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U.S. Census Bureau Statistics Paint a Detailed Portrait of the Changing American Family

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Thanksgiving in the United States is traced to the 1619 celebration in Virginia when settlers gave thanks for their safe arrival and to the Pilgrims’ 1621 harvest feast in Massachusetts. It has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November since 1942.

Since then, Thanksgiving evokes the most treasured of traditions: family gatherings bringing loved ones together from near and far, whether in person or online.

About 44 million people in the United States — about one in seven — were born in another country. In fact, most residents have immigration in their family history.

It has become such an American symbol of families that in 1972, President Nixon proclaimed the week of Thanksgiving National Family Week: “Our long-cherished American observances of Mother's Day and Father's Day are fittingly complemented by this new idea of a National Family Week, which this year will coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday — a time when families traditionally reunite…”

We use this occasion to share some of the data the U.S. Census Bureau has long collected about the changing American family.

Family Statistics Released in 2020

Let’s look back to see how families and living arrangements have changed or trended.

  • Number of Families and Average Size. According to the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS), there were about 79.6 million families in the United States. Average family size declined from 3.27 persons in 2016 to 3.23 in 2019, as shown in the Households and Families table below.


  • Poverty Level. Of all 79.6 million families, 8.6% lived below poverty level. For female householder families with no spouse present, the poverty level is 24.1%. Poverty Status in the Past 12 Months of Families (2019 ACS).
  • Work Status. Of all 79.6 million familes, 11.9 million had no employed workers in the past 12 months (2019 ACS), 25.3 million had one employed worker, and 42.4 million had two or more.
  • Nation of Immigrants. About 44 million people in the United States — about one in seven — were born in another country. In fact, most residents have immigration in their family history. Some 36 million Americans can look to their parents to find it, while 235 million (about 75%) trace their immigrant roots to their grandparents’ or earlier generations. The Current Population Report: Demographic Turning Points for the United States highlights immigration trends.
  • School Enrollment. Students in adult roles generally require more flexible school schedules to accommodate school, work and family responsibilities. The Current Population Report: School Enrollment in the United States: 2018 shows that students who were parents tended to be disproportionately represented in less traditional for-profit colleges.
  • Extracurricular Activities. Children living in families at least five times above the poverty level for an entire year were more likely to be in a gifted program than other children ages 6 to 11 and ages 12 to 17.
  • Same-Sex Couples. Same-sex couples were four times more likely than opposite-sex couples to have adopted children or stepchildren; 43.3% of children of same-sex couples were adopted or stepchildren in 2019.


  • SNAP Benefits. Of the 3.4 million married-couple families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, 84% had at least one worker and 49% had two or more people working. Millions of U.S. workers used SNAP to supplement low wages and meet their families’ basic nutritional needs.
  • Young Adults. Young adults ages 18 to 29 were most likely to change their living arrangements, and foreign-born Americans ages 65 and over were less likely to live alone than their native-born counterparts.

Our Statistics in Schools (SIS) program offers activities and resources for teachers and students, including The Modern Family: Changes in Structure and Living Arrangements in the United States and more. There’s even a Pinterest page with SIS best boards like Parents Resources and Sociology.

If you’d like to read more America Counts: Stories Behind the Numbers, especially on the topic of Families & Living Arrangements, subscribe here for free and never miss a story.


Derick Moore is senior communications specialist at the Census Bureau.


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Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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