The Wheatley Institution

Is the Family Really at Risk?: Examining Demographic Trends in Family Decline

Sam Sturgeon
March 19, 2015

Related Videos

Robert P. George

What is Marriage?
Robert P. George

January 27, 2011


Bradford Wilcox

Why Marriage Matters: A Natural Law Perspective on Marriage and Family Life
Bradford Wilcox

January 27, 2011


Catherine Pakaluk

Let No Man Put Asunder: Economic Theory and the Demise of the Natural Family
Catherine Pakaluk

January 27, 2011


Click here to view the transcript
Click here to hide the transcript

Thank you to the Wheatley Institution for the invitation to speak with you today. Basically, what I would like to talk to you about is that we hear a lot of times in the news these ideas that the family is declining: the family is going down; families aren’t doing as well as they used to. I want to give a general sense of the evidence of what do we know about this? What does that mean when we say families are declining? What does that even look like day to day? Just to kind of tell you what we are going to talk about, I want to begin by giving you an overview of the role that families play in society. We are going to look at some of the evidence of family decline. We are going to look especially at where the family is declining, and I am going to talk briefly about causes of family decline. And then I want to have a brief presentation of why this matters, why we care, why we should worry about this, and then I want to finish with some reasons for optimism. Then, as Jason mentioned, we will have a Q&A.

I want to begin with a few cautionary notes. This probably isn’t the right title for this slide, but this is the main point of what I am going to talk about. So if you know this already, you are free to go, but this is what I am going to present today. Basically, the decline in families is measurable, ongoing, and has real effects on society at large—especially children. Now to get to the cautionary notes: I am a demographer. We tend to focus on general trends, and almost any slide I present you could probably say, “Well I know someone that fits that profile and that is just not true of their life.” I would probably agree with you, so I just want to say that we are looking at general trends. You are always going to find exceptions to these trends. That is true. Keep that in mind, that I am looking at the population as a whole and what happens with that population. My parents got divorced; I am the product of being raised by a single mother, so I understand that things aren’t necessarily deterministic. The last point I want to make is that I am going to show you some group differences. A lot of times when I present, some people will come up afterwards and say, “Your presentation is kind of mean. You made a lot of people feel bad. Kids don’t choose what family they are born into, and now you are telling them that because of something they didn’t choose, they are likely to face these differential outcomes.” I just want to make the point that I don’t consider that mean. I hope that you wouldn’t consider that mean. So if someone comes to you and says, “It is mean to talk about these things,” you are able to say, “Well I actually think it is more mean to ignore them.” Right? To just say that we have subsets of society that are having a really hard time, but we don’t want to talk about it because it is mean. I will say, though, what is mean is to meet somebody and say, “Oh, you were raised by a single mom. Therefore we can expect that you are not as good as everybody else.” That is mean, right? But I think looking at general trends—I just want to keep that in mind. I think that is one of the arguments we face. People say to point these things out is just mean and we don’t need to do it, but I am going to hope that you are in a mindset where you say that that is okay and that you can talk about this without being a jerk. At least, that is my hope. Let me know afterwards if you feel like I was a jerk, but that is where we are going to start.

So let’s begin with family and society. Traditionally or historically, the traditional family has been called the fundamental unit of society. You hear that a lot, and there is a reason for that. Families perform several society responsibilities and functions, though I think we would have to argue that in modern times, the role of the family and society has changed. I like to think of the family as this giant redwood tree. It is this pillar that you can see from far off. It provides stability, but there are also a lot of branches to that tree, and each of these branches represents something that the family does. I apologize if this feels like Family Studies 101, but I want to give you this important context so that when we talk about the decline in family, you can begin to see that a lot of the functions that families have played we have had to replace with other institutions.

