Members will hear testimony exploring the social science data on the impact of marriage and divorce on children. Senator Brownback will preside. Following is a tentative witness list (not necessarily in order of appearance):
Witness Panel 1
Dr. Nicholas Zill
Good afternoon. My name is Nicholas Zill. I am the Director of Child and Family Studies at Westat, a social science research firm in the Washington area. For the last 29 years, I have been conducting large-scale studies of the health, learning, and behavior of our nation’s children and working to develop better statistical indicators of child and family well-being. I have been asked to summarize what recent research has revealed about the relationships between the family situations in which children are reared and indicators of young people’s development and welfare. Since the 1960s, there have been a considerable number of social science studies of children’s well-being based on large, representative samples of American children and youth. Most of these studies were sponsored by U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, or the Department of Labor. Others were sponsored by private foundations, like the National Survey of American Families and the National Survey of Children, the latter of which I had the honor of directing. The studies have made use of various combinations of study methods, such as physical examination or achievement testing of children, interviews with parents, questionnaires filled out by teachers, and interviews or questionnaires completed by children and youth themselves. Several of the studies have had a longitudinal component, wherein the same children were followed and studied repeatedly over time as the children developed into adolescents and young adults. The results of these studies have all pointed to the conclusion that children do best when they grow up in a household that contains both their parents – their biological father as well as their biological mother – who are legally married to one another. All other family types – single parent families, step families, foster families – show less good outcomes for children. The family situations in which children are reared have been found to be significantly related not only to young people’s emotional well-being, but also to their physical health and safety, their academic achievement, and their moral and social development. And these relationships remain significant after controlling for related factors like parent education level, family income, and family size. The 2003 edition of the annual report published by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics contains the following statement: “On average, the presence of two married parents is associated with more favorable outcomes for children both through, and independent of, added income. Children who live in a household with only one parent are substantially more likely to have family incomes below the poverty line, and to have more difficulty in their lives than are children who live in a household with two married parents.” The report also notes an association between the number of parents a child lives with and “the economic, parental, and community resources available to children.” Although the Interagency report does not distinguish between two-parent biological, step, or adoptive families, in fact, the research evidence clearly shows that indicators of children’s achievement and social behavior are more favorable in two parent biological families than in two-parent step, adoptive, or foster families. Now all of this may strike the skeptical layman as another instance of social science elaborately and expensively demonstrating the obvious. But it was not so long ago that the late Senator Patrick Moynihan provoked a firestorm of criticism when he wrote a report noting that the explosive growth of single-parent families might be hindering the advancement of African-Americans. It was not so long ago that social scientists were publicly chastised for saying that some types of family environment were more favorable for children’s development than others. Many respected scholars and policy analysts claimed that the fact that a child came from a single-parent family or stepfamily had no particular bearing on how well he or she did in school or in life. Single-parent families and stepfamilies were simply different from, not necessarily more stressful or less supportive than two-parent, married-couple families. Single-parent families were even seen as having “hidden strengths,” such as the presence of warm, nurturing grandmothers who taught children about their heritage and bolstered their self-esteem. It was only when a large body of consistent research evidence accumulated that it became broadly acceptable for social scientists and policy commentators to state what most members of the general public believed all along, that two-parent families are better for children. The continuing problem for our society is that many of today’s children are not growing up in the ideal two-parent, married-couple family situation. Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau tell us that nearly a quarter of American children under the age of 18 are living with only their mothers, typically as a result of marital separation or divorce or birth outside of marriage. Five percent are living with only their fathers and another four percent are living with neither parent. Somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of children are living in a stepfamily situation, with their mother and a stepfather or their father and a stepmother. So, although the Census Bureau reports that 69 percent of U.S. children are living with two married parents, the proportion living with two married biological parents is more like 55 percent: a majority, but a slim majority. Furthermore, up until recently the nation was experiencing a decades-long decline in the proportion of children living with two married parents. The U.S. divorce rate doubled between the late 1960s and the late 1970s. It stabilized and even declined slightly after that, but remains at a high level. The proportion of children born outside of marriage grew exponentially between the 1960s and the mid-1990s. It too finally leveled off, but remains very high by historical standards. About one child in three born in the United States today is born to unmarried parents, many of whom will never get married to one another. There was also a decline in the number of children born to married couples. As a result of these marital and childbearing trends, the proportion of children living with both parents declined from about two-thirds in the early 1980s to about 57 percent in the early 1990s. It has only been in the late 1990s and early 2000s that the percentage of children living with both parents has stabilized and even increased slightly. But it is still the case that a large minority of all U.S. children is living in single parent or stepfamily situations, as we have just observed. And for African-American children in the U.S., it is a majority that is living with only one parent or neither parent. Even if one accepts the importance of the family situation for children’s well-being, a question remains as to what government policy can do about it. Many Americans believe that decisions about marriage, childbearing, and family formation are inherently private matters, things that the government should intrude in only minimally, if at all. Recently, the Bush Administration and Congress have put in place a number of relatively modest initiatives to try to promote healthy marriage and marriage education in low-income communities where marriage and childbearing within marriage have been practically extinct. I believe that these initiatives should be welcomed as fresh approaches to the persistent problems of childhood poverty and a lack of social advancement among young people who must grow up in low-income urban and rural communities in the U.S. These initiatives seem quite appropriate as long as they are coupled with careful evaluation studies aimed at determining just how effective these programs turn out to be at achieving their stated goals. It is my understanding that such evaluation studies are being and will be conducted. I would argue, however, that existing marriage promotion programs need to be coupled with other government-sponsored efforts that would complement and perhaps be ultimately more significant than the current initiatives. Among the efforts I would recommend are the following: · Public education campaigns that make the research findings about the importance of marriage to children better known, especially to the nation’s adolescents and young adults. Such campaigns should communicate the implications of the research findings outlined above in a clear and compelling manner. · More effective child support enforcement among unmarried fathers, to help ensure that the action of fathering a child has real consequences for the young men involved. By getting more young men to live up to their financial responsibilities, we will not only be improving the lot of their children. We will be helping to reduce the frequency of unmarried conception in the future. · New school-based marriage education and extracurricular activity programs focused on young people who are not doing well in school and who are in greatest danger of dropping out and bearing or fathering children outside of marriage. · Maintaining or strengthening tax credit and child care policies that make it easier for working poor married families to maintain a decent standard of living and find adequate substitute care for their children while both parents are working. · NOT returning to the failed welfare policies of the past that encouraged unmarried childbearing and marital breakup. · Sponsoring experimental and quasi-experimental research that investigates the efficacy of new approaches to promoting and preserving marriage among young people, especially those from low education and low income family backgrounds. While there is still much to be learned about the determinants of children’s healthy development, existing evidence about the importance of parental marriage for child well-being is extensive enough and compelling enough to justify acting on it now to benefit American children. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Mr. Gordon Berlin
