The American family once typically consisted of a husband, wife, an average of 2.5 children and a dog. However, there is no longer a “typical” American family. The face of the family in the U.S., and certainly in greater Prince William, is constantly evolving.
You can see it all around you: a young, multi-racial couple enjoying lunch at the local restaurant, a single dad with his kids in tow at the grocery store. The multi-generational family up the street, with young children, their parents and grandmother sharing one home, or friends consolidating expenses as roommates.
Reasons for this evolution are as varied as the face of the family today. Equality and diversity have gained ground, opening opportunities. Societal norms have changed as tolerance has increased and more people feel that we don’t have to all ﬁt into the historical stereotypical norm.
Economic factors also play a role. For instance, in this upside- down housing market, some couples continue to live together while going through—and sometimes even following—a divorce. Meanwhile, a tough job market has led to more college graduates returning to the nest.
The Diversified Face of Prince William
An estimated 418,000 people live in Prince William County, according to county government statistics for the second quarter this year. That’s a signiﬁcant increase over the 402,000 people who lived in the county in 2010, and that number already represented a jump of more than 43 percent over the nearly 282,000 county residents reported in 2000, based on U.S. census data.
Manassas and Manassas Park, independent cities within the Prince William area, have also experienced growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Manassas grew from 35,000 people to 37,821, according to results from the 2010 U.S. Census. Manassas Park’s population increased more than 42 percent, from 10,000 in 2000 to 14,273 in 2010.
Between 2000 and 2011, the county’s Hispanic population grew by more than 213 percent; the Asian population by more than 198 percent and the number of African Americans increased by 60 percent, according to information from the U.S. Census Bureau. While still a relatively small percentage of the population, the number of Native Americans grew by more than 117 percent. The number of whites increased by 33.5 percent.
The percentage of individuals older than 65 who live with others in Prince William, such as children or grandchildren, has grown. Additionally, the size of households has increased slightly, despite a small dip in the number of children younger than 18 living in homes. This indicates that in addition to the traditional nuclear family, households may include grown children, elderly parents and other relatives or friends.
Here are some statistics for Prince William County based on results from the 2011 American Community Survey and the 2010 U.S. Census:
- The county’s population is about 62 percent white (including Hispanics and Latinos), more than 20 percent African American, nearly 8 percent Asian, more than 4 percent two or more races, less than 1 percent Native American and about 5 percent other races, based on data for 2011. In terms of ethnicity, more than 20 percent of the county’s population is Hispanic or Latino.
- About 19 percent of county residents are foreign born.
- In 2010, there were about 131,000 households in Prince William County. County demographers estimate that the number of “housing units” (137,000 in 2010) climbed to nearly 143,000 the second quarter of this year.
- About 74 percent of residents own their home.
- The average number of people per household is slightly more than three.
The Changing Composition of Households
The composition of local households is also changing. Multi- generational families living in one home, single parents, same-gender couples, non-family households and empty nesters were once a rarity in Prince William, but no more.
“If you look at our demographics over the years, households today are much more varied than they used to be, allowing us a wide range of diverse perspectives in our county,” said Bill Vaughan, demographer for Prince William County. Each quarter his department posts on the county’s website the latest demographic information for Prince William.
“The Typical Family Is Different Because Society Is Different”
Behind these trends and statistics are real people, such as Tim and Beth Mickens, whose story helps explain the changing face of the family. Originally from Fredericksburg, this multi-racial couple raising a young child said their commute to Chantilly had become too much. They moved to Manassas to be closer to work and their parents and extended family.
“The biggest challenge for families today, besides ﬁnancial concerns, is time,” Beth Mickens said. “Our modern society demands us to work long hours and commute long distances to the point where all we have left is the weekend to do chores and spend some time with our family. There’s no doubt that we have to take personal priorities into perspective when talking about time in modern society, but still the demands for work make it tough. We just seem to be busy all the time.”
There are other diﬀerences for families today compared to households of the past, she added. “The typical family is diﬀerent because society is diﬀerent,” she said. “A major diﬀerence for us is the fact that our interracial relationship and our child, who is of mixed races, are more socially accepted than [they]would have been before. But also the way we raise our children, the way we discipline them, the time we spend with them is diﬀerent from before.”
