Thoughts on Government Terminology

by Hunter McCord, graduate research intern, August 2009

Household: Households include all the people occupying a housing unit (a house, an apartment, a mobile home, a group of rooms, or a single room that is occupied as separate living quarters). Households can consist of one person living alone to any number of related or unrelated families who share living arrangements.

Householder: One person in each household is designated as the householder. In most cases, this is the person, or one of the people, in whose name the home is owned, being bought, or rented. If there is no such person in the household, any adult household member 15 years old and over could be designated as the householder.

Marital Status: The marital status classification identifies five major categories: never married, married, widowed, and divorced.

  • Married: The category “married” is further divided into “married, spouse present,” “separated,” and “other married, spouse absent.” A person was classified as “married, spouse present” if the husband or wife was reported as a member of the household, even though he or she may have been temporarily absent on business or on vacation, visiting, in a hospital, etc., at the time of the enumeration. People reported as separated included those with legal separations, those living apart with intentions of obtaining a divorce, and other people permanently or temporarily separated because of marital discord. The group “other married, spouse absent” includes married people living apart because either the husband or wife was employed and living at a considerable distance from home, was serving away from home in the Armed Forces, had moved to another area, or had a different place of residence for any other reason except separation as defined above.
  • Single: When used as a marital status category, “single” is the sum of “never-married,” “widowed,” and “divorced” people.

Critique: Does not take into account the inherently biased language of the category “never married.” As opposed to “always single,” or another derivative, “never married” implies marriage to be a milestone or standard against which one should measure his or her life. Furthermore, “never” has a negative/normative connotation, whereas “always” reads more amorally and temporally.

Unmarried household: any household where the householder is not married.

Spouse: A person married to and living with a householder who is of the opposite sex of the householder. The category “husband or wife” includes people in formal marriages, as well as people in common-law marriages. [Only spouses of householders are specifically identified as “spouse.” Therefore, the number of spouses in households is generally less than half the number of married people in the population, because a) more than one married couple can live in a household, and b) some married couples do not live in one household together.]

Critique: Does not recognize same-sex marriages.

Unmarried Partner: An unmarried partner is a person aged 15 years and over, who is not related to the householder, who shares living quarters, and who has a close personal relationship with the householder.

Unmarried-partner household: Any household where the householder lives with an “unmarried partner” (with or without other people). An “unmarried partner” can be of the same sex or of the opposite sex of the householder. There may be only one unmarried partner per household, and an unmarried partner may not be included in a married-couple household, as the householder cannot have both a spouse and an unmarried partner.

Critique: Does not take polyamorous households into account.

Child: Includes a son or daughter by birth, a stepchild by marriage, or adopted child of the householder, regardless of the child’s age or marital status.

Own Child: A never-married child under 18 years who is a son or daughter by birth, a stepchild by marriage, or an adopted child of the householder. Own children of the householder living with two parents are by definition found only in married-couple families.

Critique: Does not consider parenting outside of marriage.

Related Child: Any child under 18 years old who is related to the householder by birth, marriage, or adoption. Related children of the householder include ever-married as well as never-married children. Children, by definition, exclude persons under 18 years who maintain households or are spouses of householders.

Family household and non-family households: A family is a householder living with one or more individuals related to him or her by birth, marriage, or adoption. The householder and all people in the household related to him or her are family members. A non-family householder is a householder living alone or with non-relatives only, including unmarried partners. (The householder of a non-family could be married but not living with her/his spouse or any other relatives.) An unmarried-partner household with children may be a non-family household if none of the children are related to the householder by birth or adoption.

Critiques: Does not count many unmarried families with children. Does not differentiate between immediate and extended family.

Family Type: A family consists of a householder and one or more other people living in the same household who are related to the householder by birth, marriage, or adoption. All people in a household who are related to the householder are regarded as members of his or her family. A family household may contain people not related to the householder, but those people are not included as part of the householder’s family in tabulations. Thus the number of family households is equal to the number of families, but the populaton in family households may be higher than the population in families. A household can contain only one family for purposes of tabulations.

  • Married-couple Family: A family in which the householder and his or her spouse are listed as members of the same household. The number of married couples equals the count of married-couple families plus related and unrelated married-couple subfamilies.
  • Subfamily: A subfamily is a married couple with or without never-married children under 18 years old, or one parent with one or more never-married children under 18 years old. A subfamily does not maintain its own household, but lives in a household where the householder or householder’s spouse is a relative. The number of subfamilies is not included in the count of families, since subfamily members are counted as part of the householder’s family.

Critique: Does not consider unmarried partners as belonging to the family unless they are related to a child. Therefore, a marriage licenses, adoption papers and/or blood lines are the criteria by which a family is defined.

Race: The population is divided into five groups on the basis of race: White; Black; American Indian, Eskimo or Aleut; Asian or Pacific Islander; and Other races beginning with March 1989. The last category includes any other race except the four mentioned.