Tags: Samuelson | Sawhill | marriage | single

WaPo's Samuelson: The Family Deficit Is the Real Problem

By    |   Monday, 27 October 2014 01:34 PM

Forget the budget deficit. The real problem is our family deficit, says Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson.

"It explains some stubborn poverty and our frustrations in combating it. We've learned that what good families provide cannot easily be gotten elsewhere. For the nation, this is the deficit that matters most."

Marriage is becoming an endangered species. Divorce rates remain high, and previous taboos against premarital sex, cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births have essentially vanished, he notes.

Most people probably know marriage has become more unusual, but many might not realize the extent of its disappearance, Samuelson maintains, citing the book "Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage" by Isabel Sawhill.

In 1960, only 12 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 had never married. In 2010, that figure had jumped to 47 percent. Naturally the number of single-parent homes has exploded, jumping from 7 percent in 1950 to 31 percent by 2013. The rise of single parents caused poverty rates to jump and personal attention to children to slide, he argues, noting that two parents are typically better than one when it comes to providing children financial and emotional support.

If marriage rates had remained the 1970 level, child poverty would drop by 20 percent, Samuelson says, citing Sawhill's calculations.

"By harming children's emotional and intellectual development, the expansion of adult choices may have reduced society's collective welfare," he writes.

Good solutions are rare. Liberals typically advocate expensive social services that entangle the government in child raising. Conservatives maintain unrealistic hopes of reviving marriage. Sawhill recommends more use of birth control to limit unplanned pregnancies, but that hope may also be unrealistic, according to Samuelson.

Some commentators say marriage is becoming "the great class divide," the columnist points out. College graduates are marrying; the less educated are increasingly not. Those diverging trends may increase wealth inequality and threaten social mobility.

Don't give up on marriage yet, writes Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Jonathan Rauch. Seven out of eight young peopled polled by the Pew Research Center said they want to marry, he writes in a Brookings Institution blog post in response to Sawhill's book.

The real problem is the "plight of working-class men," he says.

"Men without college educations are increasingly marginalized in the workforce, making them less attractive as potential spouses," Rauch explains. "Failing to form durable family ties, in turn, makes men less stable and productive, and therefore less employable — making them less marriageable, and so on. Partly as a result of this vicious cycle of male disempowerment, working-class cultural mores are drifting away from marriage as a norm."

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Forget the budget deficit. The real problem is our family deficit, says Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson.
Samuelson, Sawhill, marriage, single
Monday, 27 October 2014 01:34 PM
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