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Institute for American Values Institute for Marriage and Public Policy - page 7 / 44





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I. Why Should Government Care about Marriage?

O VER THE LAST FORTY YEARS, marriage has become less common and more frag- ile, and the proportion of children raised outside intact marriages has increased dramatically. Between 1970 and 2005, the proportion of children living with two married parents dropped from 85 percent to 68 percent, according to Census data. About three-quarters of children living with a single parent live with a single mother.

These important changes in family structure stem from two fundamental changes in U.S. residents’ behavior regarding marriage: increases in unmarried childbearing and high rates of divorce.1 More than a third of all U.S. children are now born out- side of wedlock, including 25 percent of non-Hispanic white babies, 46 percent of Hispanic babies, and 69 percent of African American babies.2 In 2004, almost 1.5 million babies were born to unmarried mothers.3 Divorce rates, by contrast, after increasing in the 1960s and 1970s, appear to have declined modestly in recent years. The small decline in divorce after 1980, however, seems to have been offset by increases in unwed childbearing, as the percentage of children living with one parent increased steadily between 1970 and 1998 with only a small drop after 1998. Overall, divorce rates remain high relative to the period before 1970. Today’s young adults in their prime childbearing years are less likely to get married, and many more U.S. children each year are

born to unmarried mothers. Should

Table 1.U.S.Children Residing in Two-Parent Families

U.S. taxpayers be concerned about these increases in family fragmen- tation, and if so, why?



Public debate on marriage in this country has focused on the “social costs” of increases in divorce and unmarried childbearing. Research suggests that the social costs are indeed extensive. When parents part, or fail to marry, their children seem to suffer from increased risks of poverty, mental illness, infant mortality, physical illness, juvenile delinquency and adult criminality, sexual abuse and other forms of family violence, economic hard- ship, substance abuse, and educa- tional failure, such as increased risk of dropping out of school.4





(Source:U.S.Bureau of the Census)

Table 2.Percent of U.S.Children in a Single-Parent Household that Has ...

One Male Parent


One Female Parent


(Source:2005 American Community Survey)

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