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Child poverty is an ongoing national concern, but few are aware that its principal cause is the absence of married fathers in the home.
Child poverty is an ongoing national concern, but few are aware of its principal cause: the absence of married fathers in the home.
Some of this difference in poverty is due to the fact that single parents tend to have less education than married couples, but even when married couples are compared to single parents with the same level of education, the married poverty rate will still be more than 75 percent lower. For example, when President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty in 1964, 93 percent of children born in the United States were born to married parents. The rise in out-of-wedlock childbearing and the increase in single parenthood are major causes of high levels of child poverty. Not surprisingly, single-parent families make up the overwhelming majority of all poor families with children in the U.S. The poverty rate among married couples is dramatically lower than the poverty rate among single-headed households, even when the married couple is compared to single parents with the same level of education. Being married has roughly the same effect in reducing poverty that adding five to six years to a parent’s education has. The federal government operates over 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and targeted social services to poor and low-income persons.[10] In fiscal year 2011, federal and state governments spent over $450 billion on means-tested welfare for low-income families with children.
The out-of-wedlock birth rate for a particular group equals the total number of out-of-wedlock births to mothers of that group divided by all births to the group in the same year. Chart 8 shows the out-of-wedlock birth rates for different racial and ethnic groups in 2008. By contrast, the out-of-wedlock birth share equals the total number of babies born to non-married mothers of a particular racial or ethnic group divided by the total number of babies born outside of marriage for all racial and ethnic groups. Chart 9 shows the out-of-wedlock birth shares for different racial and ethnic groups.[12] Although black and Hispanic women are more likely to give birth out of wedlock than are white non-Hispanic women because non-Hispanic whites are far more numerous in the overall population, the greatest number (or plurality) of out-of-wedlock births still occurs to that group. These rates remained relatively low until the onset of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the early 1960s. The Census data presented so far demonstrate that married couples have dramatically lower poverty rates than single parents. However, in the Census comparisons, the married couples and single parents are obviously different (albeit similar) persons. Fortunately, we have other direct data on poverty and unmarried parents that corroborate the Census analysis. Because the Fragile Families Survey reports both the mothers’ and fathers’ earnings, it is simple to calculate the poverty rate if the non-married mothers remain single and if each unmarried mother married her child’s father (thereby pooling both parents’ income into a joint family income). It is important to note that these results are based on the actual earnings of the biological fathers of the children and not on assumed or hypothetical earnings.
Census data and the Fragile Families survey show that marriage can be extremely effective in reducing child poverty. Clearly, the rise in unwed childbearing and the decline in marriage play a strong role in promoting child poverty and other social ills. Edin, professor of public policy at Harvard, is the nation’s most distinguished researcher on low-income single mothers; her findings overturn much conventional wisdom about “unintended” pregnancy, out-of wedlock childbearing, and low-income single parents. In reality, unwed births rarely involve teenage girls, are almost never caused by a lack of access to birth control, and generally are not the result of purely accidental pregnancies.
The overwhelming majority of lower-income women who have children out of wedlock strongly desire to have children. Although most of these young women believe they should wait until they are somewhat older before having children, this belief is weak in comparison to the very strong positive feeling about motherhood in general.
Critically, almost none of the lower-income women who have a child out of wedlock feel that it is important to be married before having children.
However, low-income non-married parents are not hostile to marriage as an institution or a life goal. A major obstacle is that most low-income women plan to marry after having children, not before.
In many communities, the pattern of children first and (hopefully) marriage later is so entrenched that couples have difficulty understanding an alternative; but as a means for building long-term loving relationships and nurturing homes for children, this pattern is a disaster. In summary, the strong desire to have children coupled with the belief that it is not important to be married before having children explains the dramatic rise in out-of-wedlock childbearing in lower-income communities. Although most non-married parents aspire to remain together and eventually to marry, they generally lack the skill and understanding that are needed to build enduring relationships.
Trying to decide whether you want to spend the rest of your life with a partner after you have had a baby with him (or her) rather than before is a recipe for disaster.
Even though they aspire to remain together, most unmarried-parent couples also fail to understand the role of commitment to successful relationships.
Some argue that encouraging marriage in lower-income communities is irrelevant because the fathers do not earn enough to contribute significantly to the support of the mother and child. Most non-married fathers have sufficient earnings to help their children escape from poverty.
