Geographies and Politics of Households and Family

Although households have served as one of the two basic units of census enumeration, they represent a complex series of debates within the social science literature. In Progress in Human Geography there has been an ongoing debate about the pivotal role of the household in shaping the geographies of gender, home, and everyday life. For example, studies of urban gentrification and its relationship to population dynamics have been enriched by the investigation of household level change. This debate incorporates the so called second demographic revolution which has been hypothesized around the deinstitutionalization of the nuclear (heterosexual) family, and the increasing importance of a variety of other family types. Outcomes of this include more singleparent and one person households, declining average household size, and a greater variety of individual and family transitions between different household structures.

Thus ways in which enumeration and classification of households and families are carried out in a census influences the nature of the social research which is possible. In many censuses, a household is synonymous with a dwelling, although more than one household may exist within a single dwelling. Also significant is the fact that some households may exist between more than one dwelling, even between countries as the concept of transnational households proposes. There are even greater difficulties in attempting to capture family relationships within a census. Censuses often attempt this through identifying the relationship of each individual in a household to a primary individual. In some cases there is an identifiable ‘head’, in the past the male parent of a nuclear family, but with the rise of feminist perspectives and the decline in the centrality of the nuclear family, many censuses have abandoned the use of this concept for some other proxy. The US census refers to this primary individual as person 1, but this does not always allow the reconstruction of family types within a household, so many households are classified as being comprised of ‘mixed individuals’ or something equivalent.