Table 1 provides the complete series of children's characteristics used in this report at the national level for 1990 and 2000, as well as the percentage point change. The composition and characteristics of children changed in a variety of ways over the decade. Using the definition for children used in this report, children as a proportion of the population barely increased, from 25.4 percent to 25.5 percent of the population. Following the general national trend of increasing ethnic diversity, the proportion of children who are Hispanic rose 5 percentage points, from 12 percent to 17 percent of all children.1
Direct comparison of race groups between the two decades is unadvisable because of the change in the question format which permitted respondents to choose more than one race in 2000. During this same time, the share of children who were foreign-born rose by 1 percentage point, and those who spoke a language other than English at home increased by 5 percentage points.
As the living arrangements of America's adults continues to diversify, so do the family and household arrangements of children. Table 1 shows that the proportion of children living in a married-couple family dropped 4 percentage points over the decade. Concurrently, there were increases in the percentage of children living in families with a never-married parent, in multigenerational households, and in households maintained by opposite-sex unmarried partners (definitions in Appendix A).
Change occurred as well in the characteristics of children's parents. Reflecting national education trends, a larger share of children in 2000 lived in homes with highly-educated parents.2 The proportion living with parents who spoke a language other than English at home and with parents who had difficulty speaking English also increased. These characteristics are often related to parental nativity which is examined in more detail later in this report.
Changes also were seen in the labor force activity of children's parents. This included decreases in the percentage of children living with married parents where both were in the labor force and where only the father was in the labor force. At the same time, there was an increase in the percentage of children living with married parents and the mother only or neither parent was in the labor force. Increases also occurred in the percentage of children living with a mother only or father only who was in the labor force.
Census data on income and poverty show that the economic situation for many children improved over the decade. The overall percentage of children who lived in families with incomes below the poverty line (in 1989 and 1999 respectively) fell 2 percentage points, while those living in families with incomes in excess of 400-percent of the poverty level rose 4 percentage points. The percentage of children living in households that reported receiving some kind of public assistance (defined in Appendix A) also fell 2 percentage points over the same time period.
The final domain of interest in Table 1 is a series of items about housing. Increases occurred in the percentage of children who lived in an owned home as well as the percentage who lived in crowded housing.
Nativity of Children and Their Parents
During the 1990s, one indicator of the increasing diversity of the population was the changing nativity of the population.3 Table 2 shows selected characteristics for children grouped by their own nativity and that of their parents. Nativity in the decennial census is determined by place of birth and U.S. citizenship status. A foreign-born person may or may not be a naturalized citizen. Only people who are citizens at birth are considered to be native. Children born abroad to an American citizen are considered citizens at birth, as well as all those born in the United States, Puerto Rico, or U.S. Island Areas. Children born to foreign-born parents in the U.S. may differ in many ways from those children who came to the U.S. as immigrants with their foreign-born parents.
Table 2 provides data on the characteristics of foreign-born and native children with foreign-born parents compared with those of children born to native parents. Only the nativity of parents living with their children at the time of the census can be taken into account. If at least one of a child's parents is foreign born, the child is included in the foreign-born parent category. Children living with only native parents are included in the native parent category. The percentages across the child/parent nativity groups do not add to 100 percent because some children do not live with a parent in their homes and are not included in this table.
Foreign-born children of at least one foreign-born parent comprised just 4 percent of all people under 18 in the year 2000. Although there was less than a 1-percentage point increase in this group among all children, it represented a 40 percent growth in the size of this population. There was a larger increase in the proportion of native children with at least one foreign-born parent (4 percentage points). The share of children who had native parents had an even larger change, but it was a decline (6.8 percentage points). Even with the decline, 3 in every 4 children had native parents in 2000.
Language and English-speaking ability
The ability to speak English in the United States is important for communicating with a wide array of institutions on a daily basis. Language questions were asked of every person 5 years and older in both the 1990 and 2000 decennial censuses. Whether a child with a foreign-born parent speaks English fluently can be dependent on many factors, such as whether their country of origin is English-speaking and whether they immigrated to the United States in their early childhood or after they already began speaking another language.
About three-quarters of foreign-born children of foreign-born parents had at least one parent who had difficulty speaking English in 2000, representing an increase of 21 percentage points over the decade. The percentage with a parent who had difficulty speaking English was 55 percent for native children of foreign-born parents, rising 6 percentage points over the decade.
