Ignoring Single-Parent Families in the Inequality Debate

April 23, 2014

The rise of single-parent families over the last 50 years is the strongest correlate of inequality in the United States, yet few politicians and researchers will even address the issue when they talk about inequality, say Robert Maranto, a professor in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, and researcher Michael Crouch.

The United States has seen a rapid decline in the traditional two-parent family:

  • In 1960, more than 76 percent of African-Americans and almost 97 percent of whites were born to married couples.
  • Today, only 30 percent of black children are born to married couples. For white children, that figure is 70 percent.
  • Hispanics had an out-of-wedlock birthrate of more than 50 percent in 2006.
  • With out-of-wedlock births and high divorce rates, one quarter of American children live in single-parent homes. This is twice the rate in Europe.

How much do single-parent households matter?

  • University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox determined that children in high-income households who experienced family breakup fared less well emotionally, psychologically, educationally, and ultimately economically than their peers in two-parent families.
  • Children of single or cohabitating, but not married, parents experience abuse, behavioral problems and psychological issues at higher rates than children of married couples, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control.
  • Just 2 percent of children raised in two-parent families experience poverty long-term, while more than 20 percent of children in single-parent families live in long-term poverty.
  • Penn State sociologist Molly Martin estimated in 2006 that 41 percent of economic inequality generated between 1976 and 2000 was the result of changed family structure.
  • According to researchers at the Brookings Institution, the U.S. poverty rate would be a full 25 percent lower today if the U.S. family structure resembled that of 1970.

While the mainstream media and research groups have been focused on inequality, they have largely ignored family breakup. Why? Maranto and Crouch point to three reasons:

  • First, leftists do not want to side with social conservatives, despite the plethora of evidence.
  • Secondly, minority families have experienced the worst family breakup, and bringing up the issue leads to fears of charges of racism.
  • Lastly, because there is no immediate or quick fix to the family breakup problem: such a societal transformation will take decades.

Source: Robert Maranto and Michael Crouch, "Ignoring an Inequality Culprit: Single-Parent Families," Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2014.

 

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