Author:Silbaugh, Katharine


The study of the relationship between all families, whether marital or non-marital, and households, is underdeveloped, despite extensive study of the mismatch between family law, which is still focused on marriage and parenthood, and family practices. Often, in an effort to update the discourse, discussions of non-marital families seem to deploy households or living arrangements as a substitute classification in the place of the old marital family. This Article argues that we need to resist the tendency to substitute the idea of "household" when the boundaries of legal family fail us, because households are not necessarily familial, and because core familial ties exist across multiple households. Household membership is characterized by churn, both because of changes in intimate attachments and because of life cycle changes. This Article argues that housing design and housing policy should accommodate that churn in a way that minimizes disruption to individuals' attachment to building, neighborhood, community, and family members living in separate households. It should offer options for stability that are economically realistic for people whose households will change. No single policy intervention can resolve the disruptions associated with fluctuating household membership. Rather, properly understanding the needs of families as distinct from households provides a lens for evaluating particular attributes of housing policy. Two housing principles in particular would better serve the needs of today's households. First, housing policy should prioritize the family ties of non-householders to a household. As family members exit a housing unit, housing policy should seek to stabilize their ties with the household, particularly valuing proximity. Second, the design of the unit itself should reflect the inevitable expansion and contraction in household membership. This means that the unit would allow for proximity with privacy for linked households. This Article seeks to marry insights from the emerging literature on multi-generational household design, accessory dwelling units, and micro-units, with insights from the literature on the new normative family, in the hopes of producing an improved housing policy lens.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction 1072 I. "Normative" Families Are Not the Norm 1074 A. The Old Normative Family 1075 B. The New Normative Family 1076 II. Family Law Is Mismatched to Current Familial Arrangements 1080 III. Households and Families Are Distinct 1083 A. How Do Adults Live? 1084 B. Multigenerational Households 1085 C. Fluctuating Household Membership 1087 D. Can the Negative Consequences of Fluctuations Be Reduced? 1089 IV. Implications for Housing 1090 A. Preserving Proximity 1091 1. Public and Section 8 Housing 1091 2. Zoning 1093 3. Accessory Apartment Zoning 1095 4. Micro-Unit Developments 1097 5. Combining the Wisdom of Accessory Dwelling Units with the Urban Needs Addressed by Micro-Units 1099 B. Flexible Housing Design 1100 Conclusion 1105 INTRODUCTION

What is the relationship between families and households? How should housing design and policy meet the needs of both households and families? This Article explores the points of divergence between legal family definition and household composition. It argues that the divergence between family law, on the one hand, and household composition, on the other, has become substantial. It goes on to argue that housing design and policy lag behind contemporary household composition, treating the divergence between family and household as incidental rather than central to housing. After reviewing the now-familiar argument that family law's narrow focus on marriage and parenthood misses much of family organization today, this Article considers the relationship between household composition and family, defined either as the narrow, marital, normative family or the more common, new-normal non-marital family. The Article concludes that household membership does not clearly align with either meaning of family.

Instead, household members come and go over the lifecycle of intimate relationships--children's lives and parents' aging, social preferences of what we call "single" people, and re-configurations associated with the new norm of multi-partner fertility. This unsteady alignment of household composition and family, whether broadly or narrowly conceived, should raise challenges for housing policy and design. This Article concludes with a series of suggestions for creating a more useful housing policy and design that warrant further study. The exploration of housing policy serves as only one example of the benefits of distinguishing between family and household in legal and policy analysis.

Parts I, II, and III gather three matters covered in the literature on family law and family and household demographics, putting them in conversation with one another. Part I examines the ways that families no longer conform demographically to the old normative family, meaning the family of children living with both of their parents and those parents married to one another, but are composed instead of an array of ties of varying permanency. Part II reviews how family law is unduly pre-occupied with two pillars, marriage and parenthood, and has not yet adequately developed to reflect the way families actually operate--to the "new normal" family. Part III discusses how actual household membership reflects neither the normative family nor the new-normal non-marital family. Household membership instead is characterized by constant entry and exit, both for economic, social, and cultural reasons, and due to the life cycle. As important, household also excludes core family members, particularly fathers. Households are neither traditionally familial nor new-normal familial, though they are influenced by each.

Part IV suggests some policy challenges posed by the issues raised in the first three parts as they relate to housing and urban planning in particular. It describes recent trends in accessory dwelling units and micro-unit developments, two movements that respond in some ways to changes in the family. It argues that the movement to permit accessory units employs a promising conception of linked familial households that might contain either young adults living with their parents or aging individuals living with their adult children. However, the accessory unit movement is largely focused on fixing the oversized single-family home, predominantly located in suburban communities and tending to exclude lower-income families. By contrast, micro-unit developments are arising in cities with high housing costs to address the smaller space needs of households with fewer members. However, micro-unit developments assume that the household, containing a single person, does not have familial ties outside of the household that should influence housing design. Rather, they have arisen in buildings devoted entirely to micro-units, and they separate single householders from proximity to linked familial households.

This Article concludes that the next step for housing policy should be connecting the micro-unit concept with an awareness of linked familial households, so that design takes into account the need for proximity of smaller housing units to larger housing units.


    We are not a marriage population predominantly in practice, and children are not predominantly raised for 18 years by their two parents in a common household. (1) There is no longer anything novel in this observation. What was so often called the normative family can now be called the old normative family, (2) with a rapidly deepening understanding among researchers, policy-makers, and the public of the new normative family. Slightly harder to characterize than the old normative family, its attributes often include multigenerational households, the absence of a marriage, family members spread among more than one household, multi-partner attachments over time and multi-partner fertility, meaning adults with more than one co-parent.

    1. The Old Normative Family

      In 1960, among the U.S. population of all adults over the age of 18, seventy-two percent were married. (3) The average age of marriage was 20.3 for women and 22.8 for men. (4) Approximately ninety percent of births were to married parents. (5) Only eleven percent of children in 1960 lived in a household without their father. (6) At one time, prior to WWII, multigenerational households (containing adult children or aging parents of adult householders) were common; in 1900, for example, fifty-seven percent of individuals over the age of 65 lived in a multigenerational home, making the arrangement the normal aging pattern. (7) But with post-war assistance from focused housing policy aimed at creating suburban communities of single-family homes, (8) a trend toward single, nuclear family households occupied by only two parents and their minor children emerged, and that trend dominated both demographically and ideologically. (9) By 1980, only eleven percent of households were multigenerational. (10) This old normative family, which is the post-WWII family, was likely to live with married parents and their minor children in a single-family home. Over the course of the past thirty to forty years, there has been a decline in the prevalence of each one of the old normative family's attributes to the point where they now represent a small minority of households. (11)

    2. The New Normative Family

      New normative families differ greatly from the old normative image. To begin to capture what the new normative family looks like, we need to look at family life from several perspectives. If we ask who children live with, we get one version of the new normative family. But that version pre-supposes children. If we ask instead who people live with, we get a different picture, but the question inaccurately presumes that family or...

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