One of those is regulating sexuality. Families did a great job not only with the incest taboo and other things but helping us to know who can pair up and when is an appropriate age to pair up. The families really did protect and regulate sexuality, producing the next generation. This still is the responsibility of families, but that is just something to keep in mind, that it really is. It is families at the end of the day that produce the next generation. Defining kinship. This is a useful societal role. When someone dies, who gets their estate? Well, it gets passed on to the family, so there is some kind of critical thing here. Educating and socializing children. Again, at the end of the day, yes, we have public schools, but manners and all these other, how do you survive in society, that is largely mom and dad. Siblings, aunts, and uncles that are giving a lot of the training for educating and socializing children. Caring for the elderly. Throughout generations, this has been a family responsibility, and you still see that today. Who has primary responsibility for grandma and grandpa if they become infirm? It is still largely families. Producing the necessities of life. Now, this is another one that has shifted, but still at the end of the day, it is families that make sure that especially young children when they are vulnerable get what they need. With that, the distribution of goods and services. Even when you look at a state with social welfare programs, they still send the checks to a family, and a family decides how these things are going to be used. Or it is families that make purchasing decisions, things like that. Then lastly, providing safety and support, that is another family role.

What has happened is that slowly over time a lot of these roles have changed or been diminished, and that is something that is important to think about. I especially think with a lot of our college students, they have a very narrow time frame. In their lifetime, things may have been this way, but we have people in this room that can say, “Boy, in my childhood, it wasn’t this way.” This is a very recent shift, a very recent change, and not all these changes have necessarily been bad. For example, defining kinship. Kinship ties, but I am grateful that I am not going to inherit my uncle’s debts because he has had a bit of struggles. I may have in the past, but if you look at each of these—educating and socializing children. We now have the public schools that have largely taken over that responsibility for good and bad. Producing the necessities of life. We are not an agrarian society where families are working on farms and producing their own food. That has been changed with the modern economy, but that is a fundamental shift. So when you look at these roles, just think about how they have changed over time. These are things that families used to do that they don’t necessarily do due to technology, due to modern economy, due to a hundred other reasons. It is just important to think about that there is a reason the family has always been the fundamental unit of society. They take care of these things, but that has been diminished over time.

A couple reasons for this. One, society has kind of adopted a soulmate model of marriage which focuses much more on the needs of adults as opposed to children. So this is people saying, “I just need to find the love of my life.” Or married adults saying, “You know, we have kind of fallen out of love. I am not personally satisfied with this. My needs aren’t being met. Maybe we get a divorce.” We have to look at that and see that this is much more of an adult-focused arrangement now than it was historically when there was more focus on children. Marriage is now viewed as more of a capstone to life than a cornerstone. Marriage is what you do when you have got a job, you have an education, you own a house—it is kind of the pinnacle to say, “Hey, I have arrived! Life is good.” It wasn’t always that way. Marriage used to be the cornerstone of setting up your adult life. So that is something worth keeping in mind because, again, this is a social change. This is an interesting one that, again, I think younger people might not understand, but families are increasingly focused on consumption rather than production. What do I mean by that? What do families do when they get together? They eat and they play, right? That is what family gatherings are for. That hasn’t always been the case in our history. For a long time, families would get together largely to produce. We don’t do barn raisings and we don’t do things like that very often any more, but that is something to think about too. When you describe family time nowadays, you are really talking about consumption and you are no longer talking about a unit of production. That is a substantial shift over time. What I would like to say is we are witnessing sort of a hollowing out of the family. What do I mean by this? Well, if we go back to our redwood tree example, the family is still there; it is still alive, but many of those functions have been hollowed out. I would even argue right now that if we still had the family institution that we had before, we wouldn’t be having these discussions regarding same-sex marriage and other issues. Because what happens is people can say, “Wow, you have changed the institution of marriage so much that we fit now. We belong.” As long as you are defining marriage as simply the public recognition of a commitment between two consenting adults, it is hard to argue that certain groups don’t belong in that as long as that is the definition that we have adopted. If we have hollowed out a lot of the meaning regarding children. To me, that is something worth thinking about. I wouldn’t argue, for example, that same-sex groups themselves have damaged marriage, but marriage itself has kind of withered over time, and they are seizing the opportunity. That is important to think about.

