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Families with Disabilities in the United States

Publication Date
Aug 31, 1996

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Families with Disabilities in the United States

Executive Summary

Mitchell P. LaPlante, Dawn Carlson, H. Stephen Kaye and Julia E. Bradsher

Disability Statistics Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, University of California

September 1996

This report was prepared under contract to the University of California, Institute for Health and Aging. Funding was provided from awards #H133B30000Z and #G0087C2014 from the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disability, Aging and Long-Term Care Policy (DALTCP). The report was published as a NIDRR Disability Statistics Report (volume 8).

For additional information about the study, you may visit the DALTCP home page at or contact the office at HHS/ASPE/DALTCP, Room 424E, H.H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20201. The e-mail address is: The DALTCP Project Officer was Michele Adler.

Despite the significant impact of disability on families, disability is more often viewed simply as a characteristic of individuals. Certainly, individual abilities and limitations are a defining feature of the statistical literature on disability. The purpose of this report is to provide statistical information on U.S. families with members having disabilities.

Based on the 1990 Core Questionnaire and the Family Resources Supplement of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), this report presents estimates of the prevalence of disability in families, selected demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, and utilization of health services by families with and without members with disabilities.

Most analyses of disability focus on the individual. Yet, for the many people who have disabilities and live in families, their experience of disability is different from those who live alone. Families can be physically and financially supportive. The social organization of the family may in fact reduce the likelihood of a person having a disability by reducing the impact of any impairment that may be present. Roles and family activities may be modified so that a person with an impairment can be supported by other family members in carrying out his or her activities. However, not all families are supportive. Disability may cause economic hardships that strain families and lead to disruption. For example, it is sometimes said that families in which a member develops a disability experience greater marital dissolution.

When people with disabilities are part of a family or family-type unit, other members of the family are also affected by the disability experience, including children, parents, spouses, and others living in the household. According to Blackard and Barsch (1982), Lonsdale (1978), Romans-Clarkson, et al. (1986), and Singhi, et al. (1990), families containing children with disabilities must cope with greater financial stress, more frequent disruptions of family routines, more marital problems, and reduced social and leisure activities outside the family. One study finds that, despite greater stress, families with children with disabilities are not different from those without in terms of overall functioning. (Dyson, 1991). Furthermore, some family types are more associated with impairment and disability. Children from single-parent families have more emotional and behavioral problems than children who live with both biological parents (Dawson, 1991; Zill and Schoenborn, 1990). However, this may be more directly associated with social and economic factors, rather than the family unit itself.

We expect many families with members with disabilities to experience reduced earnings, especially when a householder has a disability, and also to have greater needs and expenditures for supporting family members than families without disability. Yet there has been little statistical analysis of disability in families, of their composition in comparison to families without disability, their demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, and their utilization of health services. This report begins such an examination.

People with Disabilities | Families with Children
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)