The demise of the happy two-parent family

Here is new work by Rachel Sheffield and Scott Winship, I will not impose further indentation:

“-          We argue, against conventional wisdom on the right, that the decades of research on the effects of single parenthood on children amounts to fairly weak evidence that kids would do better if their actual parents got or stayed married. That is not to say that that we think single parenthood isn’t important–it’s a claim about how persuasive we ought to find the research on a question that is extremely difficult to answer persuasively. But even if it’s hard to determine whether kids would do better if their unhappy parents stay together, it is close to self-evident (and uncontroversial?) that kids do better being raised by two parents, happily married.

–          We spend some time exploring the question of whether men have become less “marriageable” over time. We argue that the case they have is also weak. The pay of young men fell over the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. But it has fully recovered since. You can come up with other criteria for marriageability–and we show several trends using different criteria–but the story has to be more complicated to work. Plus, if cultural change has caused men to feel less pressure to provide for their kids, then we’d expect that to CAUSE worse outcomes in the labor market for men over time. The direction of causality could go the other way.

–          Rather than economic problems causing the increase in family instability, we argue that rising affluence is a better explanation. Our story is about declining co-dependence, increasing individualism and self-fulfillment, technological advances, expanded opportunities, and the loosening of moral constraints. We discuss the paradox that associational and family life has been more resilient among the more affluent. It’s an argument we advance admittedly speculatively, but it has the virtue of being a consistent explanation for broader associational declines too. We hope it inspires research hypotheses that will garner the kind of attention that marriageability has received.

–          The explanation section closes with a look at whether the expansion of the federal safety net has affected family instability. We acknowledge that the research on select safety net program generosity doesn’t really support a link. But we also show that focusing on this or that program (typically AFDC or TANF) misses the forest. We present new estimates showing that the increase in safety net generosity has been on the same order of magnitude as the increase in nonmarital birth rates.