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Factor in four years of college and maybe graduate school, or a parentally subsidized internship with the local theater company, and say hello to your million-dollar bundle of oh joy.As steep as the fertility decline has been, the marriage rate has fallen more sharply, particularly among young women, who do most of the nation’s childbearing.Also démodé is the old debate over whether mothers of dependent children should work outside the home.The facts have voted, the issue is settled, and Paycheck Mommy is now a central organizing principle of the modern American family.Single people live alone and proudly consider themselves families of one — more generous and civic-minded than so-called “greedy marrieds.” “There are really good studies showing that single people are more likely than married couples to be in touch with friends, neighbors, siblings and parents,” said Bella De Paulo, author of “Singled Out” and a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “There are not just more types of families and living arrangements than there used to be,” said Stephanie Coontz, author of the coming book “Intimate Revolutions,” and a social historian at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.“Most people will move through several different types over the course of their lives.” At the same time, the old-fashioned family plan of stably married parents residing with their children remains a source of considerable power in America — but one that is increasingly seen as out of reach to all but the educated elite. “It’s the backbone of how we live,” said David Anderson, 52, an insurance claims adjuster from Chicago.One big reason is the soaring cost of ushering offspring to functional independence.
The rise of the cohabiting couple is another striking feature of the evolving American family: From 1996 to 2012, the number jumped almost 170 percent, to 7.8 million from 2.9 million. They describe themselves as mild-mannered introverts who suffer from an array of chronic medical problems. On their wedding day in 2011, the groom was 43 years old and the bride 39, yet it was marriage No. Today, their blended family is a sprawling, sometimes uneasy ensemble of two sharp-eyed sons from her two previous husbands, a daughter and son from his second marriage, ex-spouses of varying degrees of involvement, the partners of ex-spouses, the bemused in-laws and a kitten named Agnes that likes to sleep on computer keyboards.