With commentary by Martin D. Brown: “Why Single-Parent Households Matter Even More Today”
The Moynihan Report at 50: Why Single-Parent Households Matter Even More Today
Martin D. Brown
In 1910, just 45 years after the end of the Civil War, 73 percent of black children lived in two-parent households. In 1960, the share of black children living in two-parent households was 67 percent. This was the norm. Despite systemic issues — institutionalized racism that appeared in housing, education, employment, and insufferable levels of poverty — the divorce rate among black couples was very low, and the majority of black children were either born at home or came home from segregated hospitals to married mothers and fathers. Single-parent households were the exception; children born to married couples were the rule.
In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan documented the increase in the number of single-parent households among blacks, and he appropriately sounded the alarm about the increasing breakdown of the black family.
Today, this alarm should sound for the entire nation.
Half of all children in America will live or have lived in a single-parent household at some point during their childhood. The overall rate of non-marital births is at an all-time high of 40.6 percent. The rate among whites is 29 percent, which is higher than the rate of 23 percent found among blacks in 1963.
Moynihan’s premise was spot-on, but the failed attempts at redress contributed to more suffering instead of healing. President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty spent more money on government programs trying to fix the consequences of the broken family (poverty, crime, low educational achievement, employability), but it did not address the root problem of the breakdown of marriage and increased single-parent households among blacks. In fact, the War on Poverty programs penalized marriage.
Make no mistake. It will require greater courage from all of us — policymakers, community leaders, and citizens — to push against this tsunami of new cultural norms. After all, America is now living in the second and third generations of fragmented families. Policymakers will need a combination of tact and firm principle to address these issues with a larger percentage of people who grew up in single-parent households.
At the policy level, state and federal policymakers can do several things to promote marriage and reduce the number of fragmented families. Promoting marriage should be a priority. Removing marriage penalties from government welfare programs would be a good start.
Looking back, the historical standard of marriage before children provides a reason for hope. It was in those most difficult of circumstances that families remained strong and children were born to and raised by a mother and father who modeled fidelity, integrity, resilience, and self-sacrifice.
The implication for policymakers is clear. The Moynihan Report’s call to action is even more urgent today than it was 50 years ago. Moynihan also provided a key to the solution: “To advance opportunity for all in America, policymakers and other leaders must work to reduce the number of single-parent households, and promote marriage and intact families in policy and culture.”
— Martin D. Brown is currently a Visiting Fellow in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity, at The Heritage Foundation.
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2015 Index of Culture and Opportunity
- Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” Office of Planning and Research, United States Department of Labor (March 1965), at http://web.stanford.edu/~mrosenfe/Moynihan’s%20The%20Negro%20Family.pdf (June 16, 2015).
- Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, “The War on Poverty after 50 Years,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2955, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/09/the-war-on-poverty-after-50-years (accessed May 29, 2015).
- Robert Rector, “How Welfare Undermines Marriage and What to Do About It,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4302, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/11/how-welfare-undermines-marriage-and-what-to-do-about-it (accessed May 29, 2015).
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