What is the evidence of family decline? I apologize if this feels like a data dump, but I want to show you facts and figures that demonstrate how we can measure this decline. Some evidence of that is fewer people marry. So here are marriages per 1000 unmarried women age 15 and over, and you see that there has been a pretty steady decline. The marriage rate now is less than half of what it was in the 1970s. More people cohabit. We have seen an exponential growth in cohabitation as kind of the norm. You will see in a minute, we have seen an increase in age at which people marry, but we haven’t seen much of an increase in the age at which people first pair up for their first committed sexual union. So largely, cohabitation is growing. It is becoming more the norm, and in fact, it is even talked about as that is the smart thing to do, right? To kind of experiment. Are we compatible? Can we figure this out? Like I said, people marry later. Here is the median age at which men and women in the U.S. now get married. Now, in a lot of urban areas, this median age is now north of 30 for men. So you can see that people are putting off marriage longer and longer. More people never marry. Now, in demographic terms—I don’t want to depress anybody in the room that might fit this demographic—but usually if you haven’t married by about age 40 or 45, the odds that you will later marry are pretty low. We can look at then a snapshot of what is the percentage of people 40–45 that have never married, and that is going to kind of be pretty close to the lifetime statistic. What you see is this huge growth in people age 40–44 that have never married, both men and women.

So we are going to have a much larger percentage of the population that goes their entire lives having never married. In opinions, we have now crossed the threshold in the U.S. where more than half of adults approve, or at least favor somewhat, same-sex marriage. Now, I would qualify this a little bit. If you make it dichotomous (do you favor or oppose), you tend to get results where the majority favor. But if you give them a kind of an “I’m not sure option,” that becomes a pretty large group as well. Again, that is something to think about. People are not sure, but definitely the society is moving in the direction of majority favorability. It is the same with attitudes about premarital sex. So this is the percentage of adults that say, “Hey, this is not at all wrong.” North of 50% of adults say, “Yeah, I don’t think that is ever wrong,” versus a smaller minority, less than a third that say, “You know, this is always wrong.” So again, you can see, this is a fairly big shift in American society.

Another shift we see is people have fewer children. This goes way back to the 1800s because I want to point out this isn’t necessarily a recent phenomenon, but over time you have this big exception. That is kind of the baby boom there, but this is the total fertility rate or the average number of children a woman could be expected to have over her lifetime throughout the past 140 years or so. Again, you sort of see we are not unique in this in America. Every modern country—even developing countries are now experiencing this. You are seeing an overall decline in fertility. We are seeing a lot more unmarried parents. So back in 1960, only about 1 in 20 children was born out of wedlock. Now close to 2 out of 5 children are born to unmarried parents. This is quite a substantial shift in America, and, again, you can see this represented in attitudes where back in the 60s and even the 70s, child bearing was considered largely what married parents do. Now that is not the case. You see it in our popular media and other things, people talking about, “Well, it is okay. You don’t have to be married.” What we then see is that fewer children live with two parents. Now remember, this data is cross sectional. At any point in time, what percent of children under age 18 are living with two married parents? What is remarkable about this statistic is some kids will be born to cohabiting parents who will then marry; other kids will live with married parents who then divorce—but if you look at the aggregate across the life course, again because between 40% and 50% of marriages are expected to end in divorce, we have now crossed the threshold where less than half of children today are expected to live with two married parents from birth to age 18. This is now the minority experience of children to say that, “I lived with two married parents my entire childhood.” That is a pretty striking change to now realize that that is no longer the majority experience, right?

Now this statistic here that between 40% and 50% of marriages end in divorce, though it is difficult in calculating that, and that is why I say there is a pretty wide band there. Divorce rates have actually come down recently, so marriages are getting a little more successful. That is perhaps some good news. It is still relatively high that people that are marrying still face pretty good odds that they won’t be married for the rest of their lives. Looking at attitudes, this is the percentage of adults who agree that one parent can bring up a child as well as two parents together. Now, I don’t know how many people taking this survey actually believe this versus just saying, “That seems like the politically correct thing to say.” There is still going to be a large portion that says, “Yeah, one is just as good as two.” Now I think that this is a statistic or an idea that is worth challenging because how many things do you know of in your life where one is just as good as two, where one person can perform the job just as good as two? But you have now read about half of adults in America saying, “Yeah, I think a single parent can do just as well as two parents.” That is pretty striking when you start to add up all the things that parents are expected to do. To me, it is hard to believe, to make the case that one can do as well as two. I don’t know how you even begin to make that case, right? Because there are trade-offs all over the place, yet we have got half of adults here saying, “I think one parent is just as good as two.”

