Normalizing the Alternative: The U.S. Census' Effect on Societal Views of Alternative Families

Stacy E. Sneeringer, University of California, Berkeley

This paper seeks to demonstrate how the U.S. Census participates in social understandings of unmarried partners by including this category on the questionnaire and therefore allowing statisticians, policy-makers, and journalists to "see" a once hidden group. The paper asks why the "unmarried partner" box was included on the 1990 Census and what the results are of including this box. The paper explores how the census is involved in shaping what is known of the family by exploring how the census has coded family historically and how this has changed. Finally, the paper demonstrates how inclusion of the "unmarried partner" box allows us to see a demographic group that was previously veiled because of exclusion from the questionnaire. It is this viewing that allows people to make conclusions about and to normalize this group.

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Presented in Poster Session 2: Union Formation and Dissolution and Parents' Living Arrangements