Conservatives of all stripes have been saying this for decades, but at last it seems that sociologists throughout academia can no longer ignore the evidence: children from single-parent homes, whether through divorced, deceased, or never-married parents, have worse overall outcomes than children from dual-parent homes – even dual-parent homes in which the parents do not get along. From an article in the Wall Street Journal by Robert Maranto and Michael Crouch:
Suppose a scientific conference on cancer prevention never addressed smoking, on the grounds that in a free society you can’t change private behavior, and anyway, maybe the statistical relationships between smoking and cancer are really caused by some other third variable. Wouldn’t some suspect that the scientists who raised these claims were driven by something—ideology, tobacco money—other than science?
Yet in the current discussions about increased inequality, few researchers, fewer reporters, and no one in the executive branch of government directly addresses what seems to be the strongest statistical correlate of inequality in the United States: the rise of single-parent families during the past half century.
Why do they use the smoking/cancer analogy? From the same article:
Abuse, behavioral problems and psychological issues of all kinds, such as developmental behavior problems or concentration issues, are less common for children of married couples than for cohabiting or single parents, according to a 2003 Centers for Disease Control study of children’s health. The causal pathways are about as clear as those from smoking to cancer.
The implication is stunning. Over a decade ago, the CDC cited single parenting – not the quality of the parent, but the fact of having only one parent present OR parents who cohabit rather than marry – as a clear and direct cause of serious behavioral and psychological problems in children, problems that are likely to affect the child for the rest of his life. Yet politicians, community spokespeople, and activists of all stripes have ignored this causative correlation to instead ask for handouts to treat the symptoms rather than looking at ways to eliminate the cause – symptoms like juvenile delinquency, poor academic outcomes, disruptive behavior in school that affects other children, and even early sexuality that leads to disease and pregnancy. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to look inward at ways to slow or stop the problem of single parenting, ways to encourage marriage and involved parents?
But then, that sensible suggestion assumes that the welfare of children is indeed the objective. Evidence suggests that secondary effects of the requested panaceas include more government jobs, large paychecks for activists, and increasingly safe jobs for teachers. Besides, politicians don’t like to tell anyone they are doing a Bad Thing for being irresponsible with their child’s welfare. It’s easier and safer to tell them that no, society failed them, Big Brother should care for them financially, and that women with children don’t need husbands.
That is complete bunk. I’ve been a single mom, and I’ve been a married mom. As a single mother, I struggled to finish college. I lost multiple excellent job opportunities that I know of because I had children – I don’t blame the employer, but rather praise them for understanding that my self-inflicted lifestyle would have made it impossible to do the job they needed done. I lost multiple jobs because I had to retrieve my children – one of whom is autistic – when they misbehaved in daycare or school. When I was home with my children, I was tired – but had no option but to wrangle multiple children by myself. When I cohabited, even with the father of my children, I saw little relief; for whatever reason, my partner was not interested in taking on much of the serious work around the house, including sharing bills, cleaning, and caring for children. While this is my story, I suspect it is not an uncommon one.
Contrast this with my life today. My husband embraced the role of father, even to my three boys who are not his biological children. He is a full partner in parenting as well as in my professional career, and we share responsibilities. Just his presence and example turned my troublemakers around, transforming them from hard-to-control children with behavioral issues into the strong, moral young men they are becoming today. Our girls, who have never known a life without two parents, have no behavior problems at all.
I have to wonder what would change if only one percent of today’s single mothers were to marry. In today’s atmosphere, this is unlikely to happen. Maranto and Crouch give three reasons: first, that politics is less about what you’re for than what you’re against. Since conservatives have (naturally) embraced promotion of marriage as a solution for many societal problems, it’s unlikely that liberals want to be seen embracing the same common-sense answer, preferring instead to continue pursuing the same failed policies. Second, that because single parenting is disproportionately a problem within minority communities, politicians and academics fear being attacked as racist. And third, that promoting marriage is hard, requiring influential members of entertainment, political, and educational industries to work together in seeking ways to turn around the current tide.
Despite the seeming futility, promoting marriage is a goal worthy of pursuing. Every child deserves a mother and a father. Welfare is nothing more than a Band-Aid, trying to cover up a problem rooted deeply in the societal structure we’ve developed over two generations. Each year, it costs us more and does less. It is time to seek out a real solution, no matter how much it hurts or how long it takes. This is, after all, a problem that has developed over decades. There is no quick fix.