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State of the Family in America

Original Research: U.S. Index of Belonging and Rejection (2010)
Original Research: Second Annual Index of Belonging and Rejection (2011)
Original Research: Third Annual Index of Belonging and Rejection (2013)
Original Research: Fourth Annual Index of Belonging and Rejection (2014)
Original Research: Fifth Annual Index of Belonging and Rejection (2015)

The decrease of strong families in the United States has major implications for the nation, and by extension, the rest of the world. A nation is only as strong as its citizens, and a lack of strong families weakens human, social, and moral capital, which in turn directly affects the financial (and thus indirectly the military and foreign policy strength) of the United States. A great nation depends on great families, but weak families will build a weak nation.

1. Index of Belonging and Rejection Measurements

The Index of Belonging gives the percentage of U.S. 15 to 17 years old who were raised in an intact family with both their birth mother and biological father legally married to one another since before or around the time of the teenager’s birth. The Index of Rejection provides the corresponding percentage of 15 to 17 year olds who live in broken families in which the parents either never married or are no longer married. Fifteen to seventeen-year-old adolescents on the brink of adulthood are particularly vulnerable as they are forming habits and making decisions that will last a lifetime. Whereas family intactness fosters an environment of belonging among youth that increases their likelihood of excelling in education, health, economic security, and religious practice, family brokenness creates a sense of rejection that can thwart proper growth.

Reports on the percent of all children living in a married family can give a biased picture of the state of marriage, making it more positive than is warranted. For instance, the data used to report the Index at the city level gives San Jose the highest Index of Family Belonging (56 percent). Its score is 69 percent when using all households with children headed by married parents. The difference gives an indication, first, of the proportion of children who are living with stepparents, rather than with both biological parents. Second, it gives an indication of the proportion of younger children who are likely to experience the divorce of their parents before they reach age 18, the effects of which are numerous and long-lasting. The children involved in the difference– those yet to experience their parents' divorce–will be counted in the Index of Family Rejection rather than the Index of Family Belonging. Thus, the Index of Family Belonging is a more realistic instrument for the analysis of the family and its relationship to other social outcomes.

2. 2015 Index of Belonging and Rejection

Based on the most recent 2008-2012 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey,1)) the U.S. Belonging Index is 46 percent and the corresponding Rejection Index is 54 percent. This means that 46 percent of teenagers aged 15 to 17 have lived with both biological2) parents always married since their birth, whereas 54 percent of teenagers aged 15 to 17 have lived in broken families with biological parents who either never married or are no longer married.3) The Index of Belonging and Rejection has not changed in any statistically meaningful way since 2008.

As expected, older children are less likely to live in intact families than younger children due to their parents’ separation.4) Sixty three percent of two year olds live with their always-married mother and father, 57 percent of five year olds, 52 percent of ten year olds, 47 percent of fifteen year olds, and 44 percent of seventeen year olds.

1) Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek, “Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database],” (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010
2) There may be a certain percentage of mothers who marry a man that is not her child’s biological father within two years of her child’s birth. Although the American Community Survey does not differentiate these cases, their infrequency renders them a relatively small fraction of intact families.
3) Due to the method of data categorization in the American Community Survey, it is difficult to obtain an exact Index value. Refer to for a technical explanation.
4) The statistics for children aged 2 to 17 measure family intactness (percent of children raised by their married mother and father since before or around the time of their birth), whereas the statistics for children aged 0 and 1 measure the percentage of children who will see their parents marry.