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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Parenting alone: What happened to marriage?

Growing up in a two-parent family is an enormous advantage, writes Melissa Kearney in The Two-Parent Privilege. It's the norm for children of college graduates, but less-educated Americans are much less likely to raise their children in a two-parent household.

Social scientists don't want to talk about the steady decline in married parenting, Kearney tells Kevin Mahnken on The 74. They don't want to sound judgmental.

But single parenting is closely linked to childhood poverty, says Kearney, an economist and mother of three. And single parents don't just have a lot less money: They have less time and "emotional bandwith" to deal with parenting challenges. "Married mothers are able to spend more time with their kids because somebody else is helping to do all the other stuff that needs to happen in order to make a household run," she says.

Schools can't replace missing fathers and overwhelmed mothers, says Kearney. “It’s too much to ask teachers to not only do the job they’re trained and paid to do, but also make up for what kids aren’t getting at home. How many more school counselors can we hire, and how much can we pile on top of schools’ mandate, before we decide to take a look at kids’ home lives and think about addressing that directly?”

The George W. Bush administration tried and failed to raise marriage rates in the 2000s, Mahnken notes.

Kearney scoffed at the Healthy Marriage Initiative, but now thinks community programs that strengthen families can be effective. "Low-income, unmarried couples who have enrolled voluntarily in these programs . . . talk about wanting a stable marriage," she says. "They don’t want to be doing this alone."

Lifting the earning power of disadvantaged men to make them more “marriageable,” could have an impact, writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. Liberals should be supporting "strengthened labor unions, community college support, skills training initiatives such as high school career academies and groups that provide technical training like Per Scholas."

Two-parent households seem to benefit not just their own kids but the neighborhood as well. Harvard’s Opportunity Insights group found that upward mobility was more likely for Black boys in neighborhoods with a higher share of Black dads living with their children. . . . The study found that 62 percent of white children live in low-poverty areas with fathers present in most homes, while only 4 percent of Black children do.

"Only 38 percent of Black children live with married parents," Kristof writes.

Thirty years ago, I went to a conference for journalists on childhood poverty. All this is not new.

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