My name is Gordon Berlin. I am the executive vice president of MDRC, a unique nonpartisan social policy research and demonstration organization dedicated to learning what works to improve the well-being of disadvantaged families. We strive to achieve this mission by conducting real world field tests of new policy and program ideas using the most rigorous methods possible to assess their effectiveness. I am honored to be invited to address your committee about what we know and do not know about the effects of marriage and divorce on families and children and about what policies and programs might work to promote and strengthen healthy marriages, especially among the poor. My goal is to briefly summarize the evidence in three areas: (1) what we know about the effects of marriage, divorce, and single parenthood on children; (2) what we know about the effectiveness of policies and programs that seek to stem persistently high rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing; and (3) what we know about the likely effects of these policies on low-income families and children. The central focus of my remarks will be to explicate the role that marital education, family counseling, and related services might play in promoting and strengthening healthy marriages and to discuss what we know about the potential of strategies that seek to ameliorate the key stressors (for example, job loss, lack of income, domestic violence, and childbearing) that make it difficult to form marriages in the first place or act as a catalyst that eventually breaks up existing marriages. To summarize my conclusions: · First, children who grow up in an intact, two-parent family with both biological parents present do better on a wide range of outcomes than children who grow up in a single-parent family. Single parenthood is not the only, nor even the most important, cause of the higher rates of school dropout, teenage pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, or other negative outcomes we see; but it does contribute independently to these problems. Neither does single parenthood guarantee that children will not succeed; many, if not most, children who grow up in a single-parent household do succeed. · Second, an emerging body of evidence suggests that marital education, family counseling, and related services can improve middle-class couples’ communication and problem-solving skills, resulting initially in greater marital satisfaction and, in some cases, reduced divorce, although these effects appear to fade over time. · Third, we do not know whether these same marital education services would be effective in reducing marital stress and eventual divorce among low-income populations or in promoting marriage among the unmarried. Low-income populations confront a wide range of stressors that middle-class families do not. The evidence is limited, and mixed, on whether strategies designed to overcome these stressors, for example, by providing job search assistance or by supplementing low earnings, rather than relying solely on teaching marital communication and problem-solving skills would also increase the likelihood that low-income couples would marry or that married couples would stay together. · Fourth, to find out whether and what types of policies and programs might successfully strengthen marriage as an institution among low-income populations as well as among a wide variety of ethnically and culturally diverse populations, our national focus should be on the design, implementation, and rigorous evaluation of these initiatives. Marriage, Divorce, and Single Parenthood Encouraging and supporting healthy marriages is a cornerstone of the Bush Administration’s proposed policies for addressing the poverty-related woes of single-parent households and, importantly, for improving the well-being of low-income children. The rationale is reasonably straightforward: About a third of all children born in the United States each year are born out of wedlock. Similarly, about half of all first marriages end in divorce, and when children are involved, many of the resulting single-parent households are poor. For example, less than 10 percent of married couples with children are poor as compared with about 35 to 40 percent of single-mother families. The combination of an alarmingly high proportion of all new births occurring out of wedlock and discouragingly high divorce rates among families with children ensures that the majority of America’s children will spend a significant amount of their childhood in single-parent households. Moreover, research shows that even after one controls for a range of family background differences, children who grow up living in an intact household with both biological parents present seem to do better, on average, on a wide range of social indicators than do children who grow up in a single-parent household (McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994). For example, they are less likely to drop out of school, become a teen parent, be arrested, and be unemployed. While single parenthood is not the main nor the sole cause of children’s increased likelihood of engaging in one of these detrimental behaviors, it is one contributing factor. Put another way, equalizing income and opportunity do improve the life outcomes of children growing up in single-parent households, but children raised in two-parent families still have an advantage. If the failure of parents to marry and persistently high rates of divorce are behind the high percentage of children who grow up in a single-parent family, can and should policy attempt to reverse these trends? Since Daniel Patrick Moynihan first lamented what he identified as the decline of the black family in his 1965 report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, marriage has been a controversial subject for social policy and scholarship. The initial reaction to Moynihan was harsh; scholars argued vehemently that family structure and, thus, father absence was not a determinant of child well-being. But then in the 1980s, psychologists (Wallerstein and Kelly, 1980; Hetherington, 1982) began producing evidence that divorce among middle-class families was harmful to children. Renewed interest among sociologists and demographers (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1994) in the link between poverty and single parenthood soon emerged, and as noted above, that work increasingly began building toward the conclusion that family structure did matter (McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994). Of course, the debate was not just about family structure and income differences; it was also about race and gender. When Moynihan wrote in 1965, 24 percent of all births among African-Americans occurred outside of marriage. Today, the black out-of-wedlock birthrate is almost 70 percent, and the white rate has reached nearly 24 percent. If single parenthood is a problem, that problem cuts across race and ethnicity. But the story has nuance. Yes, growing up with two parents is better for children, but only when both mother and father are the biological or “intact” (as opposed to remarried) parents. In fact, there is some evidence that second marriages can actually be harmful to adolescents. Moreover, marriage can help children only if the marriage is a healthy one. While the definition of a “healthy marriage” is itself subject to debate, it is typically characterized as high in positive interaction, satisfaction, and stability and low in conflict. Unhealthy marriages characterized by substantial parental conflict pose a clear risk for child well-being, both because of the direct negative effects that result when children witness conflict between parents, and because of conflict’s indirect effects on parenting skills. Marital hostility is associated with increased aggression and disruptive behaviors on the part of children which, in turn, seem to lead to peer rejection, academic failure, and other antisocial behaviors (Cummings and Davies, 1994; Webster-Stratton, 2003). While our collective hand-wringing about the number of American births that occur out-of-wedlock is justified, what is often missed is that the birthrate among unmarried women accounts for only part of the story. In fact, birthrates among unmarried teens and African-Americans have been falling — by a fourth among unmarried African-American women since 1960, for example (Offner, 2001). How, then, does one explain the fact that more and more of the nation’s children are being born out of wedlock? Because the nonmarital birth ratio is a function of (1) the out-of-wedlock birthrate (births per 1,000 unmarried women), (2) the marriage rate, and (3) the birthrate among married women (births per 1,000 married women) — the share of all children born out of wedlock has risen over the last thirty years, in large measure, because women were increasingly delaying marriage, creating an ever larger pool of unmarried women of childbearing age, and because married women were having fewer children. Indeed, families acted to maintain their standard of living in the face of stagnant and falling wages, earnings, and incomes during the 1970s and 1980s by having fewer children and sending both parents into the workforce, a strategy that undoubtedly has increased the stress on low-income two-parent families (Levy, 1988), and that contributed to the rise in out-of-wedlock births as a proportion of all births. Concern about these trends in out-of-wedlock births and divorce, coupled with the gnawing reality that child poverty is inextricably bound up with family structure, has encouraged conservatives and some liberals to focus on marriage as a solution. Proponents of this approach argued that many social policies — welfare and tax policy, for example — were actually anti-marriage, even if research only weakly demonstrated that the disincentives to marry embedded in these policies actually affected behavior. Moreover, they maintained that social policy should not be neutral — it should encourage and support healthy marriages — and they stressed the link between child poverty and single parenthood and the positive child effects associated with two-parent families. The focus on marriage was met with skepticism by others. Critics argued that marriage was not an appropriate province for government intervention and that income and opportunity structures were much more important factors than family structure. They questioned why the focus was on low-income families when the normative changes underlying the growth in single-parent households permeated throughout society, as witnessed by the prevalence of divorce across all economic classes. “Fragile Families” Are Pro-Marriage More recent evidence from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study tipped the balance for many in favor of the pro-marriage arguments. Designed by two prominent academics, Sara McLanahan and Irv Garfinkel, the study is a longitudinal survey of 5,000 low-income married and nonmarried parents conducted in 75 hospitals in twenty cities at the time of their child’s birth. Among mothers who were not married when their child was born, 83 percent reported that they were romantically involved with the father, and half of the parents were living together. Nearly all of the romantically involved couples expressed interest in developing long-term stable relationships, and there was universal interest in marriage, with most indicating that there was at least a fifty-fifty chance that they would marry in the future. Looking at employment history and other factors, researchers estimated that about a third of the couples had high potential to marry; another third had some problems, like lack of a job, that could be remedied; while the final third were not good candidates due to a history of violence, incarceration, and the like (McLanahan, Garfinkel, and Mincy, 2001). There was certainly reason to be cautious about presuming a link between what people said and what they might actually do, and longer follow-up data did indeed throw some cold water on initial optimism. However, when the Fragile Families data were thrown into the mix with the trend data and with the data that suggested that family structure was a determinant of poverty, the reaction was catalytic. The notion was reinforced that more marriage and less child poverty would result if public policies could just be brought in line with the expressed interests of low-income couples. Marital Education Can Work But what, if anything, could government actually do to promote marriage among low-income families? For some policy analysts, the discovery of marriage education programs seemed to provide the missing link. To the surprise of many, not only did these programs exist, but there was a body of evidence, including more than a dozen randomized trials, indicating that marriage education