The average Vietnamese family has more than four people in Santa Clara County

January 20, 2009

Charles Wong, who was born in Vietnam, is part of a four-generation household in Milpitas. He lives with his mother, his 33-year-old daughter, her husband and their two children, and the arrangement feels normal. The average Vietnamese family has more than four

people in Santa Clara County, census data shows, compared with 3.03 people for whites.”In Vietnam, we usually live together with the parents, unless we have different jobs that are far away,” Wong said. In California, it’s also a way to share culture, especially home cooking, “so we don’t have McDonald’s every day,” he said. It made sense, Wong said, to take in his daughter and son-in-law when they had job problems.

Wong, a real estate agent who wants to retire but whose income helps support the family, views the arrangement as temporary.

“I want to help my daughter for awhile, until they are able to move out,” he said. “At my age, I want more quiet.”

California has the second-largest family size in the U.S. at 3.52 persons per family, behind only Utah.

In California, family size “is certainly driven more by immigration than by economics, but they are both responsible,” said Hans Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California.

After World War II, the average American family peaked at 3.72 persons in 1966, before dropping steadily through the 1970s and 1980s. Family size reached an all-time low of 3.13 persons in 2003. But average family size has not declined for the past five years, for the first time since World War II, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

Meanwhile, a Census Bureau survey that covers a much larger share of U.S. households indicates the average American family is actually growing — particularly white and African-American families. Contrary to stereotypes, average family size for Latinos and Asians is shrinking.

First (extended) family

In Washington, the Obama family has determined that the new first lady’s mother will live in the White House.

“Mrs. Robinson has been a rock for the Obama family and an active grandma for the girls, especially over the last year while their parents were campaigning,” said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a transition spokeswoman for the family. “Mrs. Robinson will be coming with the family to help the girls get acclimated, and she will determine in the coming months whether or not she wants to stay in D.C. permanently.”

A century ago, extended-family households were common in America. Today, beyond economic stresses and immigration, other forces are also reshaping American families.

With young people waiting longer to marry, and parenting styles becoming more “democratic” over the past 30 years, baby boomers’ adult children are likely to have closer relationships with their parents, Coontz said. More young adults get to know their parents as equals.

The increase in extended-family households is a well-developed trend, “but people haven’t recognized its implications,” said Coontz, author of “Marriage, A History.”

Even the Fielder-Erickson-Roberts family struggles to explain why their arrangement works.

“For the married-ons, for the husbands in our case, it takes a great deal of understanding to live with your in-laws,” Sondra Erickson said. “I think it takes a special person to do it and be comfortable with the situation.”

Sitting at their dinner table, Lynn Fielder, a Planned Parenthood executive in San Jose before Parkinson’s forced her to retire, agrees.

Recovering from brain surgery in October to stabilize her motor function, Fielder can focus on creating her jewelry in part because her mother drives Maya and her to appointments. Just now, she is working on a Parkinson’s fundraiser this month at Vino Locale, an art gallery in downtown Palo Alto.

Because of the family’s closeness, Maya gets to have special family experiences like playing music with her great-grandmother.

And Roberts, a vibrant nonagenarian who rides an exercise bike, quips that she won’t break up the family.

“I love it,” Roberts said of her living arrangement. “I promised Maya I would be around for her high school graduation, so I have another year to go.”

Contact Mike Swift at or (408) 271-3648.

One Response to “The average Vietnamese family has more than four people in Santa Clara County”

  1. sum ting wong Says:

    “wong” is a Vietnamese? what the hell?!! when did that happen?… sum ting wong, man!

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