The "typical" America family of the 1950s -- a working Dad, a homemaking Mom bringing up the kids -- is no more, replaced by a new model that has as its central identifier a diversity of roles.

There is no one kind of typical family anymore, sociologists are saying, and the breadwinner-homemaker model, common since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, has been modified into a range of possible family forms.

"There hasn't been the collapse of one dominant family structure and the rise of another," says University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen. "It's really a fanning out into all kinds of family structures."

"Different is the new normal," he says.

In a study prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families, Cohen highlights what he says are the three most significant changes in American family life during the past 50 years.

  • A decline in marriage: household headed by married couples declined from 66 percent in 1960 to 45 percent by 2010.
  • The increase in the numbers of women entering the paid workforce.
  • The rising number of blended, remarried and co-habiting families.

While in the 1950s 65 percent of all children under the age of 15 were growing up in traditional breadwinner-homemaker situations, today only 22 percent of them are, Cohen points out.

"In 1960 you would have had an 80 percent chance that two children, selected at random, would share the same situation. By 2012, that chance had fallen to just a little more than 50-50," he says. "It is really impossible to point to a 'typical' family."

Instead, he says, many children are being raised by single mothers, by a parent cohabiting with an unmarried partner, by a single father or by grandparents.

Today's children are much more likely to experience a change in their family arrangements at some point in their lives, Cohen says.

Factors driving the changes in the structure of American families today include a changing economy, job opportunities, rising education and increasing independence of women, Cohen says.

These changes have not been matched with changes to government laws and policies, such as taxes or regulations governing work hours, that affect how families work and live, he points out.

"Different families have different child-rearing challenges and needs, which means we are no longer well-served by policies that assume most children will be raised by married-couple families, especially ones where the mother stays home throughout the children's early years," he says.

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