The patterns in English fluency for foreign-born parents were not necessarily mirrored in the fluency differences among their children. For example, native children of foreign-born parents recorded a 9 percentage point increase in the percentage speaking another language at home between 1990 and 2000. At the same time this group of children had a 19 percentage point decline in the percentage speaking English less than very well. At the same time that increasing percentages of native children with foreign-born parents were speaking their parent's language while at home, increasing percentages were showing fluency in English. In 2000, 6 percent of children with native parents spoke another language and 2 percent had difficulty speaking English.
Cultural differences, characteristics of those who choose to immigrate to the United States, and the economic situations of immigrants may all affect the living arrangements of families with a foreign-born parent in comparison to native parent families. Among the three nativity combination groups shown in Table 2, native children with at least one foreign-born parent were the most likely to be living in a married-couple family in both 1990 and 2000 - about 8 in every 10 children in both years. For children of native parents the ratio was about 7 in every 10, and the percentage had declined since 1990. Foreign-born children with a foreign-born parent was the only group to see an increase in the percentage living with married parents and the only one to have a decrease in those living with a mother only. The groups all had similar percentages of children living with only their father in 2000 (5 to 6 percentage points), and all had increases in this arrangement over the decade.
Children who live with one or both parents may be living in a multigenerational household. Higher percentages of children in this living arrangement were observed for children with at least one foreign-born parent than those with only native parents. Thirteen percent of both native and foreign-born children of a foreign-born parent were in a multigenerational household in 2000, and they both increased by over 4 percentage points over the decade. The percentage in 2000 was 8 percent for children with native parents.
Among the three nativity combinations, the highest percentage of children in poverty in 1999 was among foreign-born children of at least one foreign-born parent (28 percent). The percentage was twice that of children with native parents. Both of these nativity groups had decreases over the decade in the percent of children in poverty. At the opposite end of the income spectrum, the situation was reversed, with slightly more than twice the percentage of children of native parents than foreign-born children of a foreign-born parent having family incomes of 400 percent or more of the poverty level. The native parent group also experienced the biggest change since 1989, a 6 percentage point increase of children in the highest income group. Native children of a foreign-born parent were in between the other groups' percentages for both of the income categories for both years.
A parental characteristic that is associated with income levels is educational attainment. In 2000, 55 percent of foreign-born children of a foreign-born parent lived with at least one parent who had not completed high school. The corresponding level for children of native parents was 17 percent. The proportion of children in these two nativity groups living with at least one parent with a bachelor's degree were more similar (26 percent and 31 percent, respectively). For both nativity groups, having a parent with less than a high school diploma decreased since 1990 while the percentage with a parent with a bachelor's degree increased.
The final area of interest concerns the characteristics of the child's physical home. Almost twice the percentage of children with native parents than foreign-born children of a foreign-born parent lived in an owned home in 2000. The two groups both had increases over the decade, but the percentage point increase was greater for the foreign-born children and represented a bigger relative increase for that group. Living in a single-family housing unit (as opposed to an apartment, mobile home, or other housing) followed the same pattern as being in an owned home, with the highest percentage in both years belonging to those with native parents. Only children of native parents recorded an increase in this characteristic since 1990 among the three groups.
Crowded housing is defined as homes where there is an average of more than one person per room.4 This was the living situation in 2000 for 6 in every 10 foreign-born children of a foreign-born parent, a little over 4 in 10 native children of a foreign-born parents and about 1 in 10 children of native parents. While there was a 6-percentage point increase in crowded housing for native children with a foreign-born parent, the other two groups experienced declines.
Overall, Table 2 shows that children of these three different nativity arrangements varied across numerous measures, and that the levels of change in these domains varied across the decade as well.
Family Living Arrangements of Children
A second major dimension of importance in understanding the characteristics of children is the kind of family living arrangement they are a part of. Table 3 provides data regarding children's living arrangements and some of the indicators in the domains previously discussed. Three general living arrangements are identified: married-couple families, mother-only families, and father-only families. Together, these three family types account for over 67 million children in 2000, or about 95 percent of children in our universe of study. As Table 3 shows, the percentage of children living with two married parents declined by 4 percentage points between 1990 and 2000. Increases in the percentage of children living with only their mother or only their father absorbed most of the increase over the decade, but there was also slightly under a 2 percentage-point increase in children living with neither parent.
