Taking on the Real Marriage Inequality

Photo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)
Photo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

The Democrats like to talk about every kind of inequality, except the most devastating: marriage inequality.

No I am not talking about the fact that non-marital unions aren’t treated as marriages (whether it is same-sex unions, or the latest progressive complaint over “singlism”).

The most important marriage inequality in America is that 42 percent of children are growing up apart from their own mom and dad joined by marriage, according to the Census data (Current Population Survey) analyzed by respected family scholar Nicholas Zill.

Of course the half-full good news in that is marriage is showing persistent and surprising strength: overall almost 6 in 10 children are living in intact married, biological families. And additional 4 percent are living with their biological mom and dad who have not (or not yet) married. (Less than 1 percent of American children live with two adopted parents.)

I was surprised to learn that families like my own, consisting of a biological parent and a stepparent are just 5 percent of American families (although many more children “pass through” such a family form temporarily—children are typically older when they enter this form and blended families typically have fewer joint children than intact families).  In fact children are just about as likely to be living with no parents at all (4 percent) as in a blended family.  Almost a quarter, 23 percent) live with a single mom, and an additional 4 percent live with their single dad.

Almost 9 out of 10 children with college-educated parents live in intact married families with their mom and dad (86 percent), compared to just 51 percent of children whose parents have only a high school diploma.

What about racial marriage inequalities?  Eight out of 10 kids with Asians parents live with their married mom and dad, compared to 7 in 10 Euro-American kids, half of Hispanic kids, and just 3 out of 10 African-American children.

Overall, by the time they reach 17, just half of kids will have the economic, emotional, and health advantages of being raised in intact married families. The effects on these children’s equality of opportunity, and human and community flourishing, are profound.

As a 2014 study of social mobility found: “The single strongest predictor of a child’s economic fortunes is the fraction of single parents in the area where she grew up. Children of married parents have a much better shot of getting ahead even if they’re in areas where single parents are the norm. ‘The fraction of children living in single-parent households is the strongest correlate of upward income mobility among all the variables we explored,’ the researchers said.”

Will we continue to accept that almost half of American children will be disadvantaged, or will we summon the energy to do something new and different than we Boomers did?