So why then did the Census Bureau claim the traditional nuclear family was making a comeback? The main reason why more children were classified as living in traditional nuclear families (as, in the Census Bureau's defense, the most diligent reader could discover by a scrupulously close reading) was an increased likelihood that married families were living on their own, without relatives or unrelated individuals in the home. A booming economy made it easier to get by without sharing living space; and married couples who delay fertility until their 30s are more likely to be able to afford their own household. "Married Families Less Likely to Live With Gramps!" would be the honest headline generated by the Census Bureau's actual data.
Why did the Census Bureau choose such a misleading way of classifying "traditional nuclear families"? "That is the classification used in the 1991 report, and we wanted to be able to compare across two points in time," Fields told me. Fair enough. The problem is, and the Census Bureau should know this, that neither common sense nor social science evidence suggests that renting a room to a friend, or inviting Grandpa to live with you, in any way hurts children's well-being. The question of urgent interest, from the standpoint of evaluating family progress or decline, is whether children are more or less likely to live with their own two (biological or adoptive) parents, and are those parents married?
Our wonderful Census Bureau has the data to answer that question. Why, nearly 10 years after "Murphy Brown" launched a national marriage debate, is it so hard for the American people to pry it out?
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.