        Slowing teen birth rates played a role in the slow growth, said Mindy Good, spokeswoman for Hamilton County Department of Human Services.

        Teen births in Cincinnati declined 29 percent between 1993 and 1999, from 391 to 276, according to a report from the Postponing Sexual Involvement program.

        “I think we're also seeing the number of women of child—bearing years going down as the overall population gets older,” Ms. Good said.

        “It's difficult to point out exactly what is driving” the change, she said. “But I think it can be good news in terms of the fact that single mothers have a higher likelihood of struggling harder to support children than two-parent households, especially in households where both parents work.”

        The increase of female-headed households outside of Hamilton County can be attributed to growth in the outlying areas, said Kathy Meade, deputy director of the Clermont County Department of Job and Family Services.

        “As the population pushes into the outer counties ... we have to increase the amount of people we serve,” said Ms. Meade.

        In Clermont County the number of female-headed households rose from 3,629 in 1990 to 4,109 in 2000.

        That growth, as well as the overall increase in population, has resulted in the county increasing child care services by 50 percent since 1997, Ms. Meade said.

All by ourselves

        The flip side of the population picture is the growth of non-family households. Again, this long-term national trend is reflected in the Tristate.

        A key factor is the number of people living alone. Their numbers rose in most places across the Tristate, but it was most profound in Cincinnati, where people living alone made up 43 percent of the households — much higher than the national average of about 26 percent. Ms. Balistreri said.

        The elderly account for much of the rise in living alone, because of better medications and health-care providers' policies on hospitalization, she said.

        People 65 and over account for a quarter of the Cincinnatians who live alone, for example. And the number of elderly living alone increased in every Tristate community except one (California in Campbell County), according to census data.

        The other factors adding to the increase in non-family households include more cohabitation of straight couples and more of what the Census calls people with unmarried partners (typically gays, although if they have children, the census could count them as a family household if a child is related to the head of household).

        Again, the trend here was strongest in Cincinnati, where the total number of households fell, but the non-family households shrank less than family households. Fifty-one percent of Cincinnati households now aren't families.

        Ms. Balistreri said one reason for the increase in cohabitation is that people are delaying marriage, with the average age to get hitched in Ohio for men at 27, and 25 for women. “Cohabitation is just a better fit for a lot of people,” she said.

Numbers on family, non-family households

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