March 18, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Here are Brad Wilcox and Nicholas Zill, two long-time researchers into a wide variety of issues relating to families, parenting and children’s well-being (Institute for Family Studies, (2/27/18). Their new article is both news and not news. It provides updated information on children who are brought up - and those who aren’t – in intact families. That’s news. And it points out that kids brought up in intact homes have advantages in many different areas of life that other kids don’t.
Is growing up with married birth parents advantageous for a young person’s school success and later life chances? There is abundant evidence that it is. As shown in numerous analytic studies, students with stably-married parents are more likely to do well in school and less likely to cut classes, repeat grades, be suspended or expelled, or drop out.5 And significant advantages persist after controlling for related factors like parent education level, family income and poverty status, student race and ethnicity, parent involvement, and teacher or school quality. Rich or poor, this is a type of advantage which parents from all social classes can bestow upon their children: the privilege of a growing up in a stable, married two-parent family.
That’s not news.
So what are the data on kids in and out of intact families? The two researchers surveyed kids who’d reached 18 years of age about their family structures growing up. Here’s what they found:
So how many of today’s young people experience this stable family structure throughout childhood?
The answer is about one-in-two, according to our new analysis of survey data files recently released by the U.S. Department of Education.1This figure is based on the proportion of 17- and 18-year-old high school students who were reported to be living with both their married birth mothers and biological fathers in 2016…
As shown in Figure 1, another 15% of today’s high school seniors lived in a variety of non-traditional two-parent families in 2016: with cohabiting birth parents (2%); with one birth parent and a stepparent (11%); with a heterosexual adoptive couple (1%); or with a same-sex couple (1%). Nearly 30% of high school seniors lived in single-parent families, with either their birth mothers (23%) or biological fathers (6%).
The remaining 6% of students had experienced multiple disruptions in their family lives and resided with neither birth parent.
Therefore, we have 50% of kids living in intact birth families. We have another 30% living with single parents and another 11% living with one birth parent and a stepparent and 6% either in foster care or living with someone completely unrelated to them. Other arrangements are statistically negligible.
Whether children grow up with their birth parents or not depends to a great degree on the level of education their parents attained.
The more education a woman or man has, the more likely she or he is to get married and stay married when raising children. As shown in Figure 2 below, among high school seniors whose parents or guardians had a college education or more, 64% lived with married parents throughout childhood in 2016. An additional one percent lived with cohabiting birth parents. By contrast, among students whose parents or guardians had less than a high school education, only 29% lived with married parents from birth to the end of high school.
Just why that is, I can’t guess and the authors don’t say, but the facts are there for all to see.
The benefits to children of growing up in an intact family, i.e. with one’s biological parents, are undeniable. As Wilcox and Zill say, they reach across all the usual demographic categories we look to explain social phenomena. Given that, why is it that only half of children get to have that “privilege,” as the authors rightly call growing up with biological parents? Do parents not care what’s good for their kids?
No, but what I observe is that we as a society don’t much care what’s good for kids. I say that because, at every turn, public policy encourages anti-kid behavior on the part of adults. That begins with marriage that our laws, regulations and practices discourage while they encourage divorce.
I’ve said this many times. We tell mothers that, if they’ll just divorce the father of their children, they’ll lose little or no contact with the kids, but gain sometimes bountiful amounts of child support and alimony. Meanwhile, we’ve done away with the stigmas we used to place on divorce and single motherhood. As Vice President Quayle once pointed out, single parenthood has become “just another lifestyle choice.” Unsurprisingly, over 40% of children are born to unmarried mothers, almost half of all marriages end in divorce and 70% of divorce petitions are filed by women.
This is not a healthy situation. We can do better and we must. That means changing laws that incentivize divorce. And it means convincing policy-makers and the news media and popular culture the value of making sure that it’s biological parents who raise children.
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Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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