We Should Be Talking About Family Structure

One of the most radical transformations in American society over the past four decades has been the change in family structure, particularly the rise in single-parent families.  This is a complex development that has significant impact on poverty, education, the labor market, and myriad other social challenges.  For a while, this was considered to be a "conservative" issue; then we stopped talking about it altogether.  As my most recent post on US News & World Report argues, this is not a phenomenon we can easily reverse, but that is no reason to ignore it.56528637_47_8C7Yl_3868.jpg

From the article:

"America’s family structure has termites in the basement, for two overlapping reasons. First, there has been a striking rise in single-parent families, particularly as the result of births to never-married mothers. Forty years ago, 10 percent of births were to unmarried mothers; today the proportion is over 40 percent. (These and other data are drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal study of nearly 5,000 children born between 1998 and 2000.)

"Second, the gap in economic outcomes between single-parent households and those headed by married couples is large and growing. The proportion of single-mother households living in poverty is 31 percent, compared to 6 percent for married households. The Fragile Families studies found that three-quarters of the women who were unmarried at the time of their child’s birth had experienced a spell of poverty by the time the child turned 5.

"Or, to cut the data slightly differently, more than 60 percent of all children living in poverty are in households headed by a single parent, usually the mother."

Read the full piece here.

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commented 2014-04-24 07:26:37 -0600 · Flag
It is OK to talk about family structure, but referring to the situation as having termites seems odd. Is it better for married couples to stay unhappily married or to split? In the old days there was a tendency to keep an unhappy marriage intact, but that attitude has faded. Is that termites or progress?
The issue of unmarried women raising their children alone raises the critical question of what is the father’s role in at least financially supporting the offspring? When the dads do not financially support their kids, it is easy to see poverty and bad outcomes on the horizon. Whether it is always fair or not, fathers have to accept responsibility for their role, knowing or not. Assuming there is fault, which isn’t always the case, the unmarried mother situation certainly isn’t the children’s fault. Some women want to be single and raise kids, which is fine if that’s what they want to do and can reasonably support it.
Things have changed. Many or most people just do not see the family structure as it was seen in the 1950s and 1960s. If nothing else, it takes salaries from two typical workers to support a middle class family. The days of one worker being able to earn enough are long gone and not coming back. That’s the economic ‘progress’ our dreadful two-party system has delivered.
The new norm is two workers needed for middle class status or something close. One worker alone often earns poverty or almost poverty and sometimes even two incomes don’t move a household far from it.