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Originally published June 12, 2011 at 10:02 PM | Page modified June 12, 2011 at 10:13 PM

Seattle's households far from average, census finds

New census data shows that among the nation's 50 largest cities, Seattle has the smallest-size families on average, and one of the lowest rates of single-parent homes. It has the third-highest rates of people living alone and of unrelated people living together.

Seattle Times staff

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You can say one thing about Seattle households: They're anything but average.

Among the nation's 50 largest cities, Seattle has the smallest-size families on average, and one of the lowest rates of single-parent homes.

It's got the third-highest rate of people who live alone and the third-highest rate of unrelated people living together as roommates or unmarried couples.

"That's Seattle. We are low on religion and high on tolerance for the unconventional. ... These things all tie together," said Richard Morrill, a Seattle demographer and University of Washington geography professor emeritus.

The trends, reflected in recently released census data, are not new but reflect the somewhat quirky ways that Seattle people have arranged their lifestyles.

"The patterns may have become more extreme, but they've been with us a while," Morrill said. The type and cost of housing also drive some of the trends, Morrill and others say.

Increasingly across the city, town homes and condos have replaced single-family homes and, "we are seeing fewer and fewer housing (units) suitable for families with children," he said.

The Census Bureau categorizes households either as family — in which people related by marriage or blood share a home — or nonfamily.

And among the 50 largest cities, Seattle had the second-lowest rate of family households, after only Washington, D.C.

One type of family household is that headed by a single parent, and Seattle's rate of such households is the third-lowest, with Cleveland and Milwaukee at the other end of the spectrum.

Morrill said housing costs and gentrification have played a key role, pushing single parents out of Seattle into areas of South King County, where homes are more affordable.

"Single mothers can't afford to live in the city," he said.

The trend of people here living alone goes all the way back to the turn of the 20th century, said Morrill, when "loners came out here ... loggers and fishermen hoping for a better life." Single people still are coming here, he said.

"These days you have kids coming fresh out of high school or college looking for a job." And if they're not living by themselves, they are sharing their homes with others.

Morrill said Seattle has always had a high percentage of people living together as roommates or unmarried partners.

"It's related to a lifestyle preference," he said. "We have a low marriage rate here."

In part, he said, that also reflects older people who want to live together, rather than marry, to avoid some taxes. "You're seeing this all across North Seattle, Ballard, Greenwood," he said.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

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