Marriage, Single-Parenthood, and Poverty

January 20th, 2014 at 9:34 am

Another follow-on to the recent War on Poverty debate, over at the NYT.  This marriage-as-a-route-out-of-poverty discussion that always comes up in poverty debates seems pretty disconnected from real-world trends.

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5 comments in reply to "Marriage, Single-Parenthood, and Poverty"

  1. William Berkson says:

    The facts of the case, as you accept them, do not argue for an either-or approach, but a both-and one. We should both support the formation of marriages and young families, and attack the poverty that seems to be key in the decline of marriage.

    You should have a look at the earlier 2010 report from the same place as you one you link to. It is here: It shows a shocking cleavage of the country between college-educated and non college-education when it comes to marriage. And the economic and social consequences are not pretty.

    Their 2012 report gives a whole program for strengthening marriage, not W. Bush’s one:

    I really think that us liberals are missing out on a very important issue by polarizing this, and thinking it’s direct poverty reduction vs marriage strengthening. We shouldn’t be the knee-jerk opposite of the right wing. I do hope you’ll take a further look at this, and support a both-and approach.

    • Jared Bernstein says:

      I tried to be careful in the piece to stress two points: one, I support initiatives like Fragile Families (see link), and two, the evidence as reviewed by Haskins, a noted marriage advocate who cares deeply about this, shows little success. Sure, there’s more to learn about these policies, and sure, pursue both, but I think one has to be pretty willfully ignoring strong, quality evidence if one argues for giving them equal weight at this point.

  2. PeonInChief says:

    While there’s an obvious arithmetic to two-parent families being less impoverished than single-parent families–two incomes rather than one–it’s largely irrelevant. First, lower-income families are still impoverished, whether there are one or two parents. They may be somewhat less impoverished than single-parent families, but the difference in many cases is marginal. Families with married partners have more money because the partners individually make more money. Marriage just enables them to pool resources, and have even more money.

    Second there are the pursed lips of economists and moral scolds, who think that marriage in-and-of-itself is a good thing. Now my husband and I married when there were still benefits to working class people marrying. He had a job with health benefits and could cover me. We saved $500 on our taxes, which was a lot of money to us. Today many working class couples would receive neither of these benefits, and should they decide to split, the cost of divorce.

    Finally, there’s a nasty anti-women strain in all of this, when it should be recognized that women are the people who have stepped up and raised the children as best they could. Rather than trying to keep men who have abdicated their responsibilities in bad relationships, we should concentrate on making it easier for women to raise children on their own–housing subsidies, childcare and expanded paid family leave.

  3. Larry Signor says:

    I have children and grandchildren living in both circumstances, single and two parent households. Government programs assisted them in the very early years of parenting, but the real key to any success these families have had is a flexible family hierarchy that has allowed the grandparents to invest in their grandchildren. When my wife and I were young economic problems were summed up by “Get a job!”. Today economic reality is much more complex, even with a job one is not secure in their long range planning. Thus one of the benefits of a two income household is income security and reduced planning risk. Some sort of “raise the floor” policy for single parents would equalize opportunities, which is probably the best goal and one which supposedly satisfies everyone. We should be a country of opportunity not outcomes.

    • PeonInChief says:

      Unfortunately equality of opportunity doesn’t come without equality of outcomes. The single most important determinant in opportunities for children is the income of their parents. Only by increasing the equality of outcomes for parents can we provide opportunity for children.