By Carol Soelberg
Remember last summer and the controversy surrounding actress Jennifer Aniston? While promoting her new movie “The Switch,” Aniston had commented:
“Women are realizing it more and more that you don’t have to settle. They don’t have to fiddle with a man to have that child.”
Bill O’Reilly, Fox News commentator, thought that it was an ill-considered comment and chastised her with:
“She’s throwing her message out to 12 year-olds and 13 year-olds that ‘Hey you don’t need a guy. You don’t need a dad.’”
O’Reilly finished by calling the actress’ message “destructive to our society.”
Celebrity feud aside, I found it reassuring and encouraging that a large share of the general public agreed with O’Reilly. Family breakdown is not something to be encouraged or celebrated. I thought of that little brouhaha as I read through two newly released reports discussing family breakdown and poverty.
What’s happening internationally?
A recent report authored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an alliance of richer countries, released its “first ever report on family well-being” on April 27, 2011.
According to the report, one in four children in the United States is being raised by a single parent. This is a percentage that has been on the rise and is higher than other developed countries, according to the report. Of the 27 industrialized countries studied by the OECD, the U.S. had 25.8 percent of children being raised by a single parent, compared with an average of 14.9 percent across the other countries.
Ireland was second (24.3 percent), followed by New Zealand (23.7 percent). Greece, Spain, Italy and Luxemburg had among the lowest percentages of children in single-parent homes. Experts point to a variety of factors to explain the high U.S. figure, including a cultural shift toward greater acceptance of single-parent child rearing, but all seem to be derived from familial breakdown, drug use, crime, domestic violence, fatherlessness, just to name a few..
The first chapter of the report is titled “Families are Changing” and contains material on family structure and child poverty. It notes as “a particular worry that in most OECD countries, poverty risks have shifted over the past 20 years towards families with children…” A major reason for this is the steady increase in single parent households.
“The economic vulnerability of families is linked to parents’ incapacity to reconcile employment and parenthood,” says the report. That joblessness is the main cause of poverty should not come as a shock to anyone. However, joblessness is more likely where there is only one parent, usually the mother. The report does acknowledge does acknowledge that two parents are better than one:
“Given that joblessness greatly increases the chances of a household being poor, couple households can act as a protection for children against poverty as such households are less likely to be jobless.”
Unfortunately, projections up to 2025-2030 suggest that in almost all countries single parent households will continue to increase both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of all households with children.
Hopefully, this report from the OECD will inspire policy makers to value cultural norms, traditions and laws that re-enforce the family while realizing that a sound economy depends ultimately on the health of the family unit. Policymakers can advance an anti-poverty framework that allows civil society to flourish and individuals to thrive.
More support for strong traditional families
In a recent report issued by the Heritage Foundation, Heritage Fellow Ryan Messmore states:
“The goal of overcoming poverty is not simply to eliminate need, but to enable people to thrive – that is, to empower them to live meaningful lives and contribute to society. Thriving is much more than a full stomach and a place to sleep. People tend to flourish in the context of healthy relationships with their families and communities. Suffering and breakdown often result when those relationships are absent or unhealthy.”
In contrast to the OECD study that calls for more socialized welfare programs and spending to replace the absence of solid families, such programs do not work and actually are counter productive. Further citing Heritage Foundation,
“Despite spending more than $16 trillion on means-tested welfare since the War on Poverty began in 1964, the official U.S. poverty rate has remained largely unchanged. During the same period, the nation’s unwed birth rate increased from 7 percent to 41 percent.”
With more than half of all households in poverty led by single mothers, the breakdown in marriage and family over the past 40 years has devastated the well-being of thousands of women and their children and significantly hindered their chances of escaping poverty.
Government handouts can never replace the broad array of benefits derived from maintaining a cohesive family unit. Effective responses to poverty must recognize the importance of foundational relationships like marriage, family, community, and work.
Any cultural message communicating that “marriage is optional” needs to be corrected. If we ignore this obvious misinformation, we do so at the peril of our children and our society’s future. Please join us as we strengthen our own families and help us to spread the message that marriage matters!