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“We’re seeing a class divide not only between the haves and the have-nots, but between the I do’s and the I do nots,” Dr. Those who are enjoying the perks of a good marriage “wouldn’t stand for any other kind,” she said, while those who would benefit most from marital stability “are the ones least likely to have the resources to sustain it.” Yet across the divide runs a white picket fence, our unshakable star-spangled belief in the value of marriage and family. “It means everything,” said Linda Mc Adam, 28, who is in human resources on Long Island. “It’s almost like a weight,” said Rob Fee, 26, a financial analyst in San Francisco, “a heavy weight.” Or as the comedian George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” In charting the differences between today’s families and those of the past, demographers start with the kids — or rather the lack of them.We marry, divorce and remarry at rates not seen anywhere else in the developed world. The nation’s birthrate today is half what it was in 1960, and last year hit its lowest point ever.One big reason is the soaring cost of ushering offspring to functional independence.According to the Department of Agriculture, the average middle-class couple will spend 1,080 to raise a child to age 18. 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. They love crossword puzzles, football, going to museums and reading five or six books at a time.“Yes, I wear the pants in the family,” said Ana Perez, 35, a mother of three and a vice president at a financial services company in New York, who was, indeed, wearing pants.“I can say it brings me joy to know I can take care of my family.” Cultural attitudes are adapting accordingly.

Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University.

Families, they say, are becoming more socially egalitarian over all, even as economic disparities widen.

Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago.

More than one-quarter of these unwed mothers are living with a partner who may or may not be their child’s biological father.

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.

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