It was more common in 2000 for children living with a single mother or single father to be in a multigenerational household (18 percent and 19 percent, respectively) than children living with both parents (5 percent). The 2-percentage point decline in children of single mothers in multigenerational households since 1990 was the opposite of the slightly more than 2-percentage point increase for children of married parents. This increase represented a 67 percent increase in the proportion of married-couple children living in multigenerational households.
Less than 1 percent of children in married-couple family groups in both 1990 and 2000 lived in a household where the householder had an unmarried partner (situations where the child and parents were a subfamily).5 Being in an unmarried partner household was more common for children living with an unmarried father than an unmarried mother. More than 1 in every 3 children with a single father were in an unmarried partner household in 2000 while it was about 1 in every 10 children with a single mother. The incidence of this characteristic increased since 1990 for both mother-only and father-only family groups.
Sixteen percent of children were living in poverty in 1999, a decrease of about 2 percentage points from 1989 (Table 1). In Table 3 we see that the percentage of children with two married parents with an income below the poverty level was half that of all children in 1999 (8 percent) and had also decreased over the decade. While there were larger percentage point decreases in the poverty rate for children living with their mother only or father only, the overall percentages of these children in poverty remained higher in 1999 than for those in married-couple families (39 percent and 20 percent respectively, compared with 8 percent).
A similar pattern was seen in the proportion of children living in households receiving public assistance. The percentage of children in married-couple families receiving assistance increased by less than 1 percentage point over the decade. There were larger decreases in both mother-only and father-only families (13 percentage points and 5 percentage points, respectively). In 2000, children in single-parent families were still more likely to be in households receiving public assistance (22 percent for mother-only and 13 percent for father-only) than children in married-couple families (5 percent).
Finally, while the children in all three family group types experienced increases in the percentage of children living at 400-percent or more of the poverty level, the increase was greatest for children in married-parent families (6 percentage points). This family-group type also had the greatest proportion of children in the highest income bracket in both 1990 and 2000 (30 percent and 36 percent).
In general, parental characteristics in this report are shown as whether at least one of the parents in the household has that characteristic. Sometimes though, it may matter more for a child if both of their parents have a certain attribute. For example, if one parent is not a high school graduate while the other has a college degree, the family may experience different job opportunities than if both parents did not complete high school. For this reason, characteristics in the "Parental" section of Table 3 are shown for children in married-couple families by whether one or both parents have the characteristic. The percentage with at least one parent with a characteristic can be calculated by summing the two relevant data lines.
A greater percentage of children in married-couple families in 2000 had one parent as opposed to two parents who had not completed high school (13 percent and 9 percent respectively). This means 22 percent had at least one parent without a high school diploma, compared with 25 percent of children with a mother only and 30 percent of those with a father only. During the decade, this percentage with this characteristic decreased for all family types, while the percentages with one or both parents with a bachelor's degree increased. Eleven percent of children in single parent families in 2000 had a mother or father with a bachelor's degree. In comparison, a total of 38 percent of children in married-couple families lived with at least one parent with a bachelor's degree: 20 percent with one parent with a bachelor's degree and 18 percent with both.
A higher proportion of children in married-couple families had at least one parent who had difficulty speaking English than either group of single-parent children. From Table 2 we can see that a higher percentage of children with foreign-born parents than children of native parents were in married-couple families. Since foreign-born parents are more likely to have difficulty speaking English this helps to explain the relatively high percentage of children with non-fluent married-couple parents in 2000. Among those with married parents, it was more common for both rather than only one to be foreign-born (15 percent compared with 6 percent). The children in the three types of living arrangements all were more likely to live with at least one parent who had difficulty speaking English or who was foreign-born in 2000 than they were in 1990.
In 2000, 77 percent of children with married parents lived in an owned home, an increase of 3 percentage points since 1990. While the percentage of children living in owned homes rose for all family types between 1990 and 2000, the percentage in 2000 was still lower among children in mother-only and father-only families (40 percent and 54 percent, respectively). Living in a single-family housing unit was also more common among children in married-couple households (81 percent) than among those with a mother only (55 percent) and those with a father only (64 percent). The percentage of children living in crowded housing rose somewhat for married-couple families (3 percentage points). The resultant level for these children (17 percent) remained below that of children in one-parent families (21 percent for mother-only and 24 percent for father-only).