Family and school deterioration is a troubling combination

Kids are the ultimate losers when this reality is ignored

By MIKE NICHOLS | April 7, 2022

Sometimes, the numbers tell the tale – a disturbing one in this case.

In 1940, only 4% of births in the United States were to unmarried women. That percentage grew relatively slowly until 1969, when it hit 10%. By 1983, it was 20%. By 1992, it was 30%.

In 2020, the last year for which the federal government has released data, it reached 40%.

Eloise Anderson, former secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, says this is detrimental in myriad ways – for children, for men, for society as a whole.

“I just don’t think society can survive without the family,” she said.

Wisconsin as a whole is roughly in line with the rest of the country. The percentage of all 2020 births that were to unmarried women here in the Badger State was 38% – within two percentage points of the national average. But that masks a particularly troubling fact.

Over 84% of Black women who gave birth in Wisconsin in 2020 were not married – the highest percentage in the entire country and 14 percentage points higher than the national average. In some neighborhoods, there are almost no children being born into a household with married adults.

The phenomena, she said, “doesn’t support children in a way that is good for them long-term. And it is not good for men. It erodes their value and worth.”

There are strong families, needless to say, with two adult partners who are not married. So the data might be slightly skewed. It should also go without saying that there are single mothers without partners of any sort who succeed. Those are the superheroes. But anyone who has raised children, especially multiple children, knows how incredibly difficult and expensive and chaotic life with little ones can be. I marvel at people who do it successfully alone.

The research proves that most can’t. It also proves the value of the so-called success sequence: Finish high school. Get a job. Get married before you have children. Fully 97% of millennials who follow that sequence in that order are not poor by the time they reach their late 20s, according to Wendy Wang and Brad Wilcox, authors of the American Enterprise Institute paper Millennial Success Sequence.

Some people think marriage is the least important part of the sequence.

“One common criticism is that full-time work does almost all the work of the success sequence,” Bryan Caplan wrote in a piece for the Institute for Family Studies. “Even if you drop out of high school and have five kids with five different partners, you’ll probably avoid poverty as long as you work full-time.”

Wilcox and Wang disagree:

…This analysis is especially relevant since some critics of the success sequence have argued that marriage does not matter once education and work status are controlled.

The regression results indicate that after controlling for a range of background factors, the order of marriage and parenthood in Millennials’ lives is significantly associated with their financial well-being in the prime of young adulthood. Simply put, compared with the path of having a baby first, marrying before children more than doubles young adults’ odds of being in the middle or top income. Meanwhile, putting marriage first reduces the odds of young adults being in poverty by 60% (vs. having a baby first).”

Anderson thinks Wisconsin’s Black women are at the top of the list of unmarried women giving birth because “they don’t think there are enough marriageable men.”

“Our government-run schools are so bad in terms of educating boys that a lot are dropping out,” she said. It doesn’t help that there is such a focus on four-year degrees instead of the trades.

“You can’t give up on schools,” she added. “One of the things we have to do in school is reinforce marriage and family.”

Government schools might be constrained from doing that, she said, but private schools are not.

Just one more reason to push for expansion of seats in private schools that are part of one of the state’s parental choice programs.

There is never one cure-all for complex societal problems like poverty or morally, economically and emotionally untethered children. The first thing is to recognize the problem for what it is. The numbers make that easy.

Now for the hard parts – for starters, better schools and an acknowledgment that families really do matter.

Mike Nichols is the president of the Badger Institute. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.