(March 2003) The average size of new single-family homes increased from 1,500 square feet to over 2,200 square feet between 1970 and 2000. But do American families need more space? The Census Bureau reports that the average household size declined over the past 30 years, from 3.1 people per household in 1970 to 2.6 people per household in 2002. That’s a decline of about one person for every two households.

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The shrinking size of households is evident among African Americans, Asian Americans, and non-Hispanic whites, but not among Hispanics. The average size of Hispanic households has remained constant at about 3.5 since 1975. Among Asian Americans, the number of people per household dropped from 3.2 in 1990 to 2.9 in 2002. (Data for earlier years are not available.) The size of the average white, non-Hispanic household decreased from 2.8 people per household in 1975 to 2.4 people per household in 2002. Among blacks, the number of people per household decreased from 3.0 in 1970 to 2.7 in 2002.

Although the trend toward bigger family rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms is likely to continue, trends in the number of people per household are harder to predict. As the size of the Hispanic population increases relative to other racial and ethnic groups, the decline in the number of people per household could be expected to stabilize at some point in the future. However, the population ages 65 and over is also going to increase dramatically after 2010, a factor that could drive down the average household size. Trends in fertility, marriage, and living arrangements will also affect average family size and the number of people per household.


AmeriStat, tabulations from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (March Supplement), various years; U.S. Census Bureau, “Median and Average Square Footage of Floor Area in New One-Family Houses Completed by Location,” accessed online at www.census.gov/const/

C25Ann/sftotalmedavgsqft.pdf, on Feb. 5, 2003; and G. Armas, “To See How Much U.S. Homes Have Changed, Start in the Bathroom,” Associated Press (Feb. 8, 2003).