We have kind of tracked these overall trends and declines in marriage, declines in children living with parents, declines in fertility overall—but it is really important to ask, especially for me as a demographer, “Where is family declining? Does every family face the same odds of divorce? Does every child face the same odds of living without his parents?” The answer to that is no, but I want to show you some data here. So this is the percentage of families (these are families with children), headed by two parents by income quintile. So we divide the population into fifths, the bottom fifth through the top fifth, and what you see is that in 1970 there was a little bit of an income gradient for households with children. The vast majority, over 90% of the top 80%, were married households, but you see a little bit of decline in the bottom quintile. Now we fast forward 40 years and you see that at the top here, marriage is still relatively strong, but we have had a pretty substantial decline in marriage, especially in the bottom 20% where only about one-third of those households are headed by those couples. But then we are down to about 70% in the second quintile. Now, why does this matter? Because most of the people writing journal articles, most of the elites that are talking about this, they are here. They are following this model that is very traditional. They marry; they wait until they are married to have their children, but then their rhetoric is very different. Their rhetoric is, “Well don’t judge. Who are we do judge? It is okay to have a child out of wedlock.” Though very few of them are doing that in their personal lives. So we have this interesting dynamic where family attitudes have switched.

Just as another example of this, now this chart—I apologize. It is really confusing, but I don’t know how else to display this data. Just pay attention that triangles are going to be the median age at first birth and circles are going to be the median age at first marriage. So the point when 50% of individuals do this, and this is for women. Look at college graduates, women that have graduated college. You can see that they are both delaying childbirth and delaying marriage, but the birth of their first child is coming about two years after their marriage, on average. So they are largely waiting until they are married and they are waiting into their 30s now on average to have that first child, but the first child almost always comes after marriage. Let’s go to Middle America, those with a high school diploma and some college. You can see that throughout history, they have had children a little earlier than the college graduates have. They have married a little earlier than the college graduates have, but we have this crossover at about 2000 where childbirth started to become before marriage on average, right? So they aren’t delaying marriage more, but they have kind of stopped delaying childbearing.

Then we go to the lowest educated, those with less than a high school diploma, and what you see is that they have always had children on average before they have married. The problem is that not only are they delaying marriage; fewer and fewer of them are ever getting married. This isn’t just kind of a delay in age. It may never happen now and they have had children much younger. So what I want you to think about the children that grow up in these environments. The children with college-educated mothers, they have a father in the home, and odds are super high that that father also has a college degree. Children in the middle, dad may or may not have a college degree. Dad probably doesn’t have as successful a job, doesn’t have the economic resources, and he may not be there, right? Because higher rates of divorce, other things. And then down here, dad may not be in the picture at all, and if dad is there, if they are married, he probably doesn’t have a college degree and as stable an employment. So you begin to look at this and you say, “Wow, these are kids that grow up in three different worlds,” right? So on the left, these are kids that are probably in really nice zip codes with fantastic schools. Kids here are in less reputable zip codes with more challenging schools. So you can kind of see that these advantages will accumulate over the life course of a child, and, again, this is a child that didn’t choose the arrangement he or she was born into.

I think we have to look at this and say, “Wow, we have huge disparities among children’s opportunities in America, and one thing that predicts a lot of those disparities are the family formation behaviors of parents.” At what time do they have children? Who do they have children with? Do they do it while they are married? Here is a chart that kind of explains this. Let’s look at first births by education status. Again, college graduates—it is growing, but only 12% of children born to college-educated women are born out of wedlock. Other analyses I have done show that the majority of those are born to cohabiting couples who will go on and marry. Second and later births born to college-educated women—a very small percentage of those are out of wedlock. It is like 3% or 4% of second or later births to college or educated women. You can see this is a different trajectory. Then we go to middle-educated America, and this is what I was telling you about. They have now crossed the threshold where the majority of women with a high school diploma or some college, the majority now will have their first child out of wedlock. Fifty-eight percent of first births to women in the middle education group. And then lastly, the less than high school group, the vast majority—what would that be? Six out of seven or five out of six of their first children are born out of wedlock, and most of their subsequent births are also out of wedlock.

