Pethokoukis, Economics, U.S. Economy

Why intact families are key to shared American prosperity

National Marriage Project at and the Institute for American Values

National Marriage Project at and the Institute for American Values

Family structure is often neglected when policymakers discuss income mobility, stagnation, and inequality. But it matters a lot whether kids, especially ones in working class and lower-income families, grow up with both biological parents.

Those who don’t, writes social scientist Lane Kenworthy in his new book, Social Democratic America, fare worse on a “host of outcomes, from school completion to staying out of prison to earning more in adulthood.” W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and a visiting AEI scholar, writes that when it comes to economic mobility, the “intact, two-parent family seems to be particularly important for children hailing from less privileged homes … .” Economist Scott Winship finds the share of families with single moms predicts “quite well” mobility levels in communities. And this from the scholars at the Equality of Opportunity Project: “Some of the strongest predictors of upward mobility are correlates of social capital and family structure. For instance, high upward mobility areas tended to have higher fractions of religious individuals and fewer children raised by single parents.”

Unfortunately family instability remains on the rise, and not just among the poor. Among the nearly 60% of Americans who have completed high school, but do not have a four-year degree, a stunning 44% of children are now born outside of marriage versus 13% in the late 1980s. Among women under 30, 53% of births now occur outside of marriage.

Can these trends be reversed? Many on the left don’t think so, a belief which gives rise to a “Life of Julia” agenda where government tries to transmit the social capital that stable families once did. In Coming Apart, AEI’s Charles Murray eschews a five-point plan and instead advocates that the American upper-class “preach what they practice” and speak out in favor of marriage, as well as other virtues such as industriousness.

But if you are looking for a specific policy agenda, a 2012 report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Institute for American Values in New York offers a bunch including eliminating marriage penalties and disincentives for the poor and unwed mothers, tripling the child tax credit, and evaluating and funding various marriage programs for at-risk couples. Along with those ideas, I would also suggest wage and relocation subsidies for the chronically unemployed. Stronger families should be at the heart of any agenda to create an America where prosperity and human flourishing are maximized.

4 thoughts on “Why intact families are key to shared American prosperity

  1. Denmark typically leads lists of countries with the highest rate of upward mobility, with the US trailing many European countries plus Canada. It also leads the US in births to unwed mothers (46 percent to 40 percent.) t

    The next table in that census report, single-parent households, explains the discrepancy. In Denmark, Dad is still there, parenting without a ring on his finger. Cohabiting parents account for about a third of births out of wedlock in the US, so step one for Mr. P and company is to differentiate family stability and marriage.

    Obviously the Danes are better cohabiters. Digging deeper in the data provides some nuance. Cohabiting is more common among educated Danes. The opposite is true here. So which came first in the US? Poor education or single parent households?

    Gotta say that fixing education is an easier policy question than getting dad to move back in. And momma might be happier to see him if he could find a decent job.

  2. Instead of hand-wring over split families, why don’t researchers look at one of the majoe causes: alcoholism and addiction? Addiction and its associated maladies, such as adultery and abuse, destroy marriages and families. It is a huge reason why women, in particular abused women, file for divorce. Alcoholism is a progressive disease, destroying the brain, particularly the frontal lobe, which is the area of the brain controlling good choices and moral human behavior.
    On top of that most states, like Texas, have laws assuming both parents are just fine as parents, and judges can blindly award almost 50/50 extended time to drunk alcoholic parents unless there is some gross over-the-top documented evidence of violence and physical abuse. This leads to a cycle of abuse for children and greatly increases their chances of becoming alcoholics as adults.
    Please, please look at the causes for divorce. A marriage tax incentive isn’t going to keep anyone married. Addressing alcoholism – and legislatures dealing honestly with this major societal problem – will.

  3. Well, this is an interesting post, one that could tug a person in several directions.

    First, we often hear that “Americans are better of than ever.” this is especial a men on the right-wing, btw. And per capita incomes have risen nicely in the last three decades, us puttering in the Great Recession of course.

    Also, very importantly, the national crime rate has fallen, in some major cities (such as NYC and L.A.) to all time lows.

    Okay, so we are richer than ever, and enjoying the lowest crime rates in many a decade. That is the picture of a successful nation.

    There is nothing that defines free market capitalism as “family friendly.” That is not the purpose of capitalism.

    And, libertarians would contend that government should be “family neutral”—the tax code should be indifferent if you are a nuclear family, a gay couple, a polygamous family, or a bunch of dudes sharing a house.

    If someone had asked me three decades ago what the destruction of the American family would mean, I would would have said “disaster.” I even like the idea of extended families.

    But here we are, our families are blown to smithereens, and we richer endless creme prone thn ever. Libertarians would add that many of the “crimes” that are committed, such as drug use and prostitution, are not crimes at all.

    Charles Murray is a sincere guy, and I like his point of view. But he has the answer the question: If a nation is getting richer and less crime-prone, is there really a problem?

    And also, shouldn’t government really butt out of our private lives? Should not people use the drugs or alcohol they want, marry who they want, be in polygamous or monogamous marriages if they want?

    I would like solid families, even solid extended families. But geography and job markets, and human nature seems to play against my ideal.

    And he reality is, America is doing better than ever, with fractured families, and meaningless neighborhoods.

    It makes me sad, but it is also true.

  4. Why is so much time waste rediscovering natural God given law? One man one woman marriage is best. It results in family. Family is the foundation of government. The man is a loving king of the family, get over it, it works it results in lasting family as men bring stability. People must work to eat. Handouts just creates slaves. Stay out of debt. Follow the spirit of the law vs trying to write millions of laws to create robots. Etc… Etc… Etc… BUT you can’t understand any of this until you understand that God is in charge: The beginning of understanding is to fear God (respect God and His design). And the foundation of this is to receive Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the law on one’s heart that leads one to doing these things. EVEN WITHOUT IT BEING TOUGHT! Education tries to replace what comes from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives perfect education, perfect knowledge, and builds the perfect man/woman. Why? Because God is perfect and through Jesus He makes you perfect. It all starts with the heart. You must love Jesus to have they eyes of your understanding open. 100% of societies problems come from a hard heart toward Jesus. Rome/America were great when they embraced Jesus. Israel was great (with King David) when they embraced God (as they waited for the Messiah). Rebellion of all nations leads to failure. But God is merciful and will rebuild Israel and Jesus will be the King on Earth and then the Lion shall lay down with the Lamb: Perfect Peace.

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