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Making Room: Housing for A Changing America

The following blog post was inspired by an exhibition at the National Building  Museum in Washington, DC:

The demographics of American households have been changing steadily, and sometimes dramatically, for the past 50 years. 

While in the early 1960s babies typically arrived within a marriage, today fully four-in-ten births occur to women who are single or living with a non-marital partner. As more moms have entered the labor force, more have become breadwinners – in many cases, primary breadwinners – in their families.

By contrast, in 1960, the height of the post-World War II baby boom, there was one dominant family form. At that time 73% of all children were living in a family with two married parents in their first marriage. By 1980, 61% of children were living in this type of family, and today less than half (46%) are. The declining share of children living in what is often deemed a “traditional” family has been largely supplanted by the rising shares of children living with single or cohabiting parents.

The share of children living in a two-parent household is at the lowest point in more than half a century: 69% are in this type of family arrangement today, compared with 73% in 2000 and 87% in 1960

Women’s increasing educational attainment and labor force participation, and improvements in contraception, not to mention the retreat from marriage, have all likely played a role in shrinking family size.

The proportion of Americans who live alone has grown steadily since the 1920s, increasing from roughly 5 percent then to 27 percent in 2013, according to the latest Current Population Survey from the Census Bureau. 

All of these trends results in a need for living spaces to be transformed, so as to accomodate the changing look of households.  Enter technology. Used the right way,  technology can create comfortable living conditions in smaller spaces. It can also allow people flexibility in living spaces, so as to accomodate part-time blended families, visiting grandparents, and working moms.

The exhibit at the national Building Center presented a 700 sq ft space, that, thanks to technology, resulted in the flow and amenities of a much larger space. 

The key was that each room provided flexibility and spaciousness. In the chef’s kitchen, most appliances were not on display, but were within easy access.  Counters were adjustable, and cabinets had useable space underneath.  The children’s bedroom had bunk beds that easily folded up against the wall, releasing a desk for studying. The bathroom had a shower that had doors that moved back against the wall. Other rooms had surprisingly flexible floor plans. Even the postage-stamp size backyard had room for a deck and grill.

In other words, the floor plan of the home had the same degree of flexibility that our modern lives require. Family situations are now always evolving, and our living spaces must follow suit. But with all that technology is capable of, we still require a space that nurtures us and that says “home,” everytime we step through the front door. This house was exactly that.

 

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