Elevate Difference

The Age of Independence: Interracial Unions, Same-Sex Unions, and the Changing American Family

Michael Rosenfeld’s The Age of Independence is refreshing, yet scholarly application of demography. Though demography is often seen as merely a slew of statistics flat on a page, in actuality it is the soul of society spelled out as best we can. So do not fear the potential for academic formulaic boredom; it may be there, but it is adeptly soared over into a realm of accessible, interesting, and relevant information about the changing American family.

Rosenfeld argues that the substantial rise in inter-racial and same-sex families starting in the 1960s stems from what he coins the “independent life stage,” and that these changes have further reverberations throughout almost every level of society. Essentially, Rosenfeld reasons that the other elements (beyond this independent life stage) were all lined-up by the '60s, and that’s why the introduction of the independent life stage in the '60s initiated the rise towards interracial and same-sex unions.

The independent life stage is in essence the life of a single, college–educated, twenty-something: not living at home, exposed to a wider world through leaving home to go off to college and learning about and with people beyond their native communities. Extrapolating the independent life stage from census data is complex because there are no questions directed at assessing it yet. Though this is Rosenfeld’s niche of demographic expertise, there is unfortunately only enough data available to make hypotheses based on general themes.

Nuggets of information, like how more twenty-somethings are not living with their parents in greater numbers than in the past, are the gems that anyone can take away and truly appreciate, regardless of their educational background. The media flurry around this phantom phenomenon is an example of when something is rarer, people take greater note of it.

Rosenfeld aims to provoke sociologists and others to reflect on the independent life stage and its further influence; the book also serves as a call to arms to demographers to push for new questions in the decennial census to evaluate the independent life stage. But this is only the beginning—Rosenfeld sees great change in our collective American future, and we must learn as much as we can to prepare.

Written by: Nicole Levitz, February 11th 2010