This New York Times article, passed on by my New York divorce lawyer friend Chaim Steinberger, reports and beautifully illustrates the conclusions of recent studies from Child Trends and Brookings on how stable marriage helps children by improving their families' economic welfare, the amount of time adults devote to them, their educational and extracurricular opportunities, and behavioral and health outcomes. Its tone is evenhanded and dispassionate, yet its information and insight is passion-stirring -- in a much more constructive way than a lot of that "mommy wars" and "culture wars" stuff that people so often write about marriage, work, and single parenthood.
"Two Classes, Divided by ‘I Do’" By JASON DePARLE, New York Times July 14, 2012
In 2009, the poverty rate for children in married-couple families was 11.0 percent. By contrast, the poverty rate for children in female-headed families was 44.3 percent.  The difference between these two poverty rates is a specter haunting American social policy because the percentage of American children who live in female-headed families has been increasing relentlessly for over five decades. In 1950, 6.3 percent of families with children were headed by a single mother. By 2010, 23.9 percent of families with children had single-mother heads.  That a higher and higher fraction of children live in the family type in which they are about four times as likely to be poor exerts strong upward pressure on the poverty rate. One way to think of the shift to female-headed families is that even if government policy were successful in moving people out of poverty, the large changes in family composition serve to offset at least part of the progress that otherwise would be made. In fact, a Brookings analysis shows that if we had the marriage rate we had in 1970, the poverty rate would fall by more than 25 percent. 
. . .
Reducing Nonmarital Births. One of the engines driving poverty in the U.S. is the fragmentation of families. Around a quarter of children are living in female-headed families at any given moment and about half experience at least some time during their childhood in a female-headed family. When children live in female-headed families, they are at least four times as likely to be poor as when they live in a married-couple family.  But poverty is not the only risk faced by these children. Since Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur published Growing up with a Single Parent in 1994,  social science research has repeatedly shown that children reared in female-headed families are more likely to fail in school, more likely to be arrested, more likely to get pregnant as teens, more likely to have mental health problems and to commit suicide, more likely to get a divorce when they grow up, and more likely to experience other negative outcomes.  In addition, as Kathy Edin has shown, these parents tend to separate within a few years, whereupon both the mother and father usually go on to form new relationships. Thus, their children experience a series of changes in household composition as their mothers form new cohabiting relationships.  The mother might even have a baby with one or more of these new men, creating a household with complex and often difficult relationships among the adults and usually making it hard for the children to establish a close relationship with their fathers.  The point is that life in female-headed families imposes both a high likelihood of poverty and of household instability that can produce negative impacts on child development.  If the share of children born into and living in married-couple families could be increased, poverty and childhood education, health, and mental health problems would decline, increasing the human capital of the nation’s children and having a long-term impact on the nation’s poverty rate. 
Several programs have proven successful in reducing teen pregnancy.  In part because of the prevalence of these programs, the U.S. teen birthrate has declined in all but three years since 1991.  It is difficult, however, to be too optimistic about the declining teen birthrate because as the teen birthrate has declined, the nonmarital birthrate for young women in the twenties and early thirties has increased more than enough to offset the decline in the teen rate. 
Even so, investments in programs aimed at reducing nonmarital births have been shown not only to actually reduce such births among women in their 20s and 30s, but to save government money.  The programs are a mass media campaign that encourages men to use condoms, a program for teens that both encourages abstinence and instructs on the proper use of contraceptives, and expansion of family planning services provided by Medicaid, mostly birth control for low-income females. Similarly, the Obama administration has initiated a number of new evidence-based initiatives that could reduce the number of nonmarital births even more. Additional investments in these programs would reduce the number of nonmarital births and in doing so reduce the nation’s poverty rate. but with 72 percent of black babies, 53 percent of Hispanic babies, and over 40 percent of all babies born outside marriage, there is a long way to go.  The nonmarital birth machine that expands poverty and produces children with less human capital than their peers being reared in married-couple families is disrupting and will continue to disrupt the nation’s drive to curb poverty.
 Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, Creating an Opportunity Society (Washington, DC: Brookings, 2009).
. . .
 Census Bureau, Families, “Table C2: Household Relationship and Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 Years, by Age and Sex: 2010,” available athttp://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam/cps2010.html;” Katherine Magnuson and Lawrence M. Berger, “Family Structure States and Transitions: Associations with Children’s Well-Being During Middle Childhood,” Journal of Family and Marriage 71, no. 3 (2000): 575-591.
 Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Cambridge: Harvard, 1994).
 Paul R. Amato, “The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Well-Being of the Next Generation,” The Future of Children 15, no. 2 (2005): 75-96; Mitch Pearlstein, Shortchanging Student Achievement: The Educational, Economic, and Social Costs of Family Fragmentation (Forthcoming); Haskins and Sawhill, Creating an Opportunity Society, Chapter 10.
