The Changing American Family

Single and Satisfied

Though a growing number of couples are fine with never getting married, the vast majority of cohabiting relationships change into either marriage or separation after an average of 18 months, says Susan Brown, PhD, associate professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University's Center for Family and Demographic Research and a contributor to the 2002 collection of essays and studies Just Living Together. She says that according to some research, there may be a psychological cost to raising a family without the mental safety net of marriage.

"I've found that cohabiters are more depressed than married people, and it seems to be because of relationship instability," Brown says. That means most unmarried parents who live together get married eventually -- or break up and seek other potential spouses.

The Growth of Gay Families

According to the Urban Institute, 2 in 5 gay or lesbian couples live in a house with children under age 18. But because the U.S. Census Bureau doesn't figure same-sex relationships into their data, it's hard to pinpoint exactly how many children are living with gay or lesbian parents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) places its bet between one and nine million children, which means somewhere between 1.4 percent and 12.5 percent of all kids. While the AAP issued a statement saying that children of same-sex couples deserve two legally recognized parents, no state can grant federal marriage benefits to these couples, and only these states -- California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont -- allows state rights, such as the guarantee that unmarried parents can visit a child in the hospital.

Two moms, one donor: One couple, Sue Hamilton and Christy Sumner, used a sperm bank when they decided to have a baby. While the couple isn't able to marry in their home state of California, Hamilton recently adopted their daughter, which is legal there. Negotiating state laws puts extra stress on gay and lesbian families, but Hamilton and Sumner have encountered a few sympathizers. "One of the hospital workers fell in love with our family," Hamilton says.

"She thought it was nutty that birth certificates have to read 'mother' and 'father,' and typed up a mock certificate that just has our names on it."

Can Your Employer Help You?

Some large employers are scrambling to catch up to how families are changing. Traditionally, companies required workers to be married if they wanted benefits for household members. But now, "in order to attract and retain quality employees, the benefits need to be more flexible," says Kevin Marrs of the American Society of Employers, an organization that tracks information for firms in the Detroit area. He concedes, however, that because domestic partner benefits can cost a company more money, many small independent businesses don't yet offer them.

Parents Are Talking

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