In fact, over 60 percent of fathers who have children outside of marriage earned enough at the time of their child’s birth to support their potential family with an income above the poverty level even if the mother did not work at all.
A related argument is that single mothers do not marry because the fathers of their children are non-marriageable.
Three-quarters of non-married fathers are still romantically involved with the mother at the time of birth. But, this is an argument for encouraging stronger, more mature relationships before conception, not for writing off the men in general.
But like unwed mothers, these men also attach little importance to being married before having children. Although unwed fathers tend to view the idea of marriage positively at the time of their child’s birth, they are also aware that marriage will entail restraint and sacrifice. Historically, society established strong norms and values that supported and encouraged young men in this transition. Today, the historic norms and values concerning marriage and fatherhood have all but disappeared in low-income neighborhoods.
The problem is compounded by the fact that most unwed mothers do not seriously plan to be married to the fathers of their children.[47] Without social encouragement or positive role models, many unwed fathers drift through disordered and empty lives.
Since marriage appears to be in the long-term interests of mothers, fathers, and children, why do lower-income parents fail to marry? Similarly, delaying childbearing until marriage entails postponing the pleasures of having a child, carefully selecting a long-term partner, exercising restraint by being sexually faithful to that partner, and developing and maintaining a committed relationship. However, dropping out of school and having a child outside of marriage have one crucial difference. Imagine how high the school dropout rate might be if, for 50 years, lower-income youth were never told that failing to finish school would harm their future.
As long as the current social silence concerning the benefits of marriage and the harm of out-of-wedlock childbearing persists, marriage will continue to erode in low-income communities. To develop this understanding, government and society should establish a broad campaign of public education in low-income areas.
If society wishes to slow the growth of non-marital births and pregnancies, then the government must clearly communicate that, on average, having and raising children inside of marriage is more beneficial than having and raising a child outside of marriage.
The new pro-marriage message should address the deepest concerns of lower-income young women.
Going further, the new policy should communicate practical skills in planning children’s births in a manner to meet long-term life goals. Even for those on the left whose only concern is that low-income women complete more education before having children out of wedlock, this policy should prove to be advantageous.
In order to communicate a new pro-marriage message and strengthen marriage in low-income communities, government should undertake the following specific policies.
Encourage public advertising campaigns on the importance of marriage that are targeted to low-income communities. Provide marriage education programs in high schools with a high proportion of at-risk youth. Strengthen federal abstinence education programs that provide critical information on the value of marriage to adults, children, and society. Make voluntary marriage education widely available to interested couples in low-income communities.
Another important public policy to strengthen marriage would be to reduce the penalties against marriage in the welfare system.
Marriage penalties occur in many means-tested programs such as food stamps, public housing, Medicaid, day care, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
The simplest way to accomplish this would be to increase the value of the earned income tax credit (EITC) for married couples with children; this could offset the anti-marriage penalties existing in other programs such as food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid.
Since marital decline drives up child poverty and welfare dependence, and since the poor aspire to healthy marriage but lack the norms, understanding, and skills to achieve it, it is reasonable for government to take active steps to strengthen marriage.
Marriage is highly beneficial to children, adults, and society; it needs to be encouraged and strengthened. The Pew Research Internet and American Life Project has released new statistics on who is using social media by age group.



Erin Read spearheads integrated and digital marketing programs for organizations targeting mature consumers.
Mature Marketing Matters - Blog by Creating Results, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. As Chart 5 shows, nearly two-thirds of births to women who were high school dropouts occurred outside of marriage. Since the early 1960s, single-parent families have roughly tripled as a share of all families with children.
Overall, single-parent families comprise one-third of all families with children, but as Chart 6 shows, 71 percent of poor families with children are headed by single parents. Interestingly, on average, high school dropouts who are married have a far lower poverty rate than do single parents with one or two years of college. Roughly three-quarters of this welfare assistance, or $330 billion, went to single-parent families.
To understand this, it is important to understand the difference between an out-of-wedlock birth rate and the out-of-wedlock birth share for a particular racial or ethnic group. Thus, if 50 babies were born outside of marriage to Hispanic mothers in a given year and total births to all Hispanic mothers (both married and non-married) in the same year were 100, the out-of-wedlock birth rate for Hispanics would be 50 divided by 100, or 50 percent.