programs could be effective. Marriage education refers to services that help couples who are married or planning to marry to strengthen their communication and problem-solving skills and thus their relationships. Models range from those that adopt a skills-based instructional approach to those that use a therapeutic “hands on” approach that addresses the specific marital problems facing individual couples. Some of the cutting-edge work now underway provides a flavor of the approaches being developed. Dr. Phil Cowan and Dr. Carolyn Cowan, both professors of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, have been involved in the development and rigorous testing of family instruction models for more than twenty years. Dr. Benjamin Karney, a psychologist at the University of Florida, has been conducting a longitudinal study of newly married couples. Dr. Richard Heyman, a psychologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has 15 years’ experience conducting prevention and treatment research on couple and family interaction. Dr. John Gottman, who leads the Relationship Research Institute where he focuses on marriage, family, and child development, has developed and carefully evaluated some of the most innovative new approaches to marital education and group instruction. Dr. Pamela Jordan developed the Becoming Parents Program, a couple-focused educational research program being tested in a large randomized trial. Dr. Howard J. Markman and Dr. Scott Stanley, both of the University of Denver, developed and refined the Preparation and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP). Among the skills-training programs, PREP is the most widely used with couples who are about to marry. It teaches skills such as active listening and self-regulation of emotions for conflict management and positive communication. PREP also includes substantial content on topics such as commitment, forgiveness, and expectations clarification. PREP appears to have a significant effect on marital satisfaction initially, but the effect appears to fade over time (Gottman, 1979), and there is some indication that it improves communication among high-risk couples but not low-risk couples (Halford, Sanders, and Behrens, 2001). Therapeutic interventions are more open-ended and involve group discussions, usually guided by trained professionals to help partners identify and work through the marriage problems they are facing. The most carefully evaluated of the structured group discussion models targeted couples around the time of their child’s birth, an event that triggers substantial and sustained decline in marital satisfaction. Couples meet in a group with a trained therapist over a six-month period that begins before the child is born and continues for another three months after the birth. Initially, marital satisfaction soared and divorce rates plummeted relative to a similar group of families that did not participate in the program. But the divorce effects waned by the five-year follow-up point, even while marital satisfaction remained high for those couples who stayed together (Schultz and Cowan, 2001). More recent work by Cowan and Cowan and by John Gottman appears to produce more promising results. Both the Cowans’ model of education via structured group discussions and a marital-education and skills-development model pioneered by John Gottman led to positive effects on children. The Cowans found positive effects in the school performance of children whose parents participated in their couples instruction and group discussion program. Gottman describes improved cooperative interaction between the parents and their infant child and sustained increased involvement by fathers. While the results from the marriage education programs are encouraging, they are not definitive. Most of the studies are small, several have serious flaws, and only a few have long-term follow-up data (and those that do seem to show decay in effectiveness over time). Moreover, only a handful of the studies collected information on child well-being. Most importantly, all of the programs studied served mostly white, middle-class families, not the low-income and diverse populations that would be included in a wider government initiative. Context and Low-income Families Not surprisingly, low-income couples have fewer resources to cope with life’s vagaries. They are more likely to experience job loss, have an unexpected health or family crisis, be evicted from or burned out of their home, be the victim of a violent crime, and so forth. As a result, they face greater difficulty than middle-class individuals in forming and sustaining marriages. With the exception of African-Americans, low-income couples are not less likely to marry; but they are more likely to divorce when they do marry. Yet evidence from the Fragile Families survey of 5,000 low-income couples who have just given birth to a child and ethnographic interviews conducted with low-income women in Philadelphia by Kathy Edin of Northwestern University provide convincing evidence that low-income people share the same normative commitment to marriage that middle-class families demonstrate. As Kathy Edin told the Senate Finance Committee last week, “[T]he poor already believe in marriage, profoundly so. The poor want to marry, but they insist on marrying well. This…is the only way to avoid an almost certain divorce.” If poor families share the same commitment to marriage as better-off couples, what is it about their low-income status that inhibits the formation of stable marriages? One possible explanation is the mismatch between a large number of stressful events they face and few resources with which to respond to those stressors. The imbalance places greater demands on the individuals in a dyad, leaving less time together and less time to dedicate to relationship building than might be the case for a middle-class couple. In addition, the problems low-income couples have to manage — problems such as substance abuse, job loss, eviction, chronic infidelity, a child with a chronic condition like asthma or developmental delays, and criminal activities — may be more severe than those confronted by better-off couples. (Edin, 2004; Karney, Story, and Bradbury, 2003; Heymann, 2000). Because the problems low-income couples confront are likely to be more acute and chronic than those faced by middle-class couples, it is an open question whether the problem-solving and communication skills taught by marital education programs will be as effective among low-income couples as they appear to have been for middle-class couples (where the evidence base is still evolving). Clearly, the skill sets taught in those programs and the strategies applied by therapists and counselors to solve the problems couples present will need to be adapted. Moreover, it is possible that these kinds of stressors overwhelm the abilities of individuals to use the skills they are taught. It is difficult to be understanding of a partner’s failings when the rent is due and there is not enough money to pay it. Such concerns have elicited two kinds of responses: first, efforts to adapt marital education programs to better meet the needs of low-income families; and second, proposals to combine marital education with strategies that would directly tackle the poverty-related stressors on family life — for example, with help in finding a job, income supplements to make up for low wages, child care assistance, and medical coverage. Adapting Marital Education to the Needs of Low-Income Families Underpinning the interest in public support for marital education programs is a conviction that low-income individuals do not have good information about the benefits of marriage. In part, this dearth results from their experience of having grown up in single-parent households where they were simply not exposed to role models that might inform their own relationships. In part, it is a consequence of their lack of access to the same kinds of supports and information, counseling, and therapy that are often available to middle-class couples contemplating marriage or divorce. Buoyed by the success of the model marriage education programs with middle-class families, and following the lead of former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, who was determined to end his state’s embarrassing status as the nation’s divorce capital, practitioners of marital education programs have begun applying and adapting these models to the needs of low-income couples. The objective is to equip low-income couples with relationship skills to improve couple interaction by reducing negative exchanges (anger, criticism, contempt, and blaming) and strengthening positive behaviors (expressions of support, humor, empathy, and affection). The logic is obvious: When couples enjoy positive interaction and are successful in handling conflict, their confidence and commitment would be reinforced, thereby fostering satisfaction and stability. But the designers of these programs recognize that they must adapt marital education as middle-class families know it to better meet the different needs of low-income households. This might involve changes in the types of agencies that deliver services, the training leaders would get, the content and examples used in the training, the duration and intensity of services, and the balance between strengthening internal communication and the forging of links to community programs that can provide support related to the contexts in which poor families live. Does Reducing Financial Stress Promote Marital Stability? While there is a strong relationship between poverty and marital breakup, would programs that ameliorate poverty by providing supports to the working poor actually improve marital relationships? There have been few tests of this question; the most relevant recent reform that has been carefully evaluated for two-parent families is the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). Implemented in 1994, MFIP used the welfare system to make work pay by supplementing the earnings of recipients who took jobs until their income reached 140 percent of the poverty line, and it required nonworkers to participate in a range of employment, training, and support services. For two-parent families, MFIP also eliminated the arcane work-history requirements and the “100-hour rule,” a policy that limited the number of hours a primary earner could work and still receive welfare but which had the perverse, unintended effect of encouraging couples to divorce so they could remain eligible for welfare. MDRC’s evaluation of MFIP examined program effects on employment, income, marriage, and other family outcomes up to three years after entry. Because MFIP treated two-parent family recipients (who were receiving welfare at the onset of the study) and new applicants differently, outcomes for these groups were examined separately. We found that two-parent recipient families in MFIP were as likely as those in a comparable group of welfare recipients who were not eligible for MFIP to have at least one parent work; but the MFIP sample was less likely to have both parents work, leading to an overall reduction in their combined earnings of approximately $500 per quarter. Yet because the program supplemented the earnings of participating families, the two-parent recipient families who participated in MFIP still had slightly higher family incomes (up $190 per quarter more, on average, when taking into account their decreased likelihood of separating or divorcing — and, thus, retaining access to both partners’ earnings). In contrast, MFIP had fewer effects