Sociology researcher Brian Powell has done some very interesting research about how today’s Americans define family.  Results in the book Counted Out  examine how men and women of different ages, races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds view what constitutes a “family” and what doesn’t.

It looks at married and unmarried couples, heterosexual and same-sex couples, and couples with kids and without.  On the kid/no kid front, of course my opinion is inherent in the title of my book, Families of Two!  And the childfree agree. But what does the general population think?

In Powell’s study, 100% of those surveyed thought a married heterosexual couple with kids was a family. No surprise. 83% considered unmarried heterosexual couples with kids to be a family, and 64% would say that same-sex couples with kids are a family.

But with no kids: 92% thought that a married, heterosexual couple without kids was a family.  Only 40% considered unmarried, heterosexual couples with no kids a family. And only 33% thought that same-sex couples without kids were a family.

On one hand, it is nice news that almost all surveyed see married couples without children as a family.  The 8% are traditionalists who remain stuck on the idea that you aren’t a family unless you create offspring. On the other, the opinions seem to reflect that being married and straight are strong factors that influence how people define family.  As a society we need to work on that.

Formal definitions of family need some reworking too.  Take’s first definition: “a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children;” and “a social unit consisting of one or more adults together with the children they care for.”  Fifteen definitions follow—none get at the idea of a social unit consisting of two adults in a committed and/or marital relationship without offspring.

In a New York Times article about the research, David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, says he likes the standard definition of family: “two or more persons related by blood, marriage or adoption.” This definition “keeps it simple and coherent.”

How would you write the definition of family?


Update: Postscript on my previous Algorithm post–watch: since this post has the word “family” in it, watch the google ads at the bottom–parent this parent that–it is maddening!  Google supposedly released a tool to deal with this– not.

Double postscript: child-centric algorithms persisted to the point where I just decided to blow off google ads altogether!

Pin It on Pinterest