The Fathers Are Still Missing

Washington Post, October 30, 2001.


“Honey, I’m Home” was the cheery title of the Urban Institute Study. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities titled its study with the stodgier, “Declining Share of Children Lived with Single Mothers in the Late 1990s.” Business Week and the New York Times weighed in with news stories reporting their results. Columnist Mickey Kaus groused that this is the “good big news” that nobody’s reporting: Single parenthood is declining, with welfare reform probably playing a significant role in the shift.

The numbers in the two studies are straightforward and accurate, and they amount to helpful testimony from hostile witnesses–the Urban Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities were not big fans of the welfare reform act. The problem is that the numbers are not good news for the socialization of the next generation, and are as likely to be bad news. It comes down to this, agreed upon by both studies: In the latter half of the 1990s, the proportion of children living with a single mother declined significantly, but the proportion of children living with married parents remained statistically flat. The main explanation for this apparently paradoxical finding is that cohabitation increased, with the increase concentrated among low-income families.