on parental employment, earnings, and income for welfare applicants, a finding that is not entirely surprising given their short welfare spells. One of the striking findings of the three-year evaluation was that, among the 290 two-parent recipient families who were part of a follow-up survey sample, families in the MFIP group were 19.1 percentage points more likely than families in the group who received traditional welfare payments under the Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program to report being married and living with their spouse. Most of this increase in marital stability was a result of fewer reported separations in MFIP families as compared to AFDC families, although some of it was a result of small reductions in divorce. Because there is some question about how families on welfare might report their marital status, MDRC also obtained and analyzed data from publicly available divorce records. We did this for some 188 two-parent recipient families who were married at study entry. (The other 100 or so families in the original survey sample were cohabiting, and we did not look for marriage records for them). The data confirmed that these couples were 7 percentage points less likely than their AFDC counterparts to divorce. This gave us confidence that MFIP did indeed reduce marital instability. (Again, divorce records would not tell us about the separations we found in the survey, so the effect should be smaller than the 19 percentage point effect we found there). These findings have two important implications. First, make-work-pay strategies might reduce financial stress and increase the likelihood that two-parent families stay together. Second, given the small number of people followed in the MFIP survey sample, MFIP’s marriage effects on all two-parent families should be investigated and the results should be replicated in other locations before the findings are used to make policy. As a first step in that process, MDRC went back to the state of Minnesota to obtain divorce and marriage records for the full sample of 2,200 two-parent MFIP families (including both recipients and applicants) for a follow-up period of more than six years. This fuller record would give us the opportunity to understand whether the positive effects on divorce (but not the much larger effects on separation) we found for the 290 two-parent families in the survey sample applied to the larger group of two-parent MFIP families. In addition, we wanted to learn about MFIP’s possible effect on subgroups of two-parent families that we could not previously examine. Six years later, the full-sample story on divorce is decidedly mixed. Overall, for the full sample of two-parent families, there is no discernable pattern of effects on divorce over time. When we look at the two-parent recipient families only, those eligible for the MFIP program appear to be less likely to get divorced, but the finding is not statistically significant until the last year of follow-up, leaving open the possibility that the pattern we see could still be due to chance. Moreover, the pattern among applicants is also uncertain — barely statistically significant in one year, but favoring more rather than less divorce. The different direction in the findings for the recipient and applicant groups explains the absence of an overall effect on divorce. And in both cases, the effects we did see were small — about a 3 to 4 percentage point difference in divorce between the MFIP group and the AFDC group. Finally, recall that public marriage and divorce records can capture only a family’s legally documented marital status. They cannot distinguish informal statuses like separations, the form of marital dissolution that drove the dramatic 36-month recipient findings mentioned above. We are currently planning further analyses to better understand MFIP’s effects on divorce for these and other subgroups. We have no reliable way of exploring the separation findings. MFIP’s initial results were tantalizing in large part because MFIP was not specifically targeted to affect marriage, divorce, or separations, and yet it appeared to produce large effects on the likelihood that some two-parent families would stay together, suggesting that strategies that tackle the vagaries of poverty could promote marital stability by reducing some of the economic stress on poor families. But the full-sample findings cast some doubt on that promise (with regard to divorce but not separations), reinforcing the need to replicate programs like MFIP for two-parent families in different settings before reaching conclusions about the contribution such strategies might make toward strengthening marriage. The findings particularly leave open the question of the possible range of effects that programs could achieve if policies providing marital education were combined with policies designed to affect employment and income. What We Don’t Know While the evidence base on marital education is extensive, there is much left to learn. For example: § Will participation in marital education programs by low-income couples lead to an increase in marriage and in marital harmony and, in turn, have lasting effects on couples’ satisfaction, on parenting skills and practices, and on children? § Will the skills taught in marital education programs be a match for the poverty-related stresses experienced by low-income families, or are additional supports such as employment and income also needed to reduce divorce and increase the number of healthy marriages? § Will marriage education programs be effective regardless of race, ethnic identity, and cultural norms, and how should these programs be adapted to better meet different groups’ divergent needs? § Who will participate in marital education programs? Will they attract predominantly couples who already have a deep commitment to each other or couples whose problems are acute? Will a broad cross-section of low-income couples participate or only a narrow slice of the population? § Will these programs facilitate the dissolution of unhealthy marriages as proponents contend, or will they prolong marriages that might be better off dissolving or not forming in the first place? § Can a relatively short education course — say, 10 to 20 hours spread over a few months — have a long-lasting effect on marital and couple discord, or are more long-term strategies and even one-on-one back-up couple-counseling services necessary? What is the right duration and intensity of an initiative? Can courses be short term and intense, or must they be longer and more sustained to yield longer-lasting effects? What is the right content? What are the implications for affordability and scale? An Opportunity to Learn On substantive, policy, and financial grounds, there are good arguments to be made for public involvement in the marriage field. If marital education programs could be mounted at scale, if participation rates among those eligible were high, and if the programs were effective in encouraging and sustaining healthy two-parent families, the effects on children could be important. The key word is if ! The strong correlation between growing up in a two-parent family and improved child outcomes does not ensure that intervening to encourage more marriage and less divorce will have the intended results. Indeed, social policymaking based on correlation has an uncanny way of ending with unintended consequences. The only reliable way to understand whether marital education and other supports designed to strengthen marriage produces such results is to conduct a social experiment with the right mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to answer the “what difference,” “how,” and “why” questions. The Administration of Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched two new projects to do just that. Managed by Mathematica Policy Research, the Building Strong Families evaluation is targeted to low-income unwed couples beginning around the time of their child’s birth. The Supporting Healthy Marriage initiative, which is being overseen by MDRC, is aimed at low-income married couples. Both projects will involve large-scale, multisite, rigorous random assignment tests of marriage-skills programs for low-income couples. The goal is to measure the effectiveness of programs that provide instruction and support to improve relationship skills. Some programs might also include services to help low-income couples address barriers to healthy marriages, such as poor parenting skills or problems with employment, health, or substance abuse. Programs operated under these demonstration umbrellas will screen for domestic violence and help participants gain access to appropriate services. Done well, the results from these path-breaking projects should inform the marriage field, and they should add value to our existing understanding of the potential and the pitfalls of government intervention in this critically important arena. References Cummings, E. M., and P. Davies. 1994. Children and Marital Conflict. New York: Guilford. Edin, K. 2004. Testimony Before the United States Senate Committee on Finance Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy. The Benefits of Healthy Marriage Hearing, May 5. Edin, K., and M. Kefalas. 2004. Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. Berkeley: University of California Press. Gennetian, L. and V. Knox. 2004. Getting and Staying Married: The Effects of a Minnesota Welfare Reform Program on Marital Stability. New York: MDRC. Gottman, J. M. 1979. Marital Interaction: Experimental Investigations. Oxford, England: Elsevier. Furstenberg, F. and A Cherlin. 1994. Divided Families: What Happens to Children when Parents Part. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Halford, W. K., M. R. Sanders, and B. C. Behrens. 2001. “Can Skills Training Prevent Relationship Problems in At-Risk Couples? Four-Year Effects of a Behavioral Relationship Education Program.” Journal of Family Psychology 15, 4: 750-768. Hetherington, E. M., M. Cox, and R. Cox. 1982. “Effects of Divorce on Parents and Children.” In M. Lamb (ed.), Nontraditional Families. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Heyman, R. E. 2001. “Observation of Couple Conflicts: Clinical Assessment Applications, Stubborn Truths, and Shaky Foundations.” Psychological Assessment 13: 5-35. Karney, B. R., L. Story, and T. Bradbury. 2003. “Marriages in Context: Interactions Between Chronic and Acute Stress Among Newlyweds.” Presentation at the International Meeting on the Developmental Course of Couples Coping with Stress, October 12-14, 2002, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA. Levy, F. 1988. Dollars and Dreams: The Changing American Income Distribution. New York: Norton. McLanahan, S., I. Garfinkel., and R. B. Mincy. 2001. “Fragile Families, Welfare Reform, and Marriage.” Policy Brief No. 10. Washington DC: Brookings Institution. McLanahan, S., and G. D. Sandefur. 1994. Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts? What Helps? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Moynihan, D. P. 1965. The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Policy Planning and Research. Offner, P. 2001. “Reducing Non-Marital Births.” Policy Brief No. 5. Washington, DC: Welfare Reform and Beyond. Schultz, M., and C. P. Cowan. 2001. Promoting Healthy Beginnings During the Transition to Parenthood. Minneapolis: Society for Research in Child Development. Wallerstein, J., and J. Kelly. 1980. Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce. New York: Basic Books. Webster-Stratton, C. 2003. The Incredible Years. Toronto: Umbrella Press.
