Average People per Household Experienced Recent Change

by Scott Richter & Dr. Patrick Jones

The definition of a household hasn’t changed much over time. Meriam-Webster defines household as “a social unit composed of those living together in the same dwelling.” While the definition hasn’t changed, the average number of people per American household has.

The 1790 Census found there was an average of 5.79 persons per household in the U.S., steadily decreasing to 2.63 in 2018. For a variety of reasons, the decade ending in 2020 is on the verge of being the first in U.S. history to experience an increase, however, slight, in the average number of people per household.

A household includes everyone who occupies the housing unit as their regular residence. Members of a household are considered either “relatives” or “non-relatives”. Examples of non-relatives include roommates, boarders, and unmarried partners. There is only one householder per household, who typically is the person, or one of the persons, who owns or is buying / renting the housing unit.

People not considered members of a household include those living in dormitories, institutions (nursing homes, prisons), or military barracks.

While the Average Number of People per Household has changed very little over the of the series, we do see the combined counties are consistently a little higher than the state and U.S, until the past year 

More specifically during 2018, Chelan & Douglas Counties combined had an average of 2.47 people per household, compared to 2.55 in the state, and 2.63 in the U.S. The considerably lower value in 2018 for the two counties represents a statistically significant change from 2017. We are not quite sure why this occurred, and one year does not a trend make. The decline of household size was slightly more pronounced in Chelan than in Douglas County.

The smaller household size may be a bit influenced by the composition of in-migrants to the counties in 2018. As Net Migration Trend shows, 2018 represented the highest year for in-migrants since 1999, with most landing in Chelan County. Could it be that those calling the area their new home had smaller (or no) families? Another possible explanation may lie in the opening of new apartment units in the area in the past year or two. Nearly all of these are 1- or 2-bedroom units, not allowing for large families.

Smaller household size might also reflect the departure of young people from the area once their K-12 education is complete. Currently (2018), the share of those in the 18-34 age group is 18.7%, lowest on record. This is the lowest share among all of Eastern Washington metro areas. This is likely a result of a lower profile higher ed presence in the greater Wenatchee area as well as a higher percentage of empty nesters. Indicator 0.1.3, a type of a population pyramid shown over time, should make this clear.

We will need to see at least a couple more years with the two counties showing smaller household size before concluding that this is a trend. For now, it represents a big change in the perception of the area’s demographics.