Median Income: Family vs. Household

Did you know: “Typical” income for a household or family varies based on the type of family you’re interested in describing.

Typical income can be measured in a variety of ways. Analysts often use median household income to indicate what is typical. In 2012, data showed median household income was $51,371 in the US. For families, median income in the US in 2012 was $62,527 [1].

This may have you wondering, “What’s the difference?” The Census Bureau provides these two data points and has a concise explanation on the FAQ page for one of their surveys [2]: “A family consists of two or more people (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption residing in the same housing unit. A household consists of all people who occupy a housing unit regardless of relationship. A household may consist of a person living alone or multiple unrelated individuals or families living together.”

A couple more interesting breakdowns:

Impact of Age:
While the median household income is $51,371 in the US, this varies by age. Households with heads under 25 years old have a median income of $24,476 compared to $55,821 for those with heads aged 25 to 44 years old. Households headed by those aged 45 to 64 have the highest median incomes of $62,049, but those 65 and over have a median income of $36,743.

Impact of HH Size/Family Size:
For both households and families, there is a notable difference in typical income by size. While it is reasonable, to expect some causal relationship between age and income, the trend by size is likely a reflection of other causal patterns that happen to coincide with size.

For households, the impact is most seen between 1 and 2-person households. Median income for a one-person household is $27,237 while typical income for a two-person household is $58,121. Median income rises as household size increases, peaking at 4-person households with a median income of $75,343. For 5 or more person households, median income ranges from $64,747 to $69.691. In families, we see a similar pattern except that, by definition, there are no 1-person families. Median income for a two-person family is $56,646 and rises, peaking at $76,049 for 4-person families. From that point, median income declines to between $64,478 and $70,403 for larger families.

For more even more on this topic, visit our interactive infographic

[1] American Community Survey 2012 (1-year estimate). All subsequent data in this article is from the same source.
[2] https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/about/faqs.html

Danielle Hale, Director of Housing Statistics

As a Research Economist at NAR, Danielle studies tax issues, the wealth impact of home ownership, and different measures of home prices.

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