A recent op-ed in the LA Times acknowledges what has been increasingly obvious the last few decades – single motherhood has been a catastrophe in the US:
The single-mother revolution has been an economic catastrophe for women. Poverty remains relatively rare among married couples with children; the U.S. census puts only 8.8% of them in that category, up from 6.7% since the start of the Great Recession. But more than 40% of single-mother families are poor, up from 37% before the downturn. In the bottom quintile of earnings, most households are single people, many of them elderly. But of the two-fifths of bottom-quintile households that are families, 83% are headed by single mothers. The Brookings Institution’s Isabel Sawhill calculates that virtually all the increase in child poverty in the United States since the 1970s would vanish if parents still married at 1970 rates.
Well, comes the response, maybe single mothers are hard up not because they lack husbands but because unskilled, low-earning women are likelier to become single mothers in the first place. The Urban Institute’s Robert Lerman tried to address that objection by studying low-income women who had entered “shotgun” unions — that is, getting married after getting pregnant — on the theory that they represented a population roughly similar to those who got pregnant but didn’t marry. The married women, he found, had a significantly higher standard of living than the unmarried ones. “Even among the mothers with the least qualifications and highest risks of poverty,” Lerman concluded, “marriage effects are consistently large and statistically significant.”
This social disaster is largely the result of our last social upheaval in the 60’s and 70’s when our society was convinced by the Left that the traditional family was unimportant to our society’s well being. In many ways this message is appealing – at least from the perspective of personal desire. If true it frees men to pursue sexual relationships with women without the responsibilities traditionally associated such pursuits, and it frees women from the dependence on the provision of a partner that having children has normally entailed.
And single motherhood not only impacts the well –being of mothers, but fathers as well:
Women and their children weren’t the only ones to suffer the economic consequences of the single-mother revolution; low-earning men have lost ground too. Knowing that women are now expected to be able to raise children on their own, unskilled men lose much of the incentive to work, especially at the sometimes disagreeable jobs that tend to be the ones they can get. Scholars consistently find that unmarried men work fewer hours, make less money and get fewer promotions than do married men.
The dynamics of marriage are more than just a legal arrangement, or one that confers government benefits – marriage is fundamental to the success of women, men, and children. This is perhaps one of the most completely demonstrated social claims thanks to our decades old social experiment in single motherhood. This is why the positive argument for traditional marriage isn’t merely a religious one, it is social, it is biological and it is economic. The best thing the government can do for our society is sanction and support traditional marriage – and as the data show, the worst thing it can do is pretend traditional marriage doesn’t matter.