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Defining who belongs to a household appears relatively straightforward, and for many people it is. Usually at any time there exists a clear-cut group of one or more individuals who eat together, share a common housekeeping and sleep in the same dwelling. As a result of recent demographic trends though, household patterns have been altering significantly in western societies. Three features are particularly important.
First, household composition has been changing. With such factors as later marriage, high divorce rates and increases in lone parenthood, fewer people are now living in standard nuclear family households; equally, household size has been decreasing, and more households consist of individuals living alone.
Second, people’s household careers are now more diverse than they were for much of the twentieth century, reflecting greater variation in people’s partnership and family commitments. For example, while as mentioned more people now live alone, the routes into single person households, the life phases involved and the length of time spent in them varies significantly.
Third, household boundaries are becoming more diffuse, as increasing numbers of people are regularly spending time in different residences. Some people, for example, do weekly commutes to work; a growing number of couples are choosing to live apart together,” with each maintaining a separate home but also regularly spending time together; many children whose separated parents share care of them belong to both parents’ households; and young adults often construct flexible living arrangements, moving out and then back into the parental home as circumstances in their lives — changing employment, relationship break-up, financial pressures — alter. These and other associated demographic changes are having an impact on household patterns throughout the developed world, resulting in the living arrangements people construct being more flexible and less ordered.” They are also creating new challenges for social analysts seeking to understand the structuring of contemporary domestic life.
- Allan, G. & Crow, G. (2001) Families, Households and Society. Palgrave, Basingstoke.
- Buzan, S., Ogden, P., & Hall, R. (2005) Households matter: the quiet demography of urban transformation. Progress in Human Geography 29: 413—36.
- Rybczynski, W. (1986) Home: A Short History of an Idea. Viking, New York.