Source: US Bureau of Census
While households and families are the basic units in demographic studies, researchers make a distinction between the two.
Households refer to one or more people who occupy a housing unit. These people need not necessarily be members of a family. When the people who occupy a household are related by marriage, birth, or adoption, they comprise a family household. If they are not related to one another, they make up a nonfamily household.
Among family-type households, married-couple households outnumber both single-male and single-female households. The chart below clearly presents this fact.
Single Female (1)%
Single Male (1)%
One Person (2)%
Other Nonfamily (2)%
Source: Statistical AtlasDesigned by
How would US households look in the next five to fifteen years? The following short chart illustrates:
Source: Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies
In general, the decreasing growth rate of US households reflects a similar downtrend in the US population growth rate and other factors. Similarly, it follows a historical, long-running slow decline in the size of the average US household. In 1790 for instance, the average number of people in a US household was 5.79; by 2010, it stood at 2.58 and by 2019 it went up a for the first time in decades at 2.63. The years 1850 and 2019 were thus unique for indicating a rise in the numbers after a long-running decline. Still, the numbers are far removed from the figures recorded more than two hundred years before.
Source: Pew Research Center
Two demographics trends account for the steady decline of the American household size in decades.
Firstly, the fertility rates of women have distinctly gone down, from 7.3 births in 1790 to 2.5 in 1940.
Secondly, the surge of nuclear families saw fewer members of the extended family living in the same household. To illustrate: about 70% of people aged 65 and above live with their adult children in 1850. On the other hand, fewer than 15% of them did so by 2000.
While two-person households dominate the US household landscape, single-person households are actually not far behind. This is clearly indicated in the next chart:
Source: US Bureau of Census
Nevertheless, three- and four-people households are not uncommon among US households. In fact, when you combine their numbers in the last decade, you will arrive at a figure that is very close to that of single-person households.
The United States is still predominantly white. As data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows, 60% of the United States is white and non-Hispanic. Another population estimate by the Census Bureau combines both white and Hispanic populations to get a better view of America’s “color” from the perspective of a non-white. All told, 250.14 million people in the US are white and/or Hispanic, which makes up over three-quarters of the national population.
Here’s an overview of the US population broken down by ethnicity:
Source: U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates, July 2018Designed by
A US household survey shows that the “whiter” the state population is, the more likely they vote Democrat. For example, Maine’s population is 93% white and it’s considered a Blue state, whereas Texas is only 41% and votes Republican. There are obviously some exceptions, but this is a curious trend.
European ancestry makes up a huge bulk of the white American population: German(17%), Irish (12%), and English (9%) compose the three largest. Some studies, however, cite that British ancestry is under-reported, as some Americans just identify as “Americans”, especially those whose ancestry can be traced back prior to the American Revolution.
There are some notable differences in the dynamics of US households depending on its members’ ethnicity. For starters, Hispanic families have much larger families than whites, as you can see below.
Source: US Census Bureau, Current Population Survey 2017
There is also a sizable difference in median household incomes based on ethnicity. According to the Census Bureau, Asian households in the US earn more than any other household by ethnicity—$87,194. They’re followed by non-Hispanic whites ($70,642), Hispanics ($51,450), and Blacks ($41,361).
This is especially noteworthy because Asians compose only a small percentage of US households (6.98 million in 2019, or about 3% of all households in the United States). In 2016, the top three Asian households with the highest US median income are Indian, Taiwanese, and Filipinos—in that order.
The United States has more women (51%) than men (49%), based on 2017 Census data. Women outnumber men by over 6.5 million (165.92 million versus 159.42 million, respectively). The US Census Bureau, though, shows an interesting trend: there are more young men than young women (0-39 years old) in the country. That trend is reversed for men and women aged 40 and above.
This ratio of females to males follows normal global trends elsewhere, except probably in Asia where there is an overwhelming surplus of the male population. Historically speaking, US women have always outnumbered US men since the 1950s, as shown in the following graph.
Source: Knoema, 2015
In addition, this can also be because US females (81.7 years) outlive US males (76.6) by an average of 5.1 years. The median life expectancy of the entire US population, for context, is 78.67 years, which is lower than other countries in the OECD (at 80.3 years).