Dr. Steven Nock
Senator Brownback, members of the Committee, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts on the implications of trends in marriage and divorce for adults in America. I am currently Professor of Sociology and Psychology at the University of Virginia where I have devoted a career to the study of these issues. For 28 years I have investigated the consequences of marriage, divorce, unmarried childbearing, and cohabitation for adults and for American society. My work has convinced me that marriage is the primary source of well being for adults. It is also of great importance for an orderly society. I begin my testimony by reviewing basic demographic trends in marriage, divorce, and cohabitation. I have prepared some graphs to help illustrate the magnitude of the changes in each of these matters. After I review these trends, I will summarize the research on their consequences for adults. I. Trends in Marriage, Cohabitation, and Divorce 1. Marriage is being delayed as seen in Figure 1. In 1950, half of men’s first marriages had already occurred by the time they turned 23 (22.8.) Half of women’s marriages had occurred by the time they reached 20 (20.3.) Today, the corresponding ages are 27 (26.9) for men and 25 (25.3) for women. Though the 1950s family is now regarded as anomalous, current ages at first marriage are the highest in American history. But while waiting longer to marry, Americans are not rejecting marriage. We estimate that nine in ten young people (87% of men, 89% of women) will eventually marry. However, marriage rates are declining for blacks. While over 90% of young white women are projected to marry, only two-thirds of black women are. In sum, while the overwhelming majority of young Americans will eventually marry, they will wait many more years than their parents did before doing so. 2. Delayed marriage means there are fewer married people in the population at any point in time as seen in Figure 2. A smaller fraction of all adults in America is currently married than was true for most of the 20th century. About six in ten (57.3%) men, and about half of all adult women (54.2%) are currently married (note that Figure 2 begins at 50%) 3. Postponing marriage does not mean that people are postponing intimate living arrangements. Figure 3 shows that unmarried cohabitation has increased dramatically. In 1960, there were fewer than half a million such couples (444,000). Today there are almost five million (4,899,000). An unmarried couple now maintains one in twenty households. A growing fraction of unmarried couples have children. The Census Bureau estimates that 40.9% of cohabiting couples have a resident child under 18 who is related to one or both adults. The corresponding figure for married spouses is 45.6%. In short, cohabiting couple households are almost as likely as married couple households to includechildren. Cohabiting couples with children are 5.7% of all partners with children. Over half of all marriages are now preceded by cohabitation. Cohabitation is also becoming an alternative to marriage, or remarriage. 4. Four in ten (42%) first marriages are predicted to end in divorce. Figure 4 shows how the divorce rate soared in the late 1960s before peaking in 1982. Since then, it has declined very modestly each year. 5. Current trends result in fewer people living in families as seen in Figure 5. A growing fraction of Americans do not live in any family based on blood or marriage. One third (32%) of all households are currently maintained by a single man or woman. I will now review the evidence on the consequences of marriage. II. Consequences of Trends in Marriage and Divorce 1. Marriage contributes to health, happiness, and overall well-being for men and women. Most social scientists agree that married people live longer, and enjoy better physical and mental health. They have lower rates of suicide, fatal accidents, acute and chronic illnesses, alcoholism and depression than unmarried people. They are more likely to save and invest money, and they have better sex lives. They earn more, advance faster in occupations, are more generous, more involved in community organizations, and are more religious. The enduring question is whether these benefits are produced by marriage, or whether healthier and happier people are the ones most likely to marry anyway. In my opinion, both are true. There is now convincing evidence that getting married changes people. But there is also evidence that happier, healthier, and more productive individuals are more likely to marry, and stay married, in the first place. 2. Why does marriage have these effects? Let me mention just a few reasons. First, there are consequences of a shared life. Married people have someone to remind them about appointments with doctors, to help in times of illness and need, and to carry some of the weight of daily obligations of family life. Two researchers describe part of the benefits of marriage as a result of “The nagging factor” Second, married people are better able to endure difficult times because they typically have a higher commitment to one another than is found in other relationships. This means that their here-and-now problems are understood as something that will probably pass, or can be justified by a shared past or imagined future. But most importantly, marriage is a social institution. There are standards for what married people should and should not do. This cannot be said about any other form of intimate relationship. The “shoulds” include waiting until one is mature before marrying, having and caring for children, being economically independent of parents and others, providing for one’s partner (economically, emotionally), being sexually and emotionally faithful, and caring for family members in times of trouble. The “should nots” include abuse and violence, abandonment, adultery, and sharing intimate ‘family secrets’ with strangers. In short, the norms of marriage are like the vows traditionally spoken in wedding ceremonies (e.g., to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until we are parted by death.) But these vows are more than personal promises. Other people, including parents, friends, and relatives share these beliefs and will react when people violate them. Married people are treated differently than unmarried people. Insurers and employers value the stability and maturity associated with the status. Married people are subject to different laws. They are held to different standards. It would be difficult to imagine that such expectations have no consequence. And, in fact, they have enormous consequences. Turning now to the issue of divorce. 3. Divorce harms women’s economic circumstances. Women’s economic well being (income-to-needs) declines by a third (36%) following divorce (but improves 28% for fathers. A quarter (25%) of mothers experience a decline of more than 50% in their income relative to needs (compared with only 5% of fathers). Divorce affects a woman’s chance of becoming poor. About one in five (19%) previously non-poor mothers falls into poverty following marital separation. And unlike their ex-husbands, poor mothers are less likely to escape from poverty if their marriages are disrupted. Women’s economic problems after divorce are also related to the fact that only 60% of divorced mothers are awarded any child-support, and only 44% actually receive any support from their ex husband. 4. Divorce disrupts ties across generations. Men often lose touch with their children following divorce. Only half of older divorced men report weekly contact with their children. But nine in ten (90%) never-divorced older fathers are in touch with their children weekly. Adult children whose parents divorced report very poor relationships with their fathers. The disruption of intergenerational ties between men and their children has implications for public policy. Historically, children (especially daughters) have provided most of the care needed by older parents in declining health. This informal system of kinship care is now being strained and may break. Divorce disrupts kinship ties and leaves many older people, especially men, without relatives to care for them. How will we, as a society provide the care needed by the huge number of Baby Boomers who have divorced? How can we afford to provide the care that children and kin have traditionally given? To conclude, non-family living has important social consequences. Historically, very few people lived outside of families. Indeed, the practice was either prohibited by law, or heavily taxed for most of our history because non-family living has always been perceived as a threat to social order . When people are not members of a family, social control and the provision of care are more difficult. There is no public arrangement capable of monitoring and controlling behavior as effectively as other family members. Nor is there any better method of providing for dependent adults and children. Marriage has always been the method that societies relied on to allocate responsibilities for children and dependent elderly adults. It has also been the primary method of controlling behavior and limiting deviance. Accordingly, a compassionate government has a legitimate interest in encouraging healthy and stable marriages. Thank you. Figures References
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Gerald Campbell
