Issue in Focus
Dec 15 2017
Too often, legislators pass bills that seem to be solutions in search of problems. But those problems are rarely as straightforward as they appear to be.
This is why my staff at the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) have worked so tirelessly on the Social Capital Project – a multi-year research initiative that explores the evolving nature and importance of our associational life, specifically why the health of those associational relationships seems so compromised.
And of all the relationships people have in their lives, the most important and formative is the one children have with their parents. This relationship is the foundation of a healthy associational life, which is why the JEC’s most recent study focused on parent/child relationships and how they’ve changed in the last few generations.
As many of you already know, there has been a significant uptick in children born to unwed parents since 1960. And numerous studies show children of stable, married couples outperform children born to single parents, especially when it comes to laying the foundation for engagement in associational life.
This isn’t to say a child born to single mother or father will necessarily face more challenges in life, or that a child born to a married mother and father will automatically succeed. But there is a statistically significant pattern that shows having two stable parents in a committed relationship does give a child a leg up.
Yet, in the past few decades, we’ve shifted from this two-parent model of child-bearing. In 1960, just 5.3% of children were born to single mothers. As of 2008, that number jumped to 40%, and that number is even higher for children born to mothers who are under 30. This means 35% more of the children born today are born into a situation that disadvantages them.
While it would be simple to point to increased sexual activity as the obvious cause, our research found two even larger factors: 1) there are fewer married women, and 2) the cultural norm often referred to as the “shotgun” marriage has all but disappeared.
The causes for these two trends are also very complicated, but they appear to be a result of an increase in affluence and opportunity in society as a whole. Rising affluence and opportunity is absolutely something we should celebrate, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the uptick in non-married births is something that should be addressed.
Problems are rarely as straightforward as they appear to be. I am proud of the work my staff on the JEC is doing to shine a light on the complexities of this issue, and we will continue to pursue this line of inquiry to ensure all children are born with the leg up they deserve.