Family Structure in Houston

Growing households and single-parent trends indicate a need for stronger supportive resources in our communities

While the share of married couples is stable throughout our region, single-parent and single-resident households represent a large portion of the region. 

Why family structure matters to Houston

Healthier families make for healthier communities. Research shows children benefit from living in a stable home with both parents, while children that grow up in single-parent homes are likely to have lower educational achievement, higher drug use, and more emotional challenges.1 Many seniors who live alone need assistance with transportation and long-term care for everyday activities. They often experience both social isolation and loneliness, which puts them at a greater risk of dying earlier. As family dynamics shift to include more diverse arrangements — single-parent households, multigenerational households and a growing aging population living alone — it’s important that we collaborate to better accommodate all types of families and to ensure that all have the resources they need to support each other’s success and health.

By staying informed and working together, we can help to ensure that every household has the opportunity to thrive.

The data

Household sizes and types in the Houston area

The size of a household represents the number of people occupying the same housing unit, which can be single-family, extended families, persons living alone or unrelated people living together. Observing how the makeup of Houston households is changing provides a vital snapshot of emerging needs in our region, particularly related to housing.

The average household size is considerably larger in Fort Bend County (3.22) than in Harris (2.91) or Montgomery (2.90) counties. While household sizes remained mostly stable between 2010 and 2017 in Harris County, both Fort Bend and Montgomery counties have seen noteworthy growth at a rate well above the state and national averages. 

In broad terms, households are divided into one of two household types: family households and non-family households. Family households consist of two or more individuals who are legally related by birth, marriage or adoption. People who are not legal family members can still reside in a household without changing their “family household” status. Non-family households consist of people who either live alone or with unrelated roommates/housemates. 

There are 9.6 million households in Texas, of which two million are in the three-county area. Across the three counties, 71% of the households are family households, while the remaining 29% are non-family.

Among the three counties, Fort Bend has the highest proportion of family households (83%), compared to 68% in Harris County and 77% in Montgomery County. The vast majority (more than 80%) of non-family households in the three-county area are single-person. And while non-family households have increased across the nation, their levels have decreased throughout the three-county area from 2010 to 2017, most notably in Montgomery County (4.2 percentage point decrease).

70.7% family households

A vast majority of households in the three-county area consist of people related to one another.

One-person households with people 65 years and over increased from 98,855 in 2010 to 134,198 in 2017 in the three-county area, a 36% increase, which is much faster than the national rate of 18.6% and state average of 23.5%. In particular, the number of seniors living alone increased from 6,934 to 11,879 in Fort Bend County, a 71% increase in seven years, the highest among the three counties. 

Seniors who live alone are at a much greater risk of premature health issues due to loneliness, medication management issues, poor eyesight, memory lapses, poor nutrition, home safety issues and more. However, according to an AARP survey, most seniors (87%) want to remain in their present homes and communities as they age.2 This phenomenon is referred to as aging in place.3  Ensuring that those choosing to live independently into their older years can do so safely and with support represents a major challenge for policy, social service and health professionals in the coming years.   

Elders living on their own are a growing concern in all three counties, especially for female householders, who are more likely to live alone than men in their age group. In 2017, almost half (49%) of Montgomery County female householders lived alone were 65 years and older, compared to 44% in Fort Bend County and 35% in Harris County. 

Children and household types in the Houston area

Single-parent households exist throughout our three-county area, and although one parent raising a child is not inherently problematic, this family dynamic often correlates with increased stress for a single-parent, poverty and financial hardship, and emotional and behavioral issues for children — problems often compounded by the demands placed on a single parent’s time and resources.4 

“Studies also show that community strength and involvement can reduce difficulties and improve outcomes for children in single-parent households.”4

Single-parent households

Looking at families with children under the age of 18, we see that across the nation, state and in all three major counties, there is a remarkably high percentage of single-parent Black households, most notably in Harris and Montgomery counties at 61% and 47%, respectively. Conversely, single-parent households are consistently rare among Asians, with only 9% of Asian households in Fort Bend County having single-parent householder. This pattern is largely stable since 2010. 

Nationwide and statewide, the number of single-parent households is declining. However, the number is increasing in the three-county area and in each county.

6.5% growth in the number of single-parent households

Since 2010 in the three-county area, while we see shrinking figures across the state and nation.

Grandparents and Houston-area households

When parents are unable to raise their children, grandparents are a common source of assistance. While this can be rewarding for grandparents, enriching for children, and a positive for overstressed parents, it can also be hard on grandparents who are in essence raising a child for their second time. Some grandparents acting as the primary caretakers of their grandchildren may experience depression, sleeplessness, emotional problems and even increased rates of poverty.5 

Since 2010, the number of children under 18 years living with a grandparent who is responsible for grandchildren with no parent present increased in the three-county area. 

Marital status

Stable and satisfactory marriages are important for adults and the communities they live in. Married couples tend to enjoy greater economic mobility, which can help to decrease inequality over time — especially for married couples with children.6  

Married couples represent a majority of family households across the nation, state and three-county area. The three-county area boasts 1.4 million married family households. In Fort Bend and Montgomery counties, about 80% of households included a married couple as of 2017, higher than both the national and state averages. Harris County and Texas, on the other hand, had lower marriage rates (69%) compared to the nation (74%).

Marriage rates in the Houston area

Looking at the percentage of males and females aged 15 years and older that is married we see a slightly different population trend.

Marriage rates for both men and women in the three-county area have declined slightly since 2010, but are generally higher than the national and state averages with the exception of Harris County, where only 48.5% of the eligible female population is married.

Marriage rates also vary by race and gender, following patterns consistent with other measures such as poverty and income inequality. For instance, Black women are also the least likely to be married throughout the nation, the state and all three counties. 

Resources

References:

  1. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2018. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being.”
  2. American Association of Retired Persons “Survey, What Makes a Community Livable?AARP, April 2014. 
  3. National Institute on Aging. “Aging in Place: Growing Older at Home.” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, last modified May 1, 2017. 
  4. Simons, Ronald L., Leslie Gordon Simons, and Lora Ebert Wallace. Families, Delinquency, and Crime: Links between Society’s Most Fundamental Institution and Antisocial Behavior. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Publishing Company, 2004.
  5. Sampson, Deborah, and Katherine Hertlein.“The Experience of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.” GrandFamilies: The Contemporary Journal of Research, Practice and Policy, 2 no. 1(2015): 4.
  6. Mitnik, Pablo A. and David B. Grusky, “Economic Mobility in the United States.” The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Russell Sage Foundation (2015).