Mickens said children once played outside more and families did more things together. “Now it seems there are completely separate, independent roles within a family that [don’t] involve the others.” She sees this changing, however. “I think families are beginning to go back to their roots. Parents are shutting oﬀ the TV, closing the computers and taking children outside to play, sitting with them and playing board games, exercising, etc.”
Key Is How, Not Where, You Live
Isabelle de Vooght and her husband Laurent Mambourg moved to Manassas Park from Belgium ﬁve years ago for a job opportunity in Manassas. They considered moving to the U.S. with a young child an adventure and a rare opportunity, de Vooght said.
They loved living in Prince William so much that they had their second child while living in the area and recently purchased their own home in the region, she said. “The neighborhoods in the county are great. … You still see kids playing in the street,” de Vooght said. “Just the other day during my daily run, some kids down the street were hosting a lemonade stand. That is something you pictured 50 years ago, but it was so refreshing to see still happening today.”
Today’s families need to ensure they take the time to live with their children and enjoy them, she said. “There is pressure on everyone today, working parents, children. Competition is very present, especially in school with sports, grades, etc., even at very young ages,” de Vooght stated. “So we have to be careful and expose our children to the wide variety of activities while still spending time with them, hugging them, loving them. The key is not where you live, but how you live.”
Multi-Generational Living Is a “Priceless Benefit”
Karen Russell calls herself the “caretaker of the zoo.” In addition to Russell, her multi-generational household includes her two teenage children, her father and her 35-year-old brother, who has Down syndrome. Until their recent deaths, the household’s members also included Russell’s mother and paternal grandmother.
“It was quite a challenge for about 10 years when we all lived in this one home together. Sharing bedrooms was a challenge and still is now as I share my bedroom with my teenage daughter,” she said. “Daily simple tasks like what to have for dinner tonight or what to watch on TV became major family battles.”
In addition to the tight quarters, Russell said caring for her brother is another ongoing challenge. “My dad and I help care for him, change his diapers, take him to doctor appointments,” she said. Russell has thought of getting a bigger place so that she and her daughter can have their own rooms, but the family cannot aﬀord it. “I can’t really have a full-time job because of having to care for my brother,” Russell explained.
Russell sees a number of pluses to the family’s living arrangement, however. “Financially we are better oﬀ this way than each of us living separately. And my kids really got to know and be close to their grandmother and great-grandmother,” she said. “My kids are also very close to my father … so all this is a priceless beneﬁt for them that will always be in their hearts.”
“Appreciate What Has Evolved and Embrace It”
On the other end of the spectrum are Prince William’s empty nesters and retirees. Former teacher Brenda Reid Murphy, soon to be 85, has lived in Prince William since she was 1 year old, moving with her family from Alexandria, where she was born.
“The population here was so limited back then. When I graduated from Occoquan High School in 1945 there were 14 people in my graduating class,” said Murphy, adding that there was only one male in her graduating class since the others were all oﬀ serving the nation in World War II.
Murphy cares for her 55-year-old paraplegic son— diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 39. By
42 he could not walk, and Murphy has been caring for him ever since. He lives in the house next to hers, which has been retroﬁtted for his wheelchair with a ramp so that he can still have some independence.
Murphy said she enjoys her time with him, her weekend visits from her daughter who lives in Fairfax and her activities and groups. “Everything is [spiraling]up to an interesting tomorrow, and I look forward to every new day,” Murphy stated.
To keep active, Murphy walks a mile a day, and is involved in a variety of clubs and activities, including “Silver Foxes,” an over-55 social group based out of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church in Lake Ridge.
The group represents another feature of the face of Prince William families: seniors. Murphy said that when a congregant proposed forming the club, the church’s priest gave his blessing, but doubted that Prince William had enough seniors for the group to succeed. It has since grown from 20 members to 120.
Prince William’s growing and changing community comes with challenges and opportunities. “I think with such population growth there comes a medley of good and bad, such as a lot more traﬃc problems, but also a lot more diversity and things to do in the area,” said Murphy. “You need to appreciate what has evolved and embrace it.”
A nonproﬁt marketing director, Helena Tavares Kennedy also enjoys freelance writing in her spare time. She has lived in Manassas for 12 years with her husband and two children and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.