Posts tagged ‘single-parent families’

March 20, 2015

The advantages of two-parent families are not obvious to everyone

by Grace

… universal preschool is not going to make up for an uninvolved parent …

Megan McArdle writes about the importance of the two-parent family, a social institution offering a type of support for children that government cannot seem to match.

Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” has touched off a wave of print and digital commentary. The book chronicles a growing divide between the way affluent kids are raised, in two-parent homes whose parents invest heavily in educating their kids, and the very different, very unstable homes in which poorer kids generally grow up.

When the problems of single-parent families are debated, some will “argue that there are lots of good ways to raise kids outside the straitjacket of mid-century, middle-class mores”.

I have been trying to find a more delicate way to phrase this, but I can’t: This is nonsense. The advantages that two people raising their own biological or jointly adopted children have over “nontraditional” family arrangements are too obvious to need enumeration, but apparently mere obviousness is not enough to forestall contrary arguments, so let me enumerate them anyway.

Raising children the way an increasing percentages of Americans are — in loosely attached cohabitation arrangements that break up all too frequently, followed by the formation of new households with new children by different parents — is an enormous financial and emotional drain. Supporting two households rather than one is expensive, and it diverts money that could otherwise be invested in the kids. The parent in the home has no one to help shoulder the load of caring for kids, meaning less investment of time and more emotional strain on the custodial parent. Children will spend less time with their noncustodial parent, especially if that parent has other offspring. Add in conflict between the parents over money and time, and it can infect relationships with the children. As one researcher told me when I wrote an article on the state of modern marriage, you frequently see fathers investing time and money with the kids whose mother they get along with the best, while the other children struggle along on crumbs.

People often argue that extended families can substitute, but of course, two-parent families also have extended families — two of them — so single-parent families remain at a disadvantage, especially because other members of the extended family are often themselves struggling with the challenges of single parenthood. Extended families just can’t substitute for the benefits of a two-parent family. Government can’t, either; universal preschool is not going to make up for an uninvolved parent, or one stretched too thin to give their kids enough time. Government can sand the rough edges off the economic hardship, of course, but even in a social democratic paradise such as Sweden, kids raised in single-parent households do worse than kids raised with both their parents in the home.

The share of American children born to single mothers has grown seven-fold since 1960.

More than 40 percent of American children are now born to unmarried parents, down from just five percent in 1960, according to Pew Research Center. Fifty years ago, the vast majority of adults — 72 percent — were married. The same is true for only about half of adults today. The declines in marriage are especially pronounced in families with lower earnings. Tying the knot is increasingly a marker of class status in America.

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Megan McArdle, “How Hollywood Can Save Our Families”, Bloomberg, March 17, 2015.

Seth Freed Wessler, “What Happened to the Middle-Class American Family?”, CNBC, March 18, 2015.

April 25, 2014

Decline in teen birth rate

by Grace

The teen birth rate in the U.S. is at a record low, dropping below 30 births per 1,000 teen females for the first time since the government began collecting consistent data on births to teens ages 15-19, according to National Center for Health Statistics data.

20140424.COCTeenPregnancyRates1

Why is the teen birth rate falling?

In addition to the correlation between declining birth rates and a distressed economy, other reasons have emerged.

 … Less sex, more contraception and more information.

For one thing, there has been a significant decline in the percentage of never-married teenage females who ever had sex, from 51% in 1988 to 43% in 2006-2010, according to National Survey of Family Growth data. Furthermore, among never-married teens who have had sex, 78% used a contraceptive method the first time they had sex, 86% used contraception during their most recent sex and 20% used dual methods (e.g., a hormonal method and a condom) during their most recent sex, all significant increases since 1988.

Pregnancy prevention programs and messages directed to teens may also have played a role. A recent Brookings report found that the MTV programs 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, reality TV shows that follow the struggles of teen mothers, may have contributed to up to a third of the decline in teen births since they began airing in 2009.

Teen abortion rate has also dropped.

But teen pregnancy rates have fallen, too, over the past 20 years. Looking at data reaching back to 1976, the pregnancy rate peaked among teens ages 15-19 in 1990, at 116.8, and has fallen 44% since then. The abortion rate among females ages 15-19 has also fallen over roughly the same time period—from 43.5 per 1,000 teens in 1988 to 16.3 in 2009. Of the roughly 700,000 pregnancies among teens in 2009, about 58% are estimated to have ended in live births, 25% in abortions and 17% in miscarriages or stillbirths.

The marriage status of teen mothers has changed dramatically since 1960.

… Back in 1960, most teen mothers were married—an estimated 15% of births to mothers ages 15-19 were to unmarried teens. Today, it has flipped:  89% of births are to unmarried mothers in that age group.

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Eileen Patten, “Why is the teen birth rate falling?”, Pew Research Center, April 21, 2014.

February 20, 2014

‘The War on Poverty became the welfare state.’

by Grace

Robert Samuelson writes that the War on Poverty has been a “success at strengthening the social safety net” but a “failure as an engine of self-improvement”.

The War on Poverty is often branded a failure because the share of Americans below the official poverty line has barely budged. In 1982, at the end of a harsh recession, it was 15 percent. In 2010, after the Great Recession, it was 15 percent.