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It’s a great honor to be here today. For over a quarter century, Americans have been generally quiescent as a “crisis of marriage and the family” has raged in silence across the land. No longer can this dispassion stand firm. The family is too troubled to concede such luxury. Its structure is fragmented. Its intrinsic dynamics have gone awry. Its integrity labors under great stress. That is our collective judgment today. That is our collective fear. And we struggle to make it otherwise. A Human Tale Unquestionably, the story of this crisis is a sad tale. The vast array of empirical evidence and information presented here today supports that conclusion. But considered in isolation, scientific assessments portray a sterile and cold reality. They sketch a crisis disengaged from freedom and dignity, an abstract reality without human personality. Such is not the milieu of this crisis. Much more is involved. The individual is an organic unity, not a collection of discrete pieces. It has a spiritual center – the person. To appreciate the full significance of this story -- and to better transform a destructive energy into an ethos of reconciliation – we must explain why this crisis exists and what efficiency, or root cause, creates it. Somehow we must be able to see beyond the labyrinth of quantitative data and objective correlations into a seething spiritual energy that flows quietly through the inter-subjective relationships of marriage and the family. The Unmet Need to Belong A phrase that aptly expresses this energy is ‘the unmet need to belong.’ These words denotes a spiritual dynamic. I first became aware of this need through my studies of the homeless, violent youth, substance abusers, gang members, and individuals engaged in risky sexual behavior. It is a spiritual dynamic whose presence has become all too pervasive and disruptive in our national life and culture. These words – ‘the unmet need to belong’ -- have reference to the authentic person. They contradict the common view that the individual is essentially self-contained, that it is ego-centric, that its relations are a matter of mere choice or convention. Instead, the ‘unmet need to belong’ symbolizes the person as intrinsically relational. It is a spiritual dynamic that reflects an inborn logic rooted in the existential depths of the person. It discloses the formal reality of this logic as a deep-seated ‘yearning’ of the person to be united with others through love in community. All this goes to say that the very being of the person is a transcendental inclination to belong. To authentically exist as a person is to co-exist through love. Love constitutes the intrinsic meaning of human life. A violent teenage offender, incarcerated for murder, explained belonging to me this way. He said: “To me – from what I can see and the life I’ve lived and know on both sides of the fence … and the negative things I’ve done and the positive things I’ve done … everybody needs love. I can’t see in my mind where a human being could live without love, regardless of the ways of getting it. I’m not talking about whether you get it this way or that way. I’m talking about love in general. I think every human being needs love.” It is this insight into the nature of the person that enables us to explain why the crisis of marriage and the family exists. The Root Cause: A Dialectic of Belonging Considered abstractly, the causal origins of this crisis are rooted in the living dynamics of love and alienation that emanate from the existential core of the human person. Within this nucleus, one discovers at a single glance the central impulse of the person -- 'a crying out for love and community' -- and the antithetical, yet primary condition of the individual -- a spiritual alienation, or separation from others. It is the struggle of this existential impulse to transcend the primary condition of spiritual alienation that forms the dialectical nucleus of all social disorders. From this insight, we can deduce the following principle of human behavior: to the extent that an individual is alienated from another, he or she will be intrinsically compelled to do whatever is necessary to create at least some semblance of love or community in his or her life, no matter how imperfect it may be, or how high its cost. Spiritual alienation cannot be tolerated by the human heart. It must be reconciled. Example: A Mother and a Child To illustrate the outlines of this dialectic, let’s begin with the most innocent of human encounters, the relationship between a mother and a newborn child. The newborn child symbolizes separateness as an original condition. Each person enters the world alone, spiritually isolated from others. But separateness is not merely a brute fact. From birth, the child has an innate sense of his or her separateness and struggles to mitigate its alienation by being accepted and loved by the mother. Its outstretched arms and legs, beseeching the mother for love, is a powerful symbol of this struggle. The mother, aware of her identical need, accepts this plea and extends the warmth and comfort of her person to the child. It is by virtue of this mutual gift of one person to another -- each 'crying out' for the love of the 'other' -- that both mother and child alleviate their separateness, their spiritual alienation. Each stands in a relation of gratitude to the other. A loving, enduring, and dynamic relationship has begun to be forged. As a child is brought into loving relations, they slowly open themselves to the nurturing potential of the civilizing virtues. In this way, they are set on a path that will lead to a more complete and engaging life with others. But, if the child is not permitted to belong—if the child is not the beneficiary of the gift of self, of loving relationships -- the training and discipline necessary to instill the virtues will itself become a source of coercion. Slowly, ever so slowly, the distance between the child and the mother will increase. And, since love has not intervened, the child will easily retreat into an egocentric existence where hedonistic and utilitarian self-indulgence can easily become a lifelong affliction. Marriage and the Family: A Matter of Freedom At this point, it is beneficial to raise a question about personal freedom. Is the nature of personal freedom to be found in the creation of a self-sufficient ego – an ego that is alone and distant from the intrinsic life of others? Or is freedom to be more fully expressed in an integral self, a relational self, a self that is united to others through love in community? These questions are not merely about matters of choice. Rather they are about the intrinsically relational nature of the person and the ‘unmet need to belong.’ If freedom is reflective of egocentric, self-contained existence, it follows that the structure and living dynamics of the family will become a fractured totality. It will degenerate into increasing fragmentation. The family will be akin to a conventional organization of individuals, related by mutual interests, but characterized by individual autonomy, like so many billiard balls on a table. It will lack intrinsic cohesion. But, if freedom has an intrinsic relationship to the person and ‘the unmet need to belong’, it will realize itself through the building of loving relationships. Family unity will reach into the inner being of the person. It will evolve as a community of love. It will be intrinsically spiritual and replete with richness. And so, the fundamental question that will determine the future of marriage and the family can be stated this way: What shall we do with our freedom? Shall freedom be intrinsically relational and, like the person, be enriched with love, or should it reflect the autonomous individual and remain self-absorbed? Love: A Center of Gravity The center of gravity in the family lies in the quality of intrinsic relationships that unite husband and wife. These most intimate relationships range all the way from the gift of self through love, truth, justice, fidelity, and solidarity to simple helpfulness and mutual associations of domestic life. When qualitative relationships cement the existential reality of husband and wife, a radiance of love is generated and suffuses the life of the child. The ‘unmet need to belong’ in the child finds a degree of fulfillment and separateness diminishes. A degree of restfulness ensues. But when love does not unite husband and wife, the radiating presence of love to the child becomes seriously attenuated. The child is automatically placed in the position of the autonomous self. The loving bonds within the family, bonds that alone can alleviate existential aloneness, are fractured or weakened. The child feels alone and isolated and, because of the intrinsic dynamics of ‘the unmet need to belong’, begins a new, possibly destructive, journey. The look for a new center of gravity begins. Emergence of a Secret Life: A Dialectic of Indifference Alienated by a fractured relationship between mother and father, young persons begin to look outside the family for love and understanding. They begin to form their own social networks, their own support groups, their own friends. They enter into dialectical relationship with strangers, defining new needs, developing new interests, and discovering new ways of alleviating internal conflicts. They engage in give and take with others. They make an advance here and a retreat there. The art of compromise evolves and erosion begins to eat away. Little by little, the dynamics of existential yearning forge a new inner substance, a new consciousness, a new set of sensibilities, a new moral horizon, and a new set of behavioral imperatives. Out of these convulsions, the young develop a keen sense of what acquires duration for them, of what satisfies their felt needs and perceived good. They struggle to balance unfulfilled desires and outer demands. They