This to me is a fascinating attitudinal slide. This comes from the National Survey of Family Growth, but this is adults ages 25–44 who agree that “marriage has not worked out for most people I know.” So think about that. That is an incredibly high bar to say that marriage has not worked out for most people I know. Well, for college graduates, 1 in 5 say, “Yeah, marriage hasn’t worked out for most people I know.” The high school/some college group, 2 out of 5 say, “Marriage has not worked out for most people I know.” Now you get to the less than high school group and over half are saying, “Marriage has not worked out for most people that I know.” What incentive would they have to marry? If they are in a situation where half of them are saying, “Man, this institution just hasn’t worked out. Why would I join that?” This is a pretty powerful change in attitudes towards marriage that we have witnessed, and as we can see here, it is largely based on educational attainment or social class or whatever measure you want to put in there. But this is worth noticing that most of us, we are here; we are college educated. In the circles we run in, marriage is largely still alive and well. The people we run around with, they support it; they favor it; they engage in it; they participate in it—but that is not true of all subsets of America.

So what are the causes of family decline? Well, there are multiple. We have had some social causes that we have talked about. We have had this huge growth in individualism that life is all about me. Are my needs being met? Am I satisfied? Am I happy? Obviously, you would expect that that would have some negative effects on a family. Families engender sacrifice; families engender putting the needs of the group over the needs of the individual. We have had this sexual revolution where the norms regarding sexuality have totally changed. We have had the redefinition of gender. This is largely a very recent event that we talk about these things. It just didn’t come up 30 years ago for most of America, but now it is in all of our popular media. They are discussions we are having every day. I find it fascinating that they will take surveys and they will say, “What percent of the population would you think is LGBT?” Some studies have shown that the median answer is 20%–25%. So you have a good share of America thinking, “Wow, that is 20%–25% of America,” when it has never been more than about 3%–4%. But you wouldn’t guess that looking at popular media. You wouldn’t think—and this is a really large group in society.

Then just lastly, we have had the loss of moral authority. For people to come in and the ability for institution and others to say, “You might want to rethink your behavior. It is not helping. We don’t like when people do that.” I will give you an example from one of my friends. She is at a movie theater and it was the last theater, so the movie theater was largely closed when they got out. But you had the candy aisle there, and she sees this young teenager, probably 13 or 14, and he jumps over the counter and he just starts helping himself to all the candy. So she says to the mom, “Hey, you might not want to let your kid do that.” The mom just started chewing her out.” “Who are you to judge my son? How do you know we didn’t pay for that?” So we are in this situation now where it is really socially taboo to reprimand somebody else’s child for bad behavior. Culturally, I think we have all experienced that, that you don’t want someone else correcting your kids or you are hesitant to correct somebody else’s kids. It didn’t used to be that way, right? Society and others kind of had some moral authority to be able to step in and correct bad behavior for the good of society, right? That has kind of diminished.

There have been some technological changes as well that have impacted the family. Obviously, the birth control pill separated intimacy and sex from long-term committed relationships. In vitro fertilization is a big one. This one is striking to me because in America, there really aren’t many requirements for getting in vitro fertilization. Basically, if the check clears, you can do it. What a lot of people aren’t aware of is that there are a number of countries in Europe that still limit in vitro fertilization to married couples. The U.S. is kind of one of the most open when it comes to in vitro fertilization, and we are kind of outliers. Now everybody else is kind of catching up with America and these trends, but America very early on was kind of an outlier with being as open as they are with in vitro fertilization. Lastly, I think most of us in the room would recognize that internet pornography is clearly having an effect on family relationships.

There have been some political and legal developments throughout time that have had an impact on the family, a big one being no-fault divorce. Couples could say, “We just have irreconcilable differences. We don’t get along and that is grounds for divorce.” That is a big change. What it used to be wasn’t for a lot of groups not necessarily ideal either, where you had to demonstrate abuse, abandonment, alcoholism, and other things, so I think most of us would agree that it is good that we kind of moved away from that. But the pendulum may have swung too far to no-fault divorce where one of the partners can just say, “I am not happy anymore so I want out. I can break the contract just because I don’t like it.”