The trouble is that the official poverty rate is a lousy indicator of people’s material well-being. It misses all that the poor get — their total consumption. It counts cash transfers from government but not non-cash transfers (food stamps, school lunches) and tax refunds under the EITC. Some income is under-reported; also, the official poverty line overstates price increases and, therefore, understates purchasing power.

Based on material well-being, the poverty rate is actually only about 5%.

Eliminating these defects, economists Bruce Meyer of the University of Chicago and James Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame built a consumption-based index that estimates the 2010 poverty rate at about 5 percent.

People at the bottom aren’t well-off, but they’re better off than they once were. Among the official poor, half have computers, 43 percent have central air conditioning and 36 percent have dishwashers, report Meyer and Sullivan. These advances are especially impressive because the massive immigration of unskilled Hispanic workers inflated the ranks of the poor. From 1990 to 2007, all the increase in official poverty was among Hispanics.

But LBJ’s vision of “a hand up, not a handout” failed miserably.

… America remains a tiered society with millions at the bottom still living more chaotic and vulnerable lives. Government’s capacity to boost them into the mainstream was oversold. Although Head Start produces some gains for 3- and 4-year-olds, improvements dissipate quickly; one study found most disappeared by third grade. Schools are continually “reformed,” because they don’t produce better results.

The War on Poverty became the welfare state.

Marriage trends point to a gloomy outlook.

Worse, the breakdown of marriage and spread of single-parent households suggest that poverty may grow.

From 1963 to 2012, the share of families with children under 18 headed by a single parent tripled to 32 percent. It’s 26 percent among whites, 34 percent among Hispanics and 59 percent among African-Americans. Just why is murky. Low-income men may flunk as attractive marriage mates. Or, “women can live independently more easily rather than put up with less satisfactory marriages,” as Brookings’ Isabel Sawhill says. Regardless of the causes and despite many exceptions, children in single-parent households face a harder future. They’re more likely to drop out of school, get pregnant before age 20 or be unemployed.

Poverty becomes self-perpetuating.

Handing out money is the easy part.

The War on Poverty’s success at strengthening the social safety net — a boon in the Great Recession — should not obscure its failure as an engine of self-improvement. Government is fairly good at handing out money; it’s less good at changing behavior. The two roles intersect. If the safety net is too generous, it will weaken work incentives. If it’s too stingy, it will condone suffering. This tale of two wars has left the fight against poverty in a costly and unsatisfying stalemate.

Related:

November 28, 2013

Should tax policy encourage two-parent families?

by Grace

Tax policy has often been used as an incentive for certain desired behaviors, and now it’s being considered as a way to strengthen two-parent families.

“The problem of poverty is linked to family breakdown and the erosion of marriage among low-income families and communities.”

Those are the words of Utah Senator Mike Lee in a speech to the Heritage Foundation.

Lee is careful not to cast opprobrium on single or divorced parents. But he insists on pointing to the uncomfortable but undeniable fact that economic outcomes for their children have been far worse than those of children raised in two-parent families.

That produces many personal tragedies. And in cold economic terms, it means that society is losing gross domestic product because of less than optimal development of human capital.

Government policy can’t force people to get or stay married. But it may be able to encourage them to do so.

That happened in the years after World War II. A steeply progressive income tax combined with generous dependent deductions ($500 originally, later raised to $600) played some unquantifiable part in stimulating the Baby Boom and family stability for a generation after the war.

Over the years, more tax policies have been implemented to encourage retirement savings, home ownership, energy savings, and other behaviors.  In addition, a profusion of tax incentives exist on a corporate level.  Would tax incentives actually work in encouraging parents to marry?

Lee proposes a $2,500 child tax credit — less in real dollars than the postwar deduction — applied to both payroll and income taxes.

He also proposes allowing employees to claim flex time when they have worked overtime, as federal employees can do. He wants Congress to hack away at the marriage penalties embedded in various benefits programs and Obamacare.

Would it work?

While I am a strong advocate of two-parent families, I’m not convinced these proposed changes would encourage marriage.  Additionally, with the tax code already burdened by complicated rules and regulations that often promote inequity, I tend to favor simplifying the process.  Social engineering through government intervention has too many unintended consequences for me to place much faith in ideas like Lee’s.

Related:  Missing fathers are at the core of a ‘vicious cycle’ of poverty (Cost of College)


Thank you for reading my blog!  I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving.

May 16, 2013

Is education the most important equalizer?

by Grace

Jeffrey Selingo, author of College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education, and What It Means for Students, spoke with NPR about “why colleges are no longer an equalizing force”.

… One of the most disturbing numbers I came across in research for this book was that if you come from a family with a family income above $90,000, you have a 1 in 2 chance of getting a bachelor’s degree by the time you’re in your mid-20s. If you come from a family under $35,000, you have a 1 in 17 chance.

“One of the fears, and one of my fears, is that we might become a country where the next generation is less educated than the generation that preceded it.”

If current trends continue, the next generation is also much more likely to have grown up in a household without a father.

Missing fathers are at the core of a ‘vicious cycle’ of poverty and low education levels.

The chance of a child ending up poor declines by 82 percent when raised in a two-parent family.

Which one factor is more important in equalizing financial opportunities – college or fathers?  I don’t know, but if I had a magic wand and could change only one of these, I’d put fathers back into American families.  The education part would probably start to take care of itself.

Related:  Non-marital births by education level as part of the growing class divide (Cost of College)

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