In a nationally representative study by the Pew Research Center, researchers found that most people still believe that “the growing prevalence of mothers who have no male partners around to help them raise children is bad for society.” While study participants were divided on many issues of changing family trends, nearly all agreed that this trend is negative for the nation.
Said Professor Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University: “Many people, including single parents themselves, question single-parent families. There’s still a strong belief that children need two parents.”
Considering that a strong body of research that shows the negative implications of father absence for children—along with the economic difficulties faced in single-parent homes—the poll results are good news.
Unfortunately, the growth in unwed birthrates continues its upward climb. Since the 1960s, the rate of unwed childbearing has soared. Today, one in four babies is born to a single mother, and the rates are even higher for minorities. Nearly 75 percent of African-American children and over half of Hispanic babies are born outside of marriage.
These trends are nothing less than tragic for women, children, and society. Children who are raised in single-parent homes experience more emotional and behavioral problems, are more likely to engage in risky and delinquent behavior, are at increased risk of dropping out of high school, and are more likely to be abused. While some of these problems are connected to the higher poverty rates in single-mother homes, “improvements in child well-being that are associated with marriage persist even after adjusting for differences in family income … [indicating] that the father brings more to his home than just a paycheck.”
However, this in no way means that poverty in single-mother homes should be ignored. In fact, it cannot be overlooked if the nation plans to get welfare spending under control. This is because children raised by single mothers are nearly six times more likely to be poor than are children raised by married mothers with the same education levels. And it is within single-mother homes that 80 percent of the nation’s long-term poverty occurs. Thus, as single motherhood has skyrocketed over the last decades, so too has government welfare spending.
Today the United States spends nearly $1 trillion a year in welfare assistance to the poor, or approximately four times the amount it would cost to pull every single poor family in the country over the poverty line. Nonetheless, poverty levels have remained nearly unchanged and the government continues to pour more taxpayer dollars into welfare. If the unwed birthrate continues its upward trend, it is likely that more families will be dependent on government aid.
If the United States is really interested in decreasing the out-of-wedlock birthrate and getting welfare spending under control, it should take steps to support marriage. Policymakers should eliminate laws that penalize marriage, and increased attention should be placed on supporting healthy marriages, especially in low-income communities.
It is promising that Americans continue to understand the benefits of a child being raised by both parents. The next step is to take action to support healthy marriages and families to ensure a strong civil society and an economically sound nation.