Thus, if 50 babies were born outside of marriage to Hispanic mothers in a given year and total out-of wedlock births to mothers from all racial and ethnic groups were 150, the out-of-wedlock birth share for Hispanics would be 50 divided by 150, or 33.3 percent.
Historically, the black out-of-wedlock childbearing rate has always been somewhat higher than the white rate; however, through much of the 20th century, the rates for both groups were comparatively low. It remained almost unchanged at around 2 percent between 1930 and 1960 and then began a slow but steady rise in the 1960s that accelerated in the 1980s, reaching 20 percent by 1990. Marriage is associated with lower rates of poverty separately for whites, blacks, and Hispanics.
These substantial differences in poverty remain even when married couples are compared to single parents of the same race and level of education.
It is therefore possible that much of the difference in poverty between married families and single-parent families might be due to hidden differences between married and single parents as individuals rather than to marriage per se. These data are provided by the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Survey conducted jointly by Princeton and Columbia universities.[16] The Fragile Families survey is a representative national sample of parents at the time of a child’s birth, with a heavy emphasis on lower-income unmarried couples.
The Fragile Families data show that if unmarried mothers remain single, over half (56 percent) will be poor. In many cases, however, the improvements in child well-being that are associated with marriage persist even after adjusting for differences in family income. Comparing families of the same race and similar incomes, children from broken and single-parent homes are three times more likely to end up in jail by the time they reach age 30 than are children raised in intact married families. Children living in single-parent homes are 50 percent more likely to experience poverty as adults when compared to children from intact married homes. Dealing with these issues will require an understanding of the social context of non-marital pregnancy and childbearing. In popular perception, out-of-wedlock childbearing occurs as a result of accidental pregnancies among teenage girls who lack access to or knowledge about birth control. Non-marital births and pregnancies are phenomena that mainly involve young adult men and women. In fact, most women who become pregnant and give birth out of wedlock strongly desire children.
In fact, having children is generally perceived as the most important and fulfilling thing in their lives, giving their lives purpose and meaning. Given this emotional context, it should not be surprising that any plans to delay pregnancy are carried out haphazardly or not at all. Although roughly half of non-married mothers were cohabiting with the father at the time of birth (nearly 75 percent were in some sort of romantic relationship with the father), these relationships are usually of short duration and unstable. While low-income young women earnestly dream of having children, a husband, and a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, they have no practical plan to make this dream a reality.
While most non-marital pregnancies are not deliberately planned, they are also not seriously avoided. Often, a woman will conceive a child with a man well before she has determined whether she regards him as a suitable lifetime partner and before the couple has made serious commitments to one another. Frequently, couples will seek to resolve fundamental issues such as sexual fidelity only after a child is born. In the real world, all relationships have stressful and troubled periods; successful couples have an enduring commitment to each other that enables them to weather difficult periods and emerge with stronger, happier relationships.
If the unmarried father and mother married and the mother worked part-time, the typical family would have an income above 150 percent of poverty, or roughly $35,000 per year. This is a stunning argument given the fact that 40 percent of all children are now born outside of marriage. Among these men, alcohol, drug, and physical abuse are infrequent.[46] While many of the men have potential problems, so do many of the non-married mothers. The decline in marriage in low-income communities stems from changing social norms and from a welfare system that for decades has penalized marriage, not from a lack of millions of marriageable men.
Many of these young men were raised in fatherless homes and often state that they do not wish the same fate for their own children.
They frequently fantasize about having close, long-term, stable relationships with their children and the child’s mother even without marriage.
A married husband must relinquish sexual freedom and shoulder heavy financial responsibilities.
In the larger society, opinion leaders treat unwed fathers as socially marginal, an unmarriageable residue of little social or economic significance. In marriage, men will usually devote a very large part of their earnings to support wives and children; they will be reluctant to make this financial sacrifice unless society tells them it is vital and strongly encourages their embrace of responsibility. How has the peculiar ethos of “child first, marriage later” evolved in low-income neighborhoods? For many, finishing school is difficult: it involves having a strong future orientation, delaying gratification, forgoing short-term income, and sticking to educational tasks that may seem unpleasant and boring. Everyone in our society is told incessantly from childhood that dropping out of school will harm one’s future; despite this constant refrain, a great many still drop out each year.
Tragically, on the issue of non-marital childbearing, a deliberate social silence has reigned for almost half a century.
