Which spouses live apart?
When the Census Bureau collects information on marital status and family structure, they count some people as “married, spouse absent.” These are people who aren’t separated — in the sense of a legal separation or with the intent of getting divorced — but who are:
married people living apart because either the husband or wife was employed and living at a considerable distance from home, was serving away from home in the Armed Forces, had moved to another area, or had a different place of residence for any other reason [except marital discord].
These are not to be confused with couples that are “living apart together” (LAT), a kind of relationship increasingly recognized by demographers but not counted by the Census, because they are not married and don’t live together.
So who are these “spouse absent” people, besides a problem for data coding and analysis?
In this category, in 2008 there were an estimated 4.6 million adults listed as having an occupation (meaning they are employed or were recently). These are the most common occupations they reported:
Here’s what I get from this:
- They are disproportionately working class. Rich people may travel for work, but they don’t have separate residences as much as these folks.
- They are disproportionately foreign born — an estimated 41% of those reporting an occupation.
- Among the U.S.-born, the men are more likely to be away from home for work — especially driving trucks and doing construction. The women are more likely to be left home (their occupations look more like the general female population). Some of the women have husbands in the military.
- Among the foreign-born, there are more men (which means their wives are not in the U.S., or they are married to U.S.-born women). But lots of the foreign-born women have families back home, as we know especially from studies of those in the caring industries like those listed here.
Among the family inequalities, not having a family is an umbrella category — from orphans to widows to people denied family rights legally or through wars. But some people have families, they just don’t live with them, by choice or necessity. Partly because so much of our data are collected by the household — so a family is defined as people living together — this kind of inequality is usually overlooked.