In fact, women over 90 outnumber men of the same age by almost two to one. In extended families or families that are run by grandparents, it’s more common to see a matriarch as the titular senior of the household thanks to their longer lifespan.
Even more interesting is that “gender” is starting to become outmoded in the last few years. Sexual orientation is evolving and is on a slow uptick since 2012. This is noteworthy when charting the American demographic, as same-sex couples won’t be able to make their own child, which may add further dimension to statistics of US families. Figures show that more Americans are identifying as LGBT in the last few years, as charted below.
Gallup Daily Tracking, 2017
Public support for same-sex marriages have steadily risen since the 1980s. The 2015 Obergefell vs. Hodges Supreme Court ruling has proved to be a watershed moment for LGBT couples, with support for same-sex couples rising to 60% and has never gone down since then. As of 2018, 2 in 3 Americans support LGBT, with respondents in Vermont and Massachusetts being the most progressive (over 80% of respondents show support).
The typical US household falls under the 25-54 age group, which comprises about 39% of the population. Of this group, the most numerous are people 25 to 29 years old, which number at 23.56 million individuals (slightly more men than females), or 18% of this age group. This brings the overall median age of the US population at 37.7 years.
The population makeup of the United States is thus represented by the demographic cohorts of Generation X and millennials. Curiously, Generation X outnumbered every other cohort (except millennials). This is likely because Generation X was born into a period of sustained economic growth after World War II, where opportunities are rife and their parents could support multiple children. The chart below shows how the average number of children peaked in the mid-60s and then tapered off up to the present.
Source: Current Population Survey
Millennials are only a byproduct of this phenomenon. Socioeconomic factors that have led to the birth of the millennial generation, allowing them to outnumber even their parents and grandparents, have made for mixed sentiment that their succeeding cohort, Gen Z, echoed into a mocking “OK, Boomer” movement.
That said, Generation X still has the most consumer buying power, likely saved when things weren’t as expensive and they had more opportunities to invest wisely. As of 2013, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that people aged 45-54 had the most buying power. This age group earns an average of $78,879 versus their expenditures of $60,524, the highest of any age group. In other words, Generation X can spend up to $7 out of every $10 they earn.
This has led to the stereotype of middle-aged people having a nice home in the suburbs while their children are left to fend for themselves in a cramped city apartment. This notion, however, has some merit, as more young people are staying and living with their parents today for far longer than at any point in this century. A comparison is shown below:
Source: Pew Research Center, 2016
Naturally, US households will grow older in the next two decades. A forecast by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and the US Census Bureau found that by 2028, the number of people aged 65-74 would have grown 4.4% and those over 75 would have grown 6.8%. Meanwhile, today’s Gen Z—the so-called “Zoomers” and the TikTok Generation—would have matured, growing 2.9%.
The United States Census Bureau recognizes six major family types:
The bureau also plans to count same-sex couples for the first time in the 2020 Census.
The nuclear family, touted as the “ideal” family type, is on the decline in the United States. As of 2014, the Pew Research Center (based on data by the American Community Survey) has found that nuclear families in the United States now make up only 46% of all families, down from 73% in the 1960s.
Meanwhile, only 22%19 are now on the traditional model of breadwinner (father) and homemaker (mother) type.
In 2014 and beyond, the new norm is diversity. You can see how the nuclear American family has evolved in contrast to other family types below:
Source: Pew Research Center
In addition, the size of the American family varies by state. Utah and Hawaii have the most numbers of people per family, averaging 3.61. On the other hand, the smallest ones are in New England, particularly Vermont and Maine, with 2.88 and 2.85, respectively.
Household income means the total income earned by all members of the household. These include wages, business returns, and investments, among others.
As of 2018, the median US household income stands at $61,937. But while this is about $20,000 more than it was in 2000, the average US household debt has also paralleled this rise, to $137,063. While it is true that as you accumulate wealth your debt also rises, it’s also worthwhile to remember that as you grow wealthy it’s also much easier for you to erase that debt. On that note, the US household debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 78.00 as of Q3 2019.
Median household income in US households seems to follow a pattern of 10-15 year lows punctuated by a few years of highs. In 1993, for example, the figure dipped to its lowest at $52,334, while the highest on record was on 2018, with $63,179. As you might expect, the recession of the early 90s and the Great Recession of 2008 and the years leading to and from these events coincided with low household income, as you can see in the chart below.
