the shrinking household

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First, in an Atlantic cover story, author Kate Bolick lamented the diminishing marriage prospects for accomplished professional women. It seems there aren't enough similarly accomplished marriage-minded men to go around. Then, in his book "Coming Apart," Charles Murray contrasted a thriving upper class, where intact families remain the norm, with lower and working classes in which the nuclear family is headed for extinction. (Murray's analysis--and Murray himself--are deservedly controversial, but the data are not.) Most recently, a rash of stories in The New York Times examined the growing trend of people living--happily and by choice--alone. What's all this got to do with residential architecture and construction? Two words: family formation.

Any housing economist will tell you that family formation drives home sales, and in a down economy, family formation lags. When people are unemployed or nervous about keeping their jobs, they postpone marriage. That's the simple version of what's going on now. The authors above, though, paint a more complex picture. Business for architects and builders will pick up when job creation revives, that's clear enough. But in the longer term, what they design and build seems destined to evolve as traditional families account for fewer households and more people choose to go it alone. --b.d.s.





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