Distinguishing Households from Families

37 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2020

Date Written: 2016


The study of the relationship between all families, whether marital or non-marital, and households, is underdeveloped, despite extensive study of the mismatch between family law, which is still focused on marriage and parenthood, and family practices. Often, in an effort to update the discourse, discussions of non-marital families seem to deploy households or living arrangements as a substitute classification in the place of the old marital family. This Article argues that we need to resist the tendency to substitute the idea of “household” when the boundaries of legal family fail us, because households are not necessarily familial, and because core familial ties exist across multiple households. Household membership is characterized by churn, both because of changes in intimate attachments and because of life cycle changes. This Article argues that housing design and housing policy should accommodate that churn in a way that minimizes disruption to individuals’ attachment to building, neighborhood, community, and family members living in separate households. It should offer options for stability that are economically realistic for people whose households will change. No single policy intervention can resolve the disruptions associated with fluctuating household membership. Rather, properly understanding the needs of families as distinct from households provides a lens for evaluating particular attributes of housing policy. Two housing principles in particular would better serve the needs of today’s households. First, housing policy should prioritize the family ties of non-householders to a household. As family members exit a housing unit, housing policy should seek to stabilize their ties with the household, particularly valuing proximity. Second, the design of the unit itself should reflect the inevitable expansion and contraction in household membership. This means that the unit would allow for proximity with privacy for linked households. This Article seeks to marry insights from the emerging literature on multi-generational household design, accessory dwelling units, and micro-units, with insights from the literature on the new normative family, in the hopes of producing an improved housing policy lens.

Keywords: household, nonmarital, family definition, family composition, housing, family, life cycle, zoning, single parent, multigenerational, dwelling units, gender, aging, micro-unit, urban planning, aging, accessory dwelling unit, housing design, marriage

Suggested Citation

Baird Silbaugh, Katharine, Distinguishing Households from Families (2016). Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 43, No. 4, 2016, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3682125

Katharine Baird Silbaugh (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

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