Politics & Policy

Happy Fatherless Day

As marriage declines, fewer fathers will have real relationships with their children.

Today, marriage is less likely to ground and guide American family life. The recent response from the left to the nation’s retreat from marriage is instructive.

Just “live with it,” says sociologist Philip Cohen in The Atlantic. Ezra Klein assures us in the Washington Post that as marriage breaks down, “space will emerge for a more practical conversation about how to best support America’s increasingly nontraditional family units.”  And Matthew Yglesias notes in Slate that the Left sees an “expansive welfare state” as the primary vehicle for supporting unmarried women and their children.

#ad#It’s debatable whether the nation has the money, the ability, or the political will to launch new government programs and initiatives dedicated to “supporting America’s increasingly nontraditional family units.” I certainly have my doubts. But at least the Left is honest enough to recognize that less marriage means more government.

However, most proponents of the “live with it” approach conveniently ignore, or are in complete denial about, the most fundamental consequence of the American retreat from marriage: growing rates of fatherless families. In our public conversation about how best to accommodate today’s family diversity, what usually goes unsaid is that fewer marriages also means fewer fathers in our nation’s homes.

That is because marriage is the institution that binds men to their children. There is no substitute. Cohabiting couples with children are much more likely to end up on the rocks than their married peers (even in Sweden). Divorced and never-married fathers often have difficulty getting or making the time to stay in regular contact with their children once the relationship with the mother of their child is over. By contrast, fathers who are married to the mother of their children are much more likely to enjoy the day-in-day-out relationships with their children that enable them to give their kids the attention, discipline, and affection they need to thrive.

The statistics tell much of the story. As the share of middle-aged women (aged 30–50) who are married has fallen from 82 percent in 1970 to 62 percent today, the share of children living in fatherless homes has doubled, from 14 to 28 percent. Less marriage, more fatherless homes.

If you wish to see some of the stories behind these trends evocatively and tragically articulated, read Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson’s powerful new book, Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City. Despite their best intentions, poor, unmarried fathers in urban America usually fail in their quest to have good, consistent relationships with their children. That’s in large part because, without marriage (and the economic, legal, and cultural supports that stand behind a strong marriage culture), these men cannot maintain a good relationship with the mothers of their children, mothers who still, even today, serve as the primary caretakers and gatekeepers to their children.

So, let’s be clear here. As progressive proponents of the “live with it” approach to the retreat from marriage make their case, we need to remember one fundamental truth: Making peace with the nation’s retreat from marriage also means making our peace with an increasingly fatherless America.

W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, is the author of Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives. You can follow him on Twitter @WilcoxNMP.

W. Bradford Wilcox — W. Bradford Wilcox is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Isabel Sawhill is a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution and a former co-director of the Center on Children and Families at Brookings.

Most Popular

Film & TV

Why We Can’t Have Wakanda

SPOILERS AHEAD Black Panther is a really good movie that lives up to the hype in just about every way. Surely someone at Marvel Studios had an early doubt, reading the script and thinking: “Wait, we’re going to have hundreds of African warriors in brightly colored tribal garb, using ancient weapons, ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Science & Tech

Set NASA Free

The Trump administration has proposed shifting the International Space Station from a NASA-exclusive research facility to a semi-public, semi-private one. Its plan would nix all government funding for the ISS by 2025 and award at least $150 million per year to NASA to help with the transition. This would be a ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More