 Reference Edin study of transitions in Fragile Families study
 Sara McLanahan and others, “Strengthening Fragile Families,” Future of Children Policy Brief, Princeton-Brookings, Fall 2010.
 Adam Thomas and Isabel Sawhill, “For Richer or Poorer: Marriage as an Antipoverty Strategy,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 21, no. 4 (2002): 587-599; Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, “Work and Marriage: The Way to End Poverty and Welfare,” Welfare Reform and Beyond Brief 28, The Brookings Institution (September 2003).
 Douglas Kirby, Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programsto Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (Washington DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2007).
 Stephanie J. Ventura, “Changing Patterns of Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States,” National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief, No. 18, May 2009.
 Adam Thomas, "Three Strategies to Prevent Unintended Pregnancy,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 31, No. 2 (2012).
 Brady Hamilton, Joyce Martin, and Stephanie Ventura, “Table 1: Total Births and birth, fertility, and total fertility rates and nonmarital births, by race and Hispanic origin of mother: United States, final 2008 and preliminary 2009,” from National Vital Statistics Reports: Births: Preliminary Data for 2009 59, no. 3 (2010); available athttp://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/nvsr.htm.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to abolish the American Community Survey, a broad survey and census of demographics, public attitudes, and many other features of ordinary Americans' lives. Many studies of marriage, divorce and other family issues -- many of the studies reported on this blog -- do not actually do original research on people; rather, they draw on basic data from the ACS to find correlations between various kinds of information, such as family structures and social problems.
A divorce hurts the couple and the community financially. The couple will have about a $19,000 loss and the community another $30,000 per divorce. According to Dr. John Curtis, author of "Happily Un-Married," an average employee making $20 per hour would cost the company more than $8,000. One survey, "The effect of marital dissolution on the labor supply of males and females," for the Journal of Socio-Economics (Mueller, 2005) found that employees lost an average of more than 168 hours of work time, equivalent to being fully absent for four weeks in one calendar year.
Over the past 50 years, that common civic culture has unraveled. We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America's core cultural institutions.
To illustrate just how wide the gap has grown between the new upper class and the new lower class, let me start with the broader upper-middle and working classes from which they are drawn, using two fictional neighborhoods that I hereby label Belmont (after an archetypal upper-middle-class suburb near Boston) and Fishtown (after a neighborhood in Philadelphia that has been home to the white working class since the Revolution).
To be assigned to Belmont, the people in the statistical nationwide databases on which I am drawing must have at least a bachelor's degree and work as a manager, physician, attorney, engineer, architect, scientist, college professor or content producer in the media. To be assigned to Fishtown, they must have no academic degree higher than a high-school diploma. If they work, it must be in a blue-collar job, a low-skill service job such as cashier, or a low-skill white-collar job such as mail clerk or receptionist.
People who qualify for my Belmont constitute about 20% of the white population of the U.S., ages 30 to 49. People who qualify for my Fishtown constitute about 30% of the white population of the U.S., ages 30 to 49.
I specify white, meaning non-Latino white, as a way of clarifying how broad and deep the cultural divisions in the U.S. have become. Cultural inequality is not grounded in race or ethnicity. I specify ages 30 to 49—what I call prime-age adults—to make it clear that these trends are not explained by changes in the ages of marriage or retirement.
In Belmont and Fishtown, here's what happened to America's common culture between 1960 and 2010.
Marriage: In 1960, extremely high proportions of whites in both Belmont and Fishtown were married—94% in Belmont and 84% in Fishtown. In the 1970s, those percentages declined about equally in both places. Then came the great divergence. In Belmont, marriage stabilized during the mid-1980s, standing at 83% in 2010. In Fishtown, however, marriage continued to slide; as of 2010, a minority (just 48%) were married. The gap in marriage between Belmont and Fishtown grew to 35 percentage points, from just 10.
Single parenthood: Another aspect of marriage—the percentage of children born to unmarried women—showed just as great a divergence. Though politicians and media eminences are too frightened to say so, nonmarital births are problematic. On just about any measure of development you can think of, children who are born to unmarried women fare worse than the children of divorce and far worse than children raised in intact families. This unwelcome reality persists even after controlling for the income and education of the parents.
In 1960, just 2% of all white births were nonmarital. When we first started recording the education level of mothers in 1970, 6% of births to white women with no more than a high-school education—women, that is, with a Fishtown education—were out of wedlock. By 2008, 44% were nonmarital. Among the college-educated women of Belmont, less than 6% of all births were out of wedlock as of 2008, up from 1% in 1970. ...