To combat poverty, it is vital to strengthen marriage, and to strengthen marriage, it is vital that at-risk populations be given a clear factual understanding of the benefits of marriage and the costs and consequences of non-marital childbearing.
This campaign should be similar in scope to current efforts to convince youth of the importance of staying in school or to inform the public about the health risks of smoking. Government should communicate not merely the desirability of delaying childbearing to an older age, but also the advantages of delaying childbearing until one has found a suitable long-term partner, formed a stable and healthy relationship, and, as a couple, made a sincere long-term commitment to each other through marriage. It should teach practical skills in selecting suitable partners, in building stable and healthy relationships, and in understanding the role of commitment to sustaining healthy marriages. Urging young women to select partners carefully, build strong relationships, and marry before having children would (if it has any effect) result in a necessary delay in the age of childbearing in lower-income communities.
These programs already provide some information on the value of marriage to lower-income youth.
This could be done by expanding the small “healthy marriage initiative” currently operating in the U.S.
Welfare programs create disincentives to marriage because benefits are reduced as a family’s income rises. In addition, the appeal of welfare programs as an alternative to work and marriage could be reduced by requiring able-bodied parents to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving aid. As husbands disappear from the home, poverty and welfare dependence will increase, and children and parents will suffer as a result. Just as government discourages youth from dropping out of school, it should clearly and forcefully articulate the value of marriage.
Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008 NHS data.
On average, part-time employment is the most likely activity for the mothers; however, marriage will produce similar strong poverty reductions if the mothers work full-time or not at all. Dawson, “Family Structure and Children’s Health and Well-Being: Data from the 1988 National Health Interview Survey on Child Health,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol.
Overall, one in five unmarried couples will marry within five years after the child’s birth. Only a small fraction of matures are using Instagram (5% of 50+ers online) and Tumblr (4% of 50+ers online).
If I want to market to baby boomers and seniors, should I spend my time on Twitter or Pinterest? 10% of baby boomers and 2% of 65+ seniors are using Twitter, for a total of 12% of 50+ers online.
Pew data actually shows that, for the first time in years, there was a decline in the percentage of Internet users aged 50-64 and those 65 and over (38% vs. Will these statistics about social networkers by age group change your organization’s social media marketing approach?


We are launching a new study to see how the attitudes of Social, Silver Surfershave changed in two years.
Census, the poverty rate for single parents with children in the United States in 2009 was 37.1 percent. As Chart 2 shows, throughout most of the 20th century, marital childbearing was the overwhelming norm in the United States.
When the War on Poverty began in the mid-1960s, only 6 percent of children were born out of wedlock.
As Chart 4 shows, of all out-of-wedlock births in the United States in 2008 only 7.7 percent occurred to girls under age 18. Among women who had only a high school degree, well over half of all births were out of wedlock. In the high-income third of the population, children are raised by married parents with a college education; in the bottom-income third, children are raised by single parents with a high school degree or less. Most non-marital births are currently paid for by the taxpayers through the Medicaid system, and a wide variety of welfare assistance will continue to be given to the mother and child for nearly two decades after the child is born. For example, as Chart 10 shows, 2 percent of white children and 14 percent of black children born in 1940 were born out of wedlock. Within each racial and ethnic group, the poverty rate for married couples is substantially lower than the poverty rate for non-married families of the same race or ethnicity. For example, it is possible that unmarried fathers might have substantially lower earnings than married fathers with the same racial and educational backgrounds. The survey is unusual in collecting information not only on single mothers, but on non-married fathers as well, including (critically) the actual employment and earnings of the father in the year prior to birth.
Over time, their earnings will increase and the poverty rate for the married couples will decline farther.
Children raised by married parents have substantially better life outcomes compared to similar children raised in single-parent homes. Women first have children and then seek to find or build a stable relationship that will eventually lead to marriage. The unfortunate reality is that children are usually born haphazardly to couples in unstable, uncommitted relationships that fall apart within a few years after their children are born. They fail to understand that these issues should have been resolved at the beginning of the relationship, not in the maternity ward. In our culture, such strong commitment to a relationship rarely exists outside of marriage. Eight out of 10 unmarried fathers were employed at the time of their child’s birth.[43] Ironically, given the degree to which the earnings capacity of non-married fathers is generally maligned, these men actually earn more than the mothers in the period prior to the child’s birth.
