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West Virginia families represent different cultures, work in different occupations, and live in different environments. Early settlers found themselves in an area where mountains and rivers created natural barriers and a sense of protection and isolation that contributed to family attachment. West Virginia families are still close, and in a state much more rural than the national average they still have space available for many outdoor activities.

A large majority of Mountain State families own their own homes. The 73.9 percent home ownership rate in 2020 was higher than the national average of 65.5 percent, and among the very highest in the country. Mostly, the houses are not luxurious. Many families live in houses that are more than 50 years old, and many with newer houses live in mobile homes or other manufactured housing. West Virginia families are emotionally attached to their homes regardless of the age or state of repair.

Family size has decreased, the number of older citizens has increased, and the number of children has decreased in modern times. In the 2020 census, people 65 and over represented 20.7 percent of the population of West Virginia, while the national average was 16.8 percent. Youths under 18 years of age represented 20.1 percent of the population, with the national average being 22.2 percent. The average household at the time of the 2020 census was 2.47 persons while the national average was 2.6 persons. Single-parent families are becoming more common. Various problems associated with the opioid epidemic of the early 21st century have split up a growing number of families and overwhelmed West Virginia’s foster care system.

The number of families in the state increased from the time of early settlement until the middle of the 20th century. At mid-century, families began to move away from West Virginia to seek employment. Many who have found it necessary to relocate for employment yearn to return to their extended family and their mountain home. Near the end of the century, some areas began again to show an increase in the number of families.

Family income in West Virginia lags behind the nation; therefore the amount of money available to spend on family support is limited. The median household income in 2022 was an estimated $55,217, while the national figure was $74,850. However, West Virginia’s cost of living also is considerably lower on average.

The extended family remains important in West Virginia. Many families that have been in the state for more than one generation have family members clustered near their parents and siblings. Living in a home with a grandparent present is not uncommon. Cousins, grandparents, uncles, and aunts form influential kinship groups that have tremendous hold upon the group members and offer both emotional and material support.

Gender roles remain distinct in some West Virginia homes. Families include those who are responsible for making the living, traditionally men, and those who make the home, traditionally women. While two-paycheck families have become more common, as of 2022, only 49.5 percent of West Virginia women were in the labor force, the lowest rate in the nation.

Child rearing frequently involves the whole family. Child care for working parents is often provided by grandparents or other relatives. Older children, neighbors, and relatives cherish the opportunity to hold, care for, and play with small children. Children often are indulged, perhaps beyond what might seem wise in other cultures. In the best cases they grow up surrounded by many loving, supportive adults in a variety of kinship connections.

This Article was written by Ora Beth Drake

Last Revised on January 08, 2024

Related Articles


Maurer, B. B. Mountain Heritage. Ripley: Mountain State Art & Craft Fair, 1974.

Weller, Jack E. Yesterday's People: Life in Contemporary Appalachia. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1965.

Mertz, Paul E. New Deal Policy and Southern Rural Poverty. Baton Rogue: Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

"Quickfacts 2000." U.S. Census Bureau.

Cite This Article

Drake, Ora Beth "Family Life." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 08 January 2024. Web. 15 June 2024.


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