seek to resolve internal conflict. They reach out for approval with others. They want to be included and accepted. They want to be recognized as something special. They want to stand out. Above all, they want to be loved and, in particular, they want to be loved by someone they cry out to love. Having judged carefully how to fit in, how to belong, how to be united with others, they become less and less constrained from within. They become more and more open to entreaties from without. Tomorrow’s hopes and dreams often collapse and find expression in today’s needs. Time stops its seemingly intractable flow to the future. Its continuity – a flow of past, present, and future -- is dissolved into discrete moments, each slightly tinged with hedonistic seductions, each crying out like a siren song laced with the lure of pleasure, advantage, or other reward. Time has become the here and now. But it is a here and now that is not only deceptive, but also alluring, imperious, and dangerous. Bit by bit, this nascent web of relationships begets a secret inner life, a haughty life that swallows up previous innocence. A new, clandestine, and seductive center of gravity emerges. It is driven by the existential need to belong. Yet this need has an elusive side and can easily tempt one to descend into a darkness where impersonality and servitude take command. Here, where the allure of authentic relationships was anticipated, only existential retribution and sorrow is to be found. For our part, we notice in our children traces of silent disengagement. We perceive in them qualities and dispositions that never were – the brooding, the vacant smiles, the ill humor, the crankiness. We perceive subtle departures in attitude, interests, and behavior. We discern an unpleasant indifference to past friends and activities that once caused happiness and joy. We detect vague incongruities between the past and the present. We take note of these changes, but confusion clouds our thoughts and fear forces a wavering judgment. We are flushed with uncertainty and torments of doubt. Seeing only through blurred outlines, our hearts refuse to acknowledge that we have arrived at the crossroads. We resist suggestion that our children have retreated into the distance. We seek solace and strength in what remains familiar about them. But we also take notice that a subtle metamorphosis has occurred. Something about them is different. Something about them is troubling. Yet, we fail to realize that we cannot penetrate the obscure shadowy depths of their now secret lives. Without ever knowing what has happened, they have become lost to us. They have become strangers. This same dialectic can be written of either husband or wife. It is an existential dialectic that flows out of the intrinsic structures and dynamics of the human person. The Human Person: A Spiritual Inadequacy The chilling truth is that, like the helpless infant and the young, no human being can reconcile spiritual alienation – ‘the unmet need to belong’ -- except through the love of an other. One may cry out to belong, but it is only by being permitted that an individual can transcend their separateness, or spiritual alienation. The simple truth is: within the heart of every person resides a spiritual inadequacy, an unconditional incompleteness. No individual, regardless of socio-economic or other conventional status, has an intrinsic capacity to become self-sufficient. The mythology of the self-contained individual – a myth that shapes and distorts much of our culture and socio-economic life -- is only a mask that enshrouds an inner emptiness and aloneness. It is the same mask worn by Citizen Kane whose lust for power denied him the fulfillment he sought. It is the mask worn by Tom and Daisy in The Great Gatbsy. It is a truth that permeates the paintings of Edward Hopper and the photographs of Robert Frank. It is the cry of anguish unleashed by the spirituals of the cotton picker, the pain of the rural and urban Blues artist, the social voice of 1960s R&B, and the modern prophets of the street, the poetic artists of Rap and Hip Hop. Neither power, nor wealth, nor reputation can free a man from this aloneness. Behind every Horatio Alger story is a human tragedy waiting to unfold. Only love is liberating. Only love can make man free. Only by being permitted and affirmed through the love of the other can alienation be mitigated and the person made whole. Such is the intrinsic logic of the human person. Such is the intrinsic logic of freedom. Such is the intrinsic logic of marriage. And such is the intrinsic logic of the family. Impact of Spiritual Alienation: The Stories of Youth The impact of fractured relationships between husband and wife – father and mother – on the spiritual life of the child is immense. Examples abound. An alienated boy may turn to abusive substances as a means of belonging to a group or of numbing the pain that comes from not belonging. A boy or girl may join a gang as a substitute for the family he or she never had. A lonely boy may be encouraged to sell drugs on the street by one who cares – a kind of big brother – or he may do so just to belong. A student may disrupt class to get the attention that was not received at home. A young girl may decide to have a child in order to love and to be loved. A group of estranged teenagers may steal a car to satisfy their need to be with others and, in doing so, will test and verify the strength of their bonding. Or a young boy may commit violent acts – even murder – in an attempt to gain the respect of others. The following are excerpts taken from recorded, free-flowing non-structured conversations I’ve had with troubled youth. They, each in their own way, underscore the spiritual dynamic of ‘the unmet need to belong.’ Here’s one: “My biological father, he was never around. He had his own house … he had other kids. So … he came around only on holidays. I called them holidays because that’s the only time I see him at all. And when I’d call … try to go over to his house … it was no, or wait, or something. He was rejecting me all the time and when I wanted to go places with my mother or my stepfather it’d be the same thing – rejection!” Here’s another: “I’d rather be with people I didn’t know … because they seemed to care about me more than my own family cared about me.” And another: “My family didn’t care so I’d just do my own thing. All my attention … everything was towards gangs. That’s all I wanted … gangs were my life, you know what I mean, because I loved them and they loved me.” And another: “I committed my crimes because of him…because I wanted that acceptance from him. And that’s where a lot of crimes come from … they want acceptance from other people. They want to feel big and be seen as being big in the eyes of others. They don’t want to be seen as scared, or weak, or feel rejected by anybody. Because that’s what they’re scared of -- scared to be alone!” And another: “Separating teen pregnancy, substance abuse, gangs, and violence is a waste of time because I’ve got them all in my life. They all revolve around the same thing … it all revolves around love … that’s all I really needed. I gang banged for love and attention. I did drugs because I was lonely and needed some understanding. I did violence to gain the love of someone else. I got females pregnant because I wanted love and attention. So, they all stem from the same thing … love and understanding. And finally: “And I’d tell the parents -- get to know your kids … get to know us … ask us about us … ask the kids: ‘Who are you, really.’ They might think it’s a joke at first, but just ask them: ‘Who are you really.’ What do you like? What kinds of things do you like to do? What don’t you like. What do you want to be in life? How do you feel? Am I a good parent to you? … Listen to them when they say: ‘I don’t feel that you love me enough. I don’t feel that you give me enough recognition. Can you understand what I’m going through.’ … Talk to them. Understand the kids. That’s all parents need to do. Just get down to their level.” Lest we have forgotten, let met state in concise terms what is at issue in these stories: whenever a nation’s young people become spiritually alienated, the collective future of the entire society – including all that for which preceding generations have struggled and died – is called into question. To be sure, the precise way these spiritual forces might impact tomorrow cannot be foretold. But we can reasonably expect that whatever happens will neither be desirable nor welcome. Culture and Society: An Ethos of Spiritual Alienation To an extent that would have seemed impossible only a few decades ago, America has been transformed by spiritual alienation. Individuals today carry greater burdens in their hearts than they do on their backs. Reflect for a moment. Who is unaware that our national language has become coarse and shrill, self-righteous and judgmental? Who is unaware that our legal system has become excessively litigious, that competition takes precedence over cooperation, that bureaucratic control prevails over genuine human interaction? Who is unaware of the pervasive atmosphere of cynicism and distrust, violence and fear, intemperance and injustice, isolation and aloneness, spiritual emptiness and indifference? All these are forces of spiritual alienation. They dishonor our national life. Yet they are the spiritual dynamics shaping our future. Plato argued: “the state is man writ large.” This statement could be amended to read: “the state is marriage or the family writ large.” Whatever happens in our own lives, and the relations that govern marriage and the family, also takes place in the state or culture. Conversely, if there is an ethos of alienation ranging throughout society and culture, a dialectical exchange will penetrate the family, impacting the relationships between husband and wife, father and children, mother and children, and even among children. It will suffuse and fragment the general life of the entire family. The exigencies of the ‘unmet need to belong’ flows through the family and into society and the culture. Once outside the family, they shapes our relations with other individuals. The same dialectic continues on a new battlefield. Children want to be accepted by their friends. Parents seek acceptance outside the home. The person who feels alienated at work, brings that alienation back into the home. The child who is bullied at school becomes alienated and seeks refuge wherever possible. Each person struggles to find a way to belong with whomever they associate. The struggle to belong is the central quest of life. Even ideas impact the structures and dynamics of society and the relations between husband and wife, mother and father, and children. And they determine the formation of the child. They do so by defining our aspirations and goals, and the meaning of the freedom and dignity of the human person. They define our sense of responsibility and our future. The utilitarian notions that define success in society, and the hedonistic notions that define pleasure, are brought into the home and affect relationships within the family. Our common practical materialism places primacy on having and doing over being, on things over persons, on subservience over personal creativity, on manipulation and control over openness and service to others. Our understanding of the quality of life emphasizes economic efficiency, excessive consumerism, physical beauty, and pleasure over spiritual qualities. There should be no doubt. Ideas have consequences. Insofar as they promote spiritual alienation, ideas have the capacity to seep turmoil into the life of the person, unleash fragmentation into the dynamics of marriage and the family, and effect widespread disruption throughout society and culture. Yet, insofar as they promote loving relationships, they have the capacity to heal the spiritual alienation and rid the aloneness that undermines personal existence. Decisions: The Concreteness of Spirituality The question of personal freedom was raised earlier. It must be raised again. What are we to do with our freedom? How shall we exercise creativity? Shall freedom be used to create a self-sufficient ego, alone and distant from the intrinsic life of others? Or shall freedom heed the intrinsic call to belong and create an integral self made whole by the love of others? Is the human person intrinsically relational or merely an opaque density? These are our choices. Only one choice is responsible. Only one leads to freedom. The crisis of marriage, the family, and culture is a spiritual crisis. To alleviate this crisis, we must choose. But simple practical choices will not suffice. Success requires that choice be proportionate to the nature of the crisis. For this reason, the choices to be made must be spiritual. But, what are spiritual choices? What do they look like? Are they something set apart from other choices? The answer is simple but difficult to grasp. In essence, spiritual choices are about the quality of relationships we establish with others. They give a dimension to choice that either generates alienation or qualitative relations with others. They bring an aspect of transcendence to the concrete. Alienation or love, aloneness or brotherhood, indifference or compassion, emptiness or purpose, pride or humility, judgment or mercy – these contradictory qualities depict the unavoidable spiritual choices each person must face in every concrete situation and every moment of their lives. Whether rich or poor, socially placed or displaced, educated or uneducated -- whether Caucasian, Afro-American, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American -- each person must struggle along an inescapable yet perplexing path in order to come to terms with these transcendent and universal challenges. There is an unavoidable concreteness to these spiritual choices. Indeed, spiritual qualities constitute the very substance of every thought we consider, every action we undertake, and every relationship we establish. Too often we forget how concretely it matters whether our thoughts, actions, and relationships are suffused with alienation or love … indifference or compassion … judgment or mercy. And yet, it is the dialectical clash of these destructive and perfecting qualities that shapes our lives, shape our marriages, shape our families, and impact the lives of whomever we encounter. A display of personal indifference will not only sour one's own life. It can easily cause radical and enduring disruption in the lives of others. And, when the dynamics of alienation gain the ascendancy and begin to ripple throughout society, they can easily acquire the momentum to unleash a collective intensity that can quickly fragment and distort the spiritual fabric of a marriage, the life of a family, the integrity of our nation’s most fundamental institutions, and the 'living dynamics' of our entire society. Freedom, like the person, also depends upon the quality of relationships individuals have with one another. Wherever spiritual alienation exists, freedom -- and the person -- have already been diminished. The Crisis of Marriage and the Family: A Crisis of Public Policy The crisis of marriage and the family poses a serious challenge to public policy. Traditionally, social policy has rested on two practical assumptions. The first is that causes of human behavior are correlated to the material conditions and circumstances of the individual. The second is that behavior can be rectified through the management of a complex system of material incentives and disincentive whose purpose is to alleviate the impact of risk factors on the life of the individual. These assumptions are adequate for a treatment strategy. The material conditions and circumstances of the individual can indeed be changed and the life of the individual be improved. But they are inadequate as a foundation for a strategy of prevention. Prevention requires, more than anything else, a clear apprehension of the nature and root cause of the threat in question. Without a substantive articulation of these formal and efficient elements, there will invariably ensue an incongruity of means and ends, and a failed result. But, here lies the critical challenge for public policy. The crisis of marriage and the family – not to mention a host of other behavioral problems, including: homelessness, substance abuse, youth violence, gangs, and risky sexual behavior – is a spiritual crisis. It is a crisis rooted in ‘the unmet need to belong.’ The question is: can public policy address a spiritual crisis? Can it complement its characteristic focus on improving the material conditions and circumstances of the individual and begin a new initiative that will enhance the quality of relations among persons? It is my judgment that it can. Towards a Strategy of Prevention The crisis of marriage and the family – a spiritual crisis – is essentially a crisis of intellect and of truth. It is at bottom a ‘war of ideas’ in which fundamental notions like freedom, the person, responsibility, love, alienation, marriage, family, root cause, and purpose have conflicting meanings. Yet, these contradictions are never discussed or even acknowledged in policy debate. Whether the person is intrinsically relational or not makes a fundamental difference in how issues are addressed. Yet, those differences are never addressed. The same can be said for other ideas such as freedom, responsibility, and so on. To address this crisis – and to prepare the way for a strategy of prevention – it seems to me four things must be addressed: A. A New Political Language Reflecting the Spiritual Dynamics of Behavior There is a great need to enrich our political lexicon by making way for a new political language that includes a recognition of the contribution of both spiritual dynamics and mechanical dynamics, including their interrelationship. An understanding of the spiritual dynamics of love and alienation is as important to comprehending social dysfunctions as are correlations, material conditions. and circumstances. We also need to reclaim the word spiritual – and disassociate it from its religious connotations – so that we can meaningfully debate in the public forum the intrinsic dynamics of such ideas as freedom, the person, responsibility, belonging, love, alienation, dignity, and their impact on human behavior and interaction. The intrinsic content of these ideas is as critical for understanding policy issues as are extrinsic factors. Policy debate would be further enriched if, as the debate deepens, there is an effort made to reach out to the creative community – the artists, lyricists, dramatists, and others. They are keenly aware of the cultural and spiritual dynamics that operate in our society and culture. B. A New Political Leadership Armed with a new political language, policy debate in the Congress on critical issues like marriage and the family – and homelessness, youth violence, substance abuse, gangs, risky sexual behavior, and even obesity – will begin to take on new meaning. New questions would be asked at hearings. A new body of knowledge would emerge. Research would be encouraged along new lines. People never before involved in public policy – philosophers, artists, musicians, experts in culture, for example – would enrich the debