Too Poor to Make a Family?

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A 2006 report, Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Portrait of Fathers and Mothers in America reveals some important connections between social class and family patterns.

Poor men and women were the least likely of any income group to be married, with the proportion married increasing as income increases. For example, 41 percent of poor men were married in 2001, compared to 66 percent of men with incomes at three or more times the poverty level. The marriage gap was even wider for women. Only about one in every three poor women is married, while about two of every three women with incomes at three or more times the poverty are married.

This difference undoubtedly reflects both the more advantaged backgrounds of those who marry, and the advantages of having multiple earners in the family that marriage can bring.

The percentage of poor men and women who are married has also been declining over the decade. Cohabitation is more common among poor men and women, declining markedly at higher income levels. Overall, 40 percent of all cohabiting relationships involve parents with children in the home.

There are numerous other facts, some alarming, many seemingly routine, but all ultimately describe an American family that is changing. While there are many reasons to explain current family patterns, the one that I wanted to point out here is the economic one.

Since the slow death of the great recession household incomes have still failed to rise. The number of people living in poverty and dependent upon the government for basic necessities continues to increase. Panic still plagues the middle class who are worried about jobs and taxes. These economic symptoms are causing people to organize themselves into different kinds of family patterns, new arrangements that harm today’s children and tomorrows future.

We are creating an ever widening gap between rich and poor. Our poorest citizens (with the largest birthrates) are raising children in broken families because the economy still isn’t working. These families will pay a brutal price right now as they try and manage families with children who stand a greater chance of:

  • A distorted self-identity
  • Poor health and obesity
  • Joining a delinquent subculture
  • Early exposure to sexuality and pornography
  • Lack of preparation for academic learning

But it’s our collective future as a society to which we must pay attention when we think about what’s happening now to these children.

Everyone is trying to solve the latest economic problem. We are American capitalists and the object of the game is to increase profits. There is nothing new here. But, Americans have also been very much concerned about the welfare of all our citizens, realizing that we’re all ultimately in the same boat. Raising the living standards of our neighbor actually helps us all.

As a significant segment of our population (45 million currently living below the poverty line) preparing their children for the future, it is our entire society that ultimately pays an even more terrible price.  As our leaders make economic decisions, let’s be certain to remind them that it’s our children and our future that’s really at stake.

 “Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh when we learn where the outcast weeps.”  – Brennan Manning

 

 

About Randy Wilson

Professor of Sociology at Houston Baptist University I read, think and write about religion and culture in the United States. It's very interesting and very complicated but incredibly exciting. For many years I have been trying to figure out how people learn best (my students and myself). The classes I teach are always in a state of experimentation - trying to reorganize around what students bring to the table and where we have to go.

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