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.
What would you expect when comparing a family headed by two adults versus a family headed by one adult?
Sacrifices must be made and a big part of that is income. Whether a single father of single mother, there are far less opportunities that exist. How many single parents move back to live near their parents in order to get help? How many single parents must forgo overtime and not just the income that comes with it, but the future promotions that go to those that work longer hours? How many single parents must choose security over opportunity since they don't have the financial backup of another adult? It's such a huge and obvious factor, but it is taboo.
More than 20% of children in single-parent families live in poverty long-term, compared with 2% of those raised in two-parent families, according to education-policy analyst Mitch Pearlstein's 2011 book "From Family Collapse to America's Decline."
Earlier this year, a team of researchers led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty reported that communities with a high percentage of single-parent families are less likely to experience upward mobility.
A 2006 article in the journal Demography by Penn State sociologist Molly Martin estimates that 41% of the economic inequality created between 1976-2000 was the result of changed family structure.
Is the shrinking middle class the result of the growth of single-parent families?
Sure looks like a big factor.In 1960, more than 76% of African-Americans and nearly 97% of whites were born to married couples. Today the percentage is 30% for blacks and 70% for whites.
It's not the only cause, but it is clearly a big cause of the financial suffering of many children.
And it extends beyond just financial issues.
In an essay for the Institute for Family Studies last December, called "Even for Rich Kids, Marriage Matters," University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox reported that children in high-income households who experienced family breakups don't fare as well emotionally, psychologically, educationally or, in the end, economically as their two-parent-family peers.
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.