Then there have been some welfare policies. We have put in supports to help largely single moms, but in many cases, this has created a pretty sizeable tax to marry. So what does that look like? You can have a couple that is together; they might have children, but they can qualify for certain benefits not married. Whereas if they did marry, they would have to count their incomes together; they may no longer qualify for benefits. So they can look at this and they can say, “Man, it is in our economic best interest to not marry.” We have to recognize that is likely to have had an effect on families over time.

Lastly, there have been a lot of economic effects. One is assortative mating. Usually when I say that, people say, “Well what does that even mean? Tell me about what that is?” Over time in America (they have tracked this), if you have a college degree, you want to marry someone else with a college degree. So that is becoming increasingly likely that the college educated marry the college educated, the middle educated marry the middle educated and the low educated marry each other. So that has also led to some economic disparity. We talk about income and equality in America, and part of that (I don’t want to say all), but a good share of that is driven by assortative mating where the well-to-do marry the well-to-do and the less well-to-do date the less well-to-do. Some do marry, but it is rare. Men’s declining labor force opportunities. Again, I think you will hear these arguments a lot, and they are genuine, that in many ways, especially men on the lower educational spectrum have a harder time providing for families than they have in the past.

There was a FrontLine special, I think it was run two years ago. They followed these families in the 1980s, young, working-class families. And both mom and dad—they followed this one family, and I believe it was in Wisconsin. They both had pretty good factory jobs, and they were talking about how they were making $17/hour, each of them. Then you fast forward to 2012 (this is 30 years later), and they are divorced, but dad is applying for these jobs, and he is excited because he has an interview for a job that is paying $8.50/hour. So you look at that—that is not even accounting for inflation and his salary has kind of been halved. I don’t want to make too much of that, but I think we do have to recognize that what has also played a role in the decline in family is the decline in real wages among the working class. Along with this, we have to look at declines in religion. We have growth in those that have no religious affiliation, but we also have declines in those that attend church at all. What is surprising about this, and what a lot of people don’t realize, is that religion is actually the strongest among the most educated. It is the most educated that are most likely to be attending church weekly. We don’t tend to think about that, but the data bears it out. The least likely to be in church are the poorest and least educated among us. So you see these institutions of marriage and religion that are both good, positive institutions. One subset of the population participates at a fairly high rate in both of those, and other subsets of the population don’t. So anyway, I just cite that as another force that is kind of driving this decline in the family.

I just want to put this up here as an example. Here is the average personal income for 25–50 year old men, again by quintile. So we divide the economic group up into fifths, and you can see there are pretty large disparities in 1970 among this group. (These are all in 2010 dollars just to make it consistent.) You roll forward 40 years, and you see that the top quintile is doing even better. There has been some decline in the fourth quintile, a bit of decline in the middle quintile, but then you look at the bottom quintile and you say, “Wow, the median income is $4,000.” Now, that is largely because a lot of these men are not in the labor force at all. So they have got zero earnings, if not negative earnings. I can tell you, when we have talked about marriage declining among the poor, I have got three daughters and if one of them were to come home and say, “Dad, I met this guy. He makes $5,000/year.” I would probably discourage them, “Honey, that might not be the best match for you. Just saying. Let’s talk about this.” So that is worth considering. Men 25–50, in that bottom quintile—there is something to be said to that argument that they might not be the most marriageable. I don’t want to take that argument too far, but we should acknowledge that it is real. There is something to be said for that.

So why does all of this matter? Well, there are a lot of individual benefits to marriage. Married people have better physical health; they have better mental health; they accumulate more financial wealth; they are safer—and by safer, I typically mean they face less domestic violence, but they also live in safer neighborhoods because they also have more money. They tend to live longer and they are happier. Research has demonstrated all of these benefits, and yes, there are some selection effects where those who are able to marry, they are kind of nicer, better, kinder people overall. That is true. But even after accounting for that, you see that marriage comes with this bag of goods to the individual. Communities benefit from marriage. Married individuals move less often; married individuals are more likely to own their own homes; married individuals are more involved in the community. If you could start from scratch and build a city, most city planners would say, “Man, the best thing for us would be if we could get a lot of married couples to come in and create a stable environment.” You see that. That is why communities or states have invested interest in saying, “Wow, we want to promote marriage because where we have high concentrations of married people, things seem to be a little better.”

