The 2020 Presidential Candidates’ Modern Families


But in the 2020 presidential election, a “traditional” presidential family will be just one option among many.

In the second decade of the 21st century in America, less than half of children live in a household with a married couple who have never been divorced or remarried, according to the Pew Research Center. (In 1960, by comparison, this figure was 73 percent, and in 1980, it was just over 60 percent.) Some 16 percent of children live in “blended family” households, with a stepparent, stepsiblings, and/or half siblings, according to the same report; one in five children lives with a single mom. Meanwhile, census data from 2017 indicate that more unmarried adults are living in the United States than ever before—and data from Gallup and the Census Bureau show that more than half a million same-sex married couples now live in the United States. In other words, American families and households look markedly different from how they looked just a few generations ago, and the 24 candidates running for president in the 2020 election have families and households that look remarkably like Americans’.

Of the 24 candidates currently running for president, eight have blended families: Donald Trump has children with multiple partners; candidates Elizabeth Warren, John Hickenlooper, Bill Weld, and Joe Biden are married and have children from previous marriages, while Bernie Sanders is married and has a son from a previous relationship; Sanders, Tim Ryan, and Kamala Harris all have stepchildren. Seven are remarried divorcés (Trump, Warren, Hickenlooper, Weld, Sanders, Eric Swalwell, and Tulsi Gabbard), and four have no children of their own (Harris, Gabbard, Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker). One has a spouse of the same sex (Buttigieg), one is a remarried widower (Biden), and two are unmarried (Booker and the self-help and spirituality author Marianne Williamson). Two candidates have at some point lived as single mothers (Warren and Williamson).

Of course, as Perry points out, only some of these more “modern” family structures would be firsts. Buttigieg, for example, would be the first president married to a same-sex spouse, and Warren and Williamson would each be the first woman ever to have been a single mother—or, for that matter, the first woman at all—to hold the office. But tellingly, there is less than a 50-50 chance that the president would be someone who is currently in a mixed-gender marriage with their first spouse and has had children only with that spouse. (See: Beto O’Rourke, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Wayne Messam, Seth Moulton, Andrew Yang, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julián Castro, John Delaney, Steve Bullock, and Michael Bennet.)

That one-third of the candidate field is remarried after divorce or widowhood—and that six of the eight remarried candidates are over 55—should come as no surprise. Remarriage, especially among those over 55, is more common in recent years than in prior generations: Data from 2013 show that two-thirds of previously married adults ages 55 to 64 had remarried, and half of previously married adults over 65 had. In 1960, those stats were 55 percent and 34 percent, respectively. And that more than a quarter of the candidate field has been divorced also reflects a broader shift in American culture. While divorce rates have fallen among some age groups in recent years and risen dramatically among others, overall, being divorced is much more common, especially among older Americans, than it was a few generations ago.

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