The single factor that endangers our society’s future

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 17, 2019

When social scientists study family life, one factor trumps all others. Study after study confirms what common-sense suggests: children are better off when they are raised in an intact home, raised by their mothers and fathers together.

The data are overwhelmingly, and they all point in the same direction. Children raised in a single-parent household are, statistically:

  • less likely to perform well in school,
  • more likely to live in poverty as adults,
  • less likely to be physically healthy,
  • more likely to compile a criminal record,
  • less likely to earn a college degree,
  • more likely to suffer emotional disorders,
  • less likely to succeed professionally,
  • more likely to abuse alcohol or recreational drugs,
  • less likely to marry and stay married, and therefore
  • more likely to continue the cycle of misery by becoming single parents themselves.

Yet despite what we know about all these problems, our nation’s policies continue to encourage single-parent households. Welfare programs encourage women to give birth out of wedlock, and penalize them for marrying the babies’ fathers. Lawyers paid by the government help women secure divorces, and social workers (again paid by the government) discourage reconciliation. Tax deductions and outright subsidies are available to parents who send their children to day-care centers—but not those who care for their children in their own homes.

Here’s another common-sense observation that social science confirms: If you subsidize something, you’ll get more of it; if you tax it, you’ll get less. Sure enough, after decades of misbegotten family policies, the US now leads the world—by a wide margin—in the one category most likely to produce societal disaster.

Today nearly one-fourth of all American children—23%—are living in a single-parent household. No other country comes close to that mark. In most European countries the figure is in the low to middle teens; in Asia, below ten. In 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan called attention to a crisis in the African-American family, he pointed to the rate of out-of-wedlock births: 25%. At the current rate the entire nation will surpass that rate within the next year or two.

The implications of that shocking statistic are predictable. Over the next generation—barring a dramatic change in our society—we will face higher rates of crime, drug addiction, welfare dependency, unemployment, emotional pathology, and, yes, family breakdown. (Oh, and by the way China, which is bidding to replace the US as the world’s superpower, won’t have the same problems; there the percentage of children in single-parent households is just 3%.)

Do you want to salvage our future? Save our children. You want to save our children? Save marriage.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: JDeFauw - Dec. 18, 2019 7:07 PM ET USA

    What I find remarkable is that even though the EU as a whole and the US have similar divorce rates, and most EU nations have higher rates of out-of-wedlock births than does the US, yet the US still has a higher percentage of children living in single-parent households. That may indicate that, in the US, single mothers are less likely to either move in with extended family, or eventually marry. Perhaps, then, American radical individualism is adding to our problem.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Dec. 18, 2019 7:07 AM ET USA

    FDR said, "In politics nothing happens by accident. If it happens you can bet it was planned that way." Yes we need to save marriage. How do we do that? Taking heed of what FDR said we should think long and hard about the political system in our country. Is it time for breathing strong Catholic values into the atheistic swamp that once was our federal government? If not now, when? Government should be the servant of the people not the master!