California bucking trends it once set

The Associated Press
Wednesday May 23, 2001

Census shows families becoming more traditional as state grows older 


FRESNO — The state that celebrated free love, embraced alternative lifestyles and beat a path to divorce court may be settling down as it grows older and becomes more diverse. 

The Golden State seems to have moved from trend setter to traditionalist, according to census figures being released Wednesday. 

Married couples with children increased at twice the national average, growing by 12.6 percent while the rest of the nation lagged at 5.5 percent.  

The nuclear family filled an increasing share of households, while that percentage dropped nationally. 

What remains to be seen is how the influx of immigrants – much of the state’s growth in the 1990s was fueled by Mexicans and Asians – is reshaping the typical California family. 

“There might even be two Californias in a way,” said Hans Johnson, a researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California.  

“Immigrants may have what are considered more traditional family living arrangements.” 

California natives may more closely mirror national patterns, but demographers won’t know until more data become available from the 2000 Census. 

“I would say most of the people my age don’t believe in marriage, they are really cynical about it,” said Kirsten Morgan, 24, a nursing student in San Francisco who got married a year and a half ago. 

The latest wave of figures confirmed much of what social scientists already suspected about the state’s burgeoning population. 

Housing, for example, failed to keep pace with the state’s population, which grew by 13.8 percent to 33.9 million, leading to fewer vacancies and more crowded homes. 

People looking for a place to live in the state’s larger cities, where rents and housing prices skyrocketed with a booming economy, have had to endure cutthroat competition for an apartment or bidding on the spot for a house. 

In numbers, housing grew 13 percent nationally while California only expanded by 9 percent, bucking its image as the poster child of sprawl. 

As a consequence, average household size rose from 2.8 people under one roof to 2.9. That figure is more significant when compared to the national figure of 2.6 people, a number that has consistently fallen. 

There are also hints in the data that housing may have been too expensive in the nation’s most populous state, Johnson said. 

Nationally, 20 percent more people were living alone in 2000 than in 1990.  

But in California that number only increased by 11.4 percent. In San Francisco, the number of people with roommates increased 32 percent, while people living alone increased by only 6 percent. 

As a whole, the state is still two years younger than the national median age of 35.3 years.  

Despite having more than a quarter of its population under 18, it aged by nearly two years in the last decade due mostly to the bulge of aging baby boomers. 

In many ways, where California once seemed like an extreme, it is now becoming more mainstream, which is evident in the changing family structure. 

Although the state no longer keeps divorce records, the rate of broken marriages is believed to have fallen over the years.  

Still, more parents, such as San Francisco firefighter Rebecca Atwater, are rearing their children alone. 

“Sometimes it’s easier to do it on your own,” said Atwater, a divorced mother of two. 

Atwater was one of the state’s 834,716 single moms raising their children last year.  

That number was up 23 percent in the last decade, from 6.5 percent to 7.3 percent, only a fraction different from national figures. 

And while the number of unmarried couples rose 38 percent, the growth was far less explosive than cohabitation nationwide.  

Still, only about 2 percent of people in the state and nation are unmarried pairs living together. 

Even in San Francisco, where the change was expected to be greater, the number only grew from 2.7 percent to 3.2 percent. 

“We’ve always been growing much faster than the nation,” said Dowell Myers, a professor of urban demography at the University of Southern California. “It’s nice to have stabilization in some arena.”