In addition, at the time of birth, the fathers are young; their wages can be expected to increase over time and are likely to rise faster if they became married and committed to a family. Are policymakers to believe that 40 percent of young adult men in America are non-marriageable?
In most cases, both the men and women would be better off if they were older, more mature, and in a stable, committed marriage before conceiving children. Becoming a husband means growing up, making a transition from prolonged semi-adolescence to true male adulthood.
To the extent that the fathers are remembered at all, they are seen as largely useless, capable of little more than modest child support payments.
Since society no longer demands, expects, or encourages low-income young men to become married fathers, it should be no surprise that these young men experience difficulty in making the transition to married adulthood. Many are unable or unwilling to stick to the difficult path and finish school; they drop out despite the long-term negative consequences. In low-income communities, having a child without marrying is the common choice, the path of least resistance. In bold contrast, young people in low-income communities are never told that having a child outside of marriage will have negative consequences.
Low-income youth have never been told that marriage is beneficial; they have never been told that having a child outside of marriage is likely to have harmful consequences. The well-being and life prospects of the children they will bring into the world are very important to them. Given the high esteem with which low-income women and men regard marriage as an institution, this message should fall on a receptive audience, although the idea of delaying childbearing until after marriage will initially be a real shock. A mother will receive far more from welfare if she is single than if she has an employed husband in the home. It should provide information that will help people to form and maintain healthy marriages and delay childbearing until they are married and economically stable. The relative poverty rates of married and single-parent families change very little from year to year and will be very similar in 2009 and 2010. McLanahan, “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration,” Journal of Research on Adolescence, Vol. By contrast, over 80 percent of couples who are married at the time their child is born will still be together five years later. Here is a Q&A that could guide your decisions regarding marketing to matures on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like. 12% of baby boomers and 4% of seniors are using Pinterest, for a total of 16% of 50+ers online.
On average, the means-tested welfare costs for single parents with children amount to around $30,000 per household per year.
Over the next decade, it declined slightly but then began to rise again, reaching 72.3 percent in 2008. If this were the case, then marriage, for these men, would have a reduced anti-poverty effect. Typically, low-income single mothers do not see marriage either as an important part of childrearing or as an important element of financial security or upward social mobility. Because they fail to understand the importance of commitment, most unmarried-parent couples tend to fall apart when they hit the difficult periods that are inevitable in all relationships.
Without marriage, the relationship with the mother is very likely to collapse; over time, the fathers will have little contact with their children and are likely to reach their thirties with lonely and difficult lives. Like many other men, young unwed fathers view this transition with uncertainty and ambivalence. Thus, government should inform lower-income men and women of the positive effects of healthy marriage on the well-being of children. These young women will be very receptive to information that shows the positive effects of marriage on long-term child outcomes. These programs may also provide job training to participants, but that should not be their primary emphasis. With 40 percent of children born outside of marriage, it is obvious that a policy of merely promoting birth control is ineffective in stemming the rise of non-marital births. For many low-income couples, marriage means a reduction in government assistance and an overall decline in the couple’s joint income. In particular, clarifying the severe shortcomings of the “child first, marriage later” philosophy to potential parents in lower-income communities should be a priority. Duncan, “Childhood Family Structure and Young Adult Behaviors,” Journal of Population Economics, Vol.
In fact, there was a decline among Internet users of all ages using online social networks. Just as government discourages youth from dropping out of school, it should provide information that will help people to form and maintain healthy marriages and delay childbearing until they are married and economically stable. The schools, the welfare system, the health care system, public authorities, and the media all remain scrupulously silent on the subject. In addition to providing birth control, Title X clinics should be required to offer educational materials on the benefits of marriage and referrals to education in relationships and life-planning skills to clients who are interested.
Carleson, “Trajectories of Couple Relationship Quality after Childbirth: Does Marriage Matter?” Center for Child Wellbeing Working Paper #2007-11-FF, April 2007.
Marriage is regarded as an important ceremony that will celebrate one’s eventual arrival in the middle class rather than as a vital pathway that leads upward to the attainment of middle-class status.
Despite this, hundreds of thousands drop out each year before obtaining a high school diploma. In the face of this pervasive social silence, it should be no surprise that out-of-wedlock childbearing has become the norm in so many communities. While there is a voluminous literature on these topics, such information is utterly unavailable in lower-income communities.
Noyes, “Increasing Marriage Would Dramatically Reduce Child Poverty,” Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis Report No.



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