As expected, the size and makeup of the American household continued to change in 2007, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Known as the American Community Survey (ACS), this set of Census data covers the social, economic and housing characteristics of the nation’s population. The 2007 information shows that the number of married-couple family households rose 345,223 to 55.9 million, but the average household size remained largely unchanged at 3.25 family members for this often-pursued group of home buyers.

At the same time, the data showed that the total number of households edged up to 112,377,977 in 2007 with an average household size of 2.61 people.

It also illustrated the rise of non-traditional households. The number of female-headed households with no husband present rose slightly to 14 million. So did the number of male householders with no wife present, although this represents a smaller group at just 5.2 million. Finally, non-family households totaled 37 million.

These findings aren’t surprising, says Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “The big change in households started to occur in the 1970s,” Myers says. “It was fairly well shifted by 1980.”

Ever since then, Myers says, the American household has been slowly shifting away from a married couple with 2.5 children toward what is considered “non-traditional household.”

The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University agrees, says Rachel Drew, a research analyst at the center. Though Drew had not seen the Census data at press time and could not comment on the specifics of today’s release, she co-authored the Joint Center’s "State of the Nation’s Housing" report and says many of its findings are similar to today’s information from the Census.

“Married couples are a shrinking share of American households,” the center concluded in its report. “Several trends have contributed to this shift, including higher labor force participation rates for women, delayed marriage, high divorce rates, low remarriage rates, and greater acceptance of unmarried partners living together. The resulting growth in unmarried-partner, single-parent, and single-person households has increased the share of adults in all age groups heading independent households.”

Researchers at the Joint Center believe that many of these household trends will continue. It expects that unmarried partners will head 5.6 million households in 2020, up from 5.2 million in 2005. It also projects that between 2010 and 2020, the number of unmarried householders with children is projected to increase from 11.0 million to 11.8 million.

What does this all mean for home building? Myers says the market for families with kids appears to be stagnant, but there are other target markets to pursue, as builders have done for years. “First they were building for young families, and then they were building for move-ups buyer,” he says. “I think they will now build for the empty-nesters with no kids and couples with no kids.”

Nigel Maynard is senior editor, products, at BUILDER magazine.


Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.