For the past 50 years, the constant drumbeat from the news media, popular entertainment, and from all other cultural influencers has been this: The nuclear family, consisting of one child or more living with both a married mother and a father, is a dinosaur on its way to extinction.
For many years, regretfully, statistics tended to bear out that assertion. Seven years ago, in 2014, more than 40% of babies were born out-of-wedlock, including an alarming 70% of Black children. For women under the age of 30, 65.7% of babies were born outside of marriage.
The lifelong consequence for these babies is tragic. Four out of every five Black children raised by a single mother live at or below the poverty line. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate for children living with two unmarried parents is similar to the rate of those living in a single-parent home. Numerous studies have shown that children in single-parent homes are more likely to engage in substance abuse than those in stable, two-parent (mother and father) homes. These children also tend to repeat the cycle of what they experienced as children: Resulting in generational poverty.
As my co-author and I wrote in our book, “American Restoration,” the result is a chasm between those who are born healthy and are nurtured in a two-parent home and those who emerge from the womb with three strikes already against them: drug-addicted, trapped in poverty, and lacking an essential parent.
We concluded, “… when politicians, activists, and social commentators talk about inequality, they often leave out the critical role married parents play in keeping children above the poverty line. There is evidence that the breakdown of the nuclear family in American society is, in fact, the primary reason why the gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ has widened over the past fifty years.”
But encouraging research is starting to show that these depressing trends are beginning to change – in a positive direction for both children and society.
Recently, Nicholas Zill, in a report for the Institute of Family Studies, wrote about the two-parent family, “…a funny thing happened on the way to extinction: although not out of intensive care, the supposed corpse of the two-parent family seems to be breathing new life.” Mr. Zill found, after studying the most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures, that the percentage of children now living with two parents has risen to 70% (63% with both birth parents). Living in one-parent homes has declined from 28% to 25%, with four to five percent living with neither parent.
Even more encouraging is this statistic: Among Black high school seniors, the proportion living with their biological fathers has risen from a woeful 24% to 30%. While this is still tragic, there is a glimmer of hope this upward trend will bring about the eventual restoration of the Black family. If we are to truly solve the numerous issues that the Black community faces, the restoration of the family is the foundation upon which those solutions will be built – and that goes for families from all races as well.
Mr. Zill writes, “It is too early to say for certain, but growing numbers of actual and would-be parents seem to be heeding the conventional wisdom that a stable two-parent family helps children flourish educationally, socially, and economically. They have come to accept that loving and being loved by one’s two parents, who are committed to one another, has benefits for children and adults involved and for the community in which they live.”
I could not put it any better. Amidst the cultural turmoil we currently face, much of it brought on by the decline of the two-parent family; we have the seeds of a personal and cultural restoration beginning to sprout. Yes, there is much more work to be done to bring about the renewal of the American family and our culture along with it, but ever so slightly, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel that has persisted the past 50 years. The nuclear family is not a dinosaur, after all.
• Timothy S. Goeglein is the vice president of government and external relations at Focus on the Family in Washington DC.