A. Allen Butcher • School of Intentioneering • Denver, CO • April, 2018
Since the Great Recession of 2008 it has become more difficult for people to acquire especially the housing part of the American Dream. Prices for homes and everything else go up faster than wages, and while two incomes have been needed to pay for the American Dream through recent decades, in recent years even that is not enough, especially as government-supplied social services are reduced.
Today, in many cases three or more adults are needed to support a household, all contributing both wages and time to the group, much as extended families combine the resources of several family members. Small groups of adults who are not related, working, playing, and living together, typically form as a result of their common interests, needs, values, or ideals, a sense of “family” outside of the usual bond of shared family DNA. As such people develop a set of affinities, it may be said that a “cofamily” results.
Three or more unrelated adults making commitments to each other similar to those in traditional families can result in mutual-aid among unrelated adults for creating and maintaining clan-like support for child and elder care, housing, transportation, maintenance, and other needs. Such non-traditional families especially provide an alternative for women who may be considering an abortion due to a lack of traditional family support for their pregnancy, birthing, and child-raising.
Non-traditional family designs need a name to distinguish them from the traditional nuclear family and from the extended family, with the term “cofamily” offered. While restricting use of the term to refer to three to nine adults, with or without children, the “co” prefix in “cofamily” is unspecified as it can mean: cooperative, complex, collective, compound, communal, composite, community, combined, or even complicated family! Also, a cofamily can be nested within a larger intentional community, such as an ecovillage, a housing cooperative, cohousing, a communal society, or a community land trust. Further, a cofamily may be comprised of married couples, or of a polyamorous group, or of unattached individuals.
The following information compiled from U.S. Census reports provides background for making the case for the need to recognize cofamilies as a viable alternative to the nuclear and the extended family. These six points derive from the resources appended to the end of this article, in the following sequence:
- For all households, including single-parents, the average number of family members dropped from about 3.6 people in 1967 to about 2.5 people in 2016.
- About 23 percent of the population of the United States is children under the age of 18.
- Over a third of all women with more than one child had them with more than one father, called “multiple-partner fertility.”
- The number of married-adult households has been dropping to now about half of all households.
- The number of adults living alone has been steadily rising to now nearly a third of all households.
- Births to unmarried women comprised 40% of all births in 2014, resulting in about a quarter of all households being of single-parent families, WITH HALF of all SINGLE-PARENT CHILDREN LIVING in POVERTY.
There is a clear benefit to society of the non-traditional cofamily in helping to keep children and their parents out of poverty, and potentially also in reducing the incidence of abortion, as people work together to support each other in what is sometimes called “partnership culture.” (Riane Eisler, The Partnership Way, 1998) There is also a clear benefit to the individual of having a clan-like home comprised of people who are mutually supportive, caring, and nurturing. This may be called the “Communitarian Dream.”
Please feel free to do your own math for deriving conclusions from the U.S. Census data provided above, consulting as desired the references below. My calculations from this data suggest the following.
With only half of all households now comprised of married adults (item 4), and one-third of all households comprised of single adults (item 5), that leaves 17 percent of all American households comprised of two or more unmarried adults, which may be called “cofamilies” when they involve three or more adults. Two unmarried adults living together may or may not be a couple, yet they are certainly not a cofamily according to the definition offered requiring three or more adults.
The multiple-partner fertility statistic (item 3) could involve women in married households (item 4), or in single-parent households (item 6), or in the 17 percent of households comprised of either cofamilies or of two unmarried adults. Frequently, women with two or more children of different fathers practice “serial monogamy,” meaning: marriage, divorce, remarriage, divorce, repeat. Such women usually live in a succession of married households, comprising what is sometimes called a “blended family” when the man brings his children to the household (item 4). However, the cofamily provides another option, enabling any number of the children’s fathers and their new partners and children to live in close proximity for sharing child and elder care among a group of mutually committed and supportive adults.