There are benefits of two married biological parents for children, right? Children raised in this family structure tend to be safer: less domestic violence, less abuse. They have better mental health; they perform better in school; they are less likely to serve time in prison; they are more likely to graduate from college and are less likely to have a child out of wedlock. Again, you could say, “How much of that is a result of both their parents having a college degree and higher incomes?” That definitely plays a role, but it doesn’t explain all of the difference. So I just want to put this slide up. This is the growing divide in income between married and unmarried families from 1980 to 2012. This is in constant 2012 dollars. The middle line is kind of the average for all families with children, but the bottom line is families that are headed by an unmarried couple or a single parent. And at the top are married parents. So you look at that and you say, “Wow. Children in married couple households have over three times the family income.” Again, that is due to parents’ education, parents’ better jobs, all these other things, but you have to look at that and say, “This is children growing up in two different worlds.” I am not here to say that just by marrying these people will triple their income. I don’t think anybody is making that argument. You can see now why a government would look at this and say, “Wow, we have got a vested interest here in possibly promoting marriage because it tends to stabilize all sorts of things, and it is especially important for resources available to children.

I know this has been kind of depressing because all of the trends are negative, right? So I want to end with just a few reasons for optimism. The first is there is a group monitoring the future. They do a survey every year for high school seniors and they ask them, “Which of these are important to you?” One of the items they ask is having a good marriage and family life. Let’s look at the percent of high school seniors that say, “This is extremely important to me.” Despite all these changes in the family, this hasn’t changed. Despite all these negative trends, 80% of the female high school seniors are saying, “Man, it is extremely important to me to have a good marriage and family life.” It is still north of 70% for these high school men. Now, they may be defining that a little differently. What does a good marriage and family life look like to them? But this is still to me pretty good news that high school students are still saying, “This is extremely important to me that I do this well.” That hasn’t changed despite all these other negative trends with regard to the family.

Another reason for optimism is this is teen births. This is the teen birth rate in America. It is at a historic low and it keeps going down. This is huge news. This is fantastic. We are doing very well at limiting teen births. Now, I do want to qualify this. This is another one of those confusing slides. This is the same general trend. The yellow bar is the percent of teen births that are outside of wedlock. So sure, in 1950s or so we had almost 3 ½ times the rate of teen births, but the majority of those births were married in 1950. So you fast forward now. Less than 12% of births to teens are married births now, and so I view this overall as a fairly positive trend. We keep bringing these teen births down and we are lowering, at least for that age group, the percentage of women that are out of wedlock. So again, this is good news, but you will notice something. This is good news again among teenagers. I am optimistic for the future because largely we are seeing some good results among teenagers. Now, a couple people will say, “That is because abortions have gone up.” Well, no. We have this decline in teen births that coincides with the decline in the teen pregnancy rate and a decline in the teen abortion rate. In fact, of teens that get pregnant, a lower percentage are determining that pregnancy and abortion than in the past. So that statistic is going down as well. Again, if you wanted to promote family, this is some good news we are sharing.

There is other good news that I can share with you. I work in the media world, and I thought this year’s Super Bowl commercials were fantastic because so many had a very positive, pro-family approach where you have the peanut butter cheerios commercial with a dad that is not the befuddled idiot. We have had the Ray Romano portrayal of dads for so long; it was great to see, “Wow, there is a dad that is with it, that is involved with his kids, that is doing a good job.” Marketers are out to sell products, by and large. So what they have clearly recognized is that there is some sentiment in America that is very pro-family. That there is a market there that we can advertise to. There is still a large segment there. Coca-Cola has done a great job at this. Toyota is starting to put out commercials that show that dads are great; families are important; marriage is good. I view this as also a very promising trend that people are looking at. So just by way of review, the role of the family in society has changed in many ways. The decline in families is measurable, ongoing, and has real effects on society at large—especially children. Family decline is happening largely among the poor and less educated. Not all is bad, and there are several reasons for optimism. So with that, we will turn the time over for a Q&A.

Click here to hide the transcript