US Census Bureau
In addition, household income by state varies. If you don’t count DC, the state with the highest median household income would be Maryland, which stands at $82,747, while the lowest is still West Virginia, with $44,587.
It’s also worthwhile to note that income isn’t as homogeneous as most people think. Household income varies by ethnicity/race of the household. As of 2018, the ethnicities with the highest incomes are Asians and Caucasians (in that order), then Hispanics and African-American (also in that order). The first two are above the national average, with the last two below it.
This data can be misconstrued, however, to the merit or detriment of the ethnicity in question, but this is likely due to several factors on employment, education, and other opportunities (like a personal network). A paper by the United States Census Bureau discusses this in detail.
A useful way to interpret household incomes across the board is to use the Gini coefficient. Though originally conceived to measure statistical distribution, it’s widely used to measure income inequality and wealth distribution in a certain population using a scale of 0 to 1. A coefficient of 0 means perfect income equality, while 1 represents that wealth is concentrated to 1 person (perfect inequality).
In 2018, New York had the highest Gini coefficient score, with 0.52, while Alaska had the lowest, at 0.43. This is an expected outcome as the highly urbanized areas often have a higher concentration of wealth, while more rural ones have a more distributed model.
The US household income by percentile is skewed toward the top 1%. According to data by the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) and using data from the Current Population Survey, the 99th percentile of US households earn at least $475,116 a year, adjusted for inflation.
The US household net worth follows a similar trend, with the households of the 99th percentile going to tens of millions of dollars. The median net worth is $97,300 as of 2019 data. To put this into perspective, a household in the top 1% earns nearly 11,000 times that of the household in the 10th percentile. Here’s a graphic to visualize this trend:
Source: Federal Reserve Bulletin, 2017
Computer ownership has steadily risen since the late 70s, when the Apple and Apple II computers were launched. Computers used to be lumbering hulks of metal and delicate equipment, but when the 80s came they became more mainstream, portable, and inexpensive, allowing regular US households to own one.
In 1984, only 8.2% of US households had a computer, but this is already a huge figure in a country of 85.41 million households then. Just 22 years later, this figure has climbed to 89.3% even as households have increased to 125 million, as shown in the chart below.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
The most telling, however, is that internet penetration has outpaced computer ownership, especially in recent years. One likely explanation is that mobile devices (which includes smartphones and tablets) had an explosive growth in the last decade, making desktop computers, even laptops, redundant. In 2020, estimates believe that there are 3.5 billion smartphone devices in use worldwide.
Mobile has become a critical component of internet penetration, as 60% of all online traffic is generated by mobile devices—and this is data from 2014, just seven years after the introduction of the first iPhone.
If anything, the smartphone revolution has taught us that democratizing internet access drives innovation. In 2019, 85% of all American households have internet access, compared to 80% just 10 years ago. The technologies that push the boundaries of internet access with faster, better, and more reliable connections are also driving the internet penetration of American households in a feedback loop.
It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, however. Until, of course, Starlink becomes operational this year, some groups reveal that the poorest American households have little to no broadband connection. The states with the least internet penetration include North Dakota, Mississippi, and Alabama, as you can see from this image by the NPD Group.
The coming adoption of 5G, however, may help “upgrade” the connections of these underserved communities. Sprint and T-Mobile are working on affordable 5G access, although it’s still not as fast as a 5G in an urban area. Other technologies, like Althea’s mesh network, can also let households without broadband to tap into the internet by simply pooling to a shared community access.
Smart speakers are the future of running a household as trends show Amazon leading the pack with a commanding 32% market share in late 2018. This has ballooned to 53% as of June 2019, cementing Amazon’s place as a voice assistant leader.
Furthermore, a new study by Voicebot.ai. also reveals that voice assistants and smart speakers have a nearly 40% growth from 2018. In total, Americans have installed 133 million smart speakers distributed across 66 million owners—a figure that means that there are two smart speakers for every user. This figure represents over 26% of the national population.
If you put that in context, 1 in 4 people you talk to also talks to Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant at home. And in 2019, 65% of all smart speaker owners use it at least once a day.
Two or more smart speakers naturally form the linchpin of a smart home, and households normally share these devices. And the rise of voice assistants are a natural evolution of the ubiquity of broadband access. A study by Stanford University found that dictation is about three times faster than typing—and makes errors 20% less. When speed is of the essence or you’re otherwise occupied, like driving or working, voice assistants are highly valuable.
There is a rising demand of smart devices (which include smart speakers) year after year. These devices’ sales picked up after 2016 and has only increased (though not as explosive as the period between 2016 and 2017) until this year. This chart shows a more visual representation:
Source: Consumer Technology Association
The future of the smart home isn’t going to be limited to the smart speakers, however. While smart speakers will likely become a centralized hub of the smart home, other smart home devices will soon be ready for the future. As CES 2019 has recently shown, American households will soon have smart cameras, sensors, and other appliances that will communicate through your smart speaker and voice assistant.
And speaking of smart appliances, one of the most well-known smart appliance is a smart TV or a connected TV (CTV). While there is a pedantic terminology surrounding whether connected TVs are smart TVs, it’s sufficient for most American households that if it connects to the internet, it’s a better kind of television. This is why the number of smart TV users in the United States has risen since 2015 even as global sales of TVs are declining, as shown below.
Sources: IFA Global Press Conference 2019, Digital TV Europe
It’s also worthwhile to note that SVOD (subscription video on demand) services like Netflix have also changed the game as far as the “Age of TV” is concerned. Connected TVs are obviously a better choice than regular TVs because they can access these services.
This means that the growth of CTVs is thus correlated with the expansion of SVOD, which data from the Nielsen group confirm. Their studies reveal that in the period of 2017 to 2018, CTVs in US households grew by 5%. In the same period, the number of homes with SVOD access grew 6%.
Video streaming is set to overtake pay-TV services (like cable) globally in 2020. In the United States, streaming has already overtaken pay-TV 4 years ago in 2016, which makes sense as the United States is the biggest video streaming market in the world—a market priced at almost $12 billion. And as you might have noticed, 2016-2017 was the “golden year” for smart home devices, as the preceding section has illustrated.
In addition, the younger the household, the more likely the household uses a video streaming service from a CTV. 32.9% of the 25-34 age group, composed mostly of the millennial cohort, represents the biggest share of the SVOD subscriber base. Slightly more low-income families (36%) are subscribed to a video streaming service than middle-income (33%) and high-income (30%) households. This suggests that the bulk of their subscribers are young professionals in urban areas or starting families.
Source: Statista Global Consumer Survey, October 2019
Diversity has been pointed out as a major cause for the decline of the nuclear family in modern American households. The rise of millennials and Gen Z is seen as a primary force that shape public discourse (and support) for non-nuclear households. Couple this with the rise of divorce in recent years and the picture of a US household in the coming decades looks clearer—out with tradition, and in with the new.
Four major trends are molding the shape of the US household. First is the increased number of children living in single-parent families—the US has the highest rate in the world. Second is the increased number (again) of adults living in nontraditional living arrangements or households. Third is that women, perhaps due to improved economic and educational conditions, are finally catching up to the “wage gap.” Finally, the US population is getting older due to falling fertility rates.
Women will play a much bigger part in the coming years, either by participation or nonparticipation in traditional gender roles. Studies show that 2020 will begin a downward trend of the global population, which will finally run into negative growth by the end of this century. Accordingly, the median age of every population will rise as fertility rates go down. Highly developed nations like the United States is more sensitive to these trends, even US fertility rates stand at 1.77 births per woman.
Plus, the increased labor participation of women in an age where automation looks to replace most human labor will accelerate the overhaul of the American household. Most women excel in areas where highly complex and cognitive work is required compared to men. This means men’s jobs are more prone to automation than women’s.
This may lead to female-headed households—traditionally thought to be poor households—making up a bigger share of the US household pie. This may not come as a surprise, as the poverty rate for these households has fallen to its lowest since 1959.
All in all, this doesn’t mean that US households are dead; far from it. It’s simply evolving to adapt to the demands of society, generational outlook, and technology. While the insight in this article can nowhere near be taken as gospel, these figures can offer any reader a glimpse of what “Americana” means in the coming years—even decades.
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