The statistic that a quarter of all households are comprised of single-parent families (item 6) suggests that some of these are probably included in the one-third of households comprised of single adults (item 5), while other single-parent families are probably found in the 17 percent category comprised of either households with two unmarried adults or of cofamilies comprised of three or more adults.
Although it cannot be said that 17 percent of all households are cofamilies, given that most non-married households are probably comprised of two housemates, those comprised of three or more adult housemates, sometimes called “other non-family households,” may increase as economic necessity dictates, and as more people become familiar with and desire the clan-like lifestyle of the cofamily.
For a quarterly magazine about intentional community, a directory of communities, workshops, conferences, etc., see: http://www.ic.org The Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC)
Culture Magic: The Art of Changing Culture at Will, 2007, Allen Butcher, http://www.CultureMagic.org
Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools … Ecovillages & Intent. Comm., 2003, Diana Leafe Christian
Finding Community: How to join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community, 2007, Diana Leafe Christian
Together Resilient: Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption, 2017, Ma’ikwe Ludwig
First, consider that for all households, including single-parents, the average number of family members dropped from about 3.6 people in 1967 to about 2.5 people in 2016. (“Families and Living Arrangements,” tables: AD-3a, HH-6)
“Families and Living Arrangemets.” United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: at http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/adults.html, tables: AD-3a, and http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/households.html > Households > Table HH-6 “Average Population Per Household and Family: 1940 to Present;” or http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/HH-6.pdf
Second, about 23 percent of the population of the United States is children under the age of 18. (“America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016,” Children as a percentage of the population)
“America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016.” Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from:
http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/glance.asp > America’s Children at a Glance > Demographic Background > Children as a percentage of the population; and:
http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/glance.asp > America’s Children at a Glance > Family and Social Environment, and List of Tables > Table FAM2.B at: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables.asp; or http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/fam2b.asp?popup=true
Third, over a third of all women with more than one child had them with more than one father, called “multiple-partner fertility.”
Guzzo, K. B. (2014, July). New partners, more kids: Multiple-partner fertility in the United States. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4182921/
Logan, C., Manlove, J., Ikramullah, E., & Cottingham, S. (2006, November). Men who father children with more than one woman: A contemporary portrait of multiple-partner fertility. Child Trends research brief. Publication #2006-10 4301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 350, Washington, DC 20008, 202-572-6000. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from htttp://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/2006-10MultiplePartnerFertility.pdf
Martin, M. (Host). (2011, April 19). Multiple partner families: More common than you think. (Radio broadcast) with Cassandra Dorius and Maria Cancian (Guests), National Public Radio News. Washington D.C. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=135541549
Fourth, the number of married-adult households has been steadily dropping to now about half of all households. (“America’s Families and Living Arrangements” Table AD-3b)
“Families and Living Arrangements.” United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/adults.html > Living Arrangements of Adults > Table AD-3b at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/AD-3b.pdf
Fifth, the number of adults living alone has been steadily rising to now nearly a third of all households. (“Families and Living Arrangements,” Tables AD-3a and HH-4)
“Families and Living Arrangements,” United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/adults.html > Living Arrangements of Adults > Table AD-3a at:
http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/AD3a.pdf; also > Households > Table HH-4 at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/HH-4.pdf
Sixth, births to unmarried women comprised 40% of all births in 2014, resulting in about a quarter of all households being of single-parent families, with half of all single-parent children living in poverty. (“America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016” Family and Social Environment and List of Tables; also, “Families and Living Arangements,” tables HH-1 and CH-1)
“America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016.” Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/glance.asp > America’s Children at a Glance > Family and Social Environment, and List of Tables > Table FAM2.B at: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables.asp, or http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/fam2b.asp?popup=true
“Families and Living Arangements” United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 17, 2016 from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/households.html > Households > Table HH-1; and “Families and Living Arangements” > Living Arrangements of Children > Table CH-1.