As most people know, there is a common narrative suggesting that single-parent households can be a cause of many problems affecting children — in and out of school.
I wonder about that view, and have previously published The Best Articles Questioning The View That Single Parents Are A Problem.
The New York Times has now published an exceptional article titled Can Marriage Cure Poverty?
I think it’s a “must-read.” Here’s an excerpt:
But even if Washington got rid of all its dumb and ineffective policies to promote marriage and implemented a number of smart ones to do so, it might all be for naught. Some researchers think that marriage — or a lack thereof — is not the real problem facing poor parents; being poor is. “It isn’t that having a lasting and successful marriage is a cure for living in poverty,” says Kristi Williams of Ohio State University. “Living in poverty is a barrier to having a lasting and successful marriage.”
To understand why, it is worth looking at the economic fortunes of the poor in isolation — marriage rates and childbearing out of wedlock aside. Globalization, the decline of labor unions, technological change and other tidal economic forces have battered the poor, with years of economic growth failing to lift their prospects. These forces have inevitably affected young people’s choices, researchers think.
In an economy that offers so little promise to those at the bottom, family planning in the name of upward mobility doesn’t make much sense. “Engaging in family formation by accident rather than by design, you get a story of low-opportunity costs,” says Kathryn Edin, the poverty researcher at Johns Hopkins. “We’ve created the situation where pregnancy is not the worst thing that can happen to you. It can be seen as a path to redemption in an otherwise violent, unpredictable, hopeless world.”
Similar forces might also spur some young couples not to get married, even if they want to. Many poor women opt not to marry the poor men in their lives, for instance, to avoid bringing more economic chaos into their homes. And the poor women who do marry tend to have unstable marriages — often to ill effect. One study, for instance, found that single mothers who married and later divorced were worse off economically than those who did not marry at all. “These women revere marriage, they want to get married,” Williams says. “They aren’t making an irrational choice not to marry.”