Surveys take a unique snapshot of Hawaii’s families

Beth-Ann Kozlovich

with Beth-Ann Kozlovich

HONOLULU—This summer, Ivette Stern of the University of Hawaii Center on the Family is comparing data from two surveys to get a picture of Hawaii families. By fall, the Center will release a fact sheet and a report analyzing data from the Center’s 2006 Hawaii Touchstones Survey and the Hawaii portion of the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent three-year American Communities Survey covering 2006 to 2008.

By design, the Hawaii Touchstones Survey looked only at families with children under 18 at home; SMS Research sampled 2050 families across the state by phone. The American Communities Survey took a broader view of families.

Some of the basic findings from both surveys are not surprises:

An average family in Hawaii is roughly the same size as one in the other 49 states—three people. Hawaii also has a higher percentage of families with five or more people in a family unit than do families across the nation as a whole.

In Hawaii, nearly 70 percent of us live in family households, slightly higher than the 66 percent nationwide. Nearly 59 percent of family households do not have their own biological or adopted minor children living at home—this includes empty nesters and families who never had children.

A Hawaii family has slightly fewer children under 18 still at home: 41.1 percent compared with the entire nation at 46.6 percent. Nearly three quarters of families with their own minor children still at home are cared for by married couples, just slightly higher than the 68.9 percent nationwide married-with-children rate.

Multigenerational families are more common in Hawaii: 7.4 percent percent of us live with two or more generations under one roof—more than double the 3.4 percent multigenerational families in the rest of the U S.

Worth an eyebrow raise: the state’s rate of single parenthood by gender. While there is a smaller percentage of single moms in Hawaii—20 percent compared to the 23.8 percent national rate—the percent of single fathers in Hawaii is about equal with the 7 percent incidence of single dads across the country.

With gender equity still an issue, Hawaii’s cost of living pressures already in play, and the recession’s effects unaccounted for in either of the surveys, Stern says she’s making a list for the next Hawaii study, which is yet unscheduled due to lack of funding.

“One thought we now have is to do a similar survey to also ask questions about the impact of the recession and how families are coping and to see if indicators will change.”

Family Court Judge Michael Broderick hopes that happens quickly. Although he supports the activities of the Center, he finds the Hawaii Touchstones questions narrowly aimed at a shrinking and squeezed middle class. However unintentionally, given the effort to make the study representative of the range of families in all socio-economic levels, Broderick says: “None of this represents what I see in Family Court. I wish it was a representation of what we see in Family Court. I wish we could focus at this level.”

In a phone study, you have to have a home and phone to participate. Most of the families Broderick has seen in his seven years as a Family Court judge are homeless, many have mental health issues, and kids physically and emotionally traumatized by their parents. “These people are struggling with issues that are completely foreign to the presumptions behind the survey’s questions,” Broderick says.

Broderick’s observations are also at odds with the Touchstones’ finding showing Hawaii has fewer grandparents heading households and fully responsible for raising their grandchildren: 25 percent of Hawaii families compared to 41 percent of families nationally.

Regardless of the disparity between his experience and Touchstones’ results—including the recommended family strengthening activities, behaviors, and relationships, which are not in the lexicon of many of families he sees—Broderick would like the Court to work with Center, particularly on the impacts of stress-induced domestic violence and family economic pressures. Stern agrees there is work to be done; she also says families and those who care about them must challenge current public policy and advocate for change in how we support a family from the time it first becomes one.

“In other countries, there is an investment in families and in providing a good basis for children as soon as they’re born and we don’t do that as much,” Stern says. “Then you see it on the other side in Family Court and we end up spending twice or three times as much.”

Those back end costs in real dollars and lost human capital are exactly what Broderick encounters daily.

“We talk about keiki and ohana, but to what degree do we as a state and a country really value families? If we look at the tangible, measurable things, we fall short,” Broderick says.

Stern says the Center’s goal is to help shape public policy with its data: “We take the numbers and the research to the Legislature and advocates—and also to service providers to help build programs around what’s needed.”

Meanwhile, Broderick is concerned with families in crisis now and the how the protracted recession has changed the way even middle class families are coping.

“Neglect is more damaging to a child than physical abuse,” Broderick says. “There’s a real tension there. As parents are faced with economic pressure they have less time to spend with children and there’s a greater likelihood that the child is going to be neglected.”

One important survey question for Stern to add to her list: How much time do you spend with your children?

Even better, it’s a good one parents can look in the mirror and quietly ask themselves—right now.

The full interview with Judge Michael Broderick and Ivette Stern is on the Town Square archive at Have a suggestion for a show? Email Beth-Ann at [email protected].