The Incidence of Extended Households Among Middle-Aged Black and White Women: Estimates from a 15-Year Panel Study

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Much has been written in recent years about changes in family and household structure in the United States. Analyses based on census data or other cross sections indicate that fewer adults live in families, especially the nuclear family of husband, wife, and minor children. Analyses based on cross sections also indicate the relative rarity of extended households, especially three-generation families. In this descriptive analysis, data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Mature Women are used to compare cross-section and 15-year estimates of the incidence of various types of extended households. Black and white women are analyzed separately and the estimates for the proportion of middle-aged women living in extended households are presented by marital status. Results show large differences between single-year and 15-year estimates of the incidence of extension. Overall, between one-fourth and one-third of white middle-aged women lived in extended households for some time over the 15-year period, and approximately two-thirds of black women experienced this household form for at least part of their middle years. We conclude that, contrary to popular and academic perceptions, extended families are a relatively common form of living arrangement for adults in this country, if only for short periods of time. This may be one indicator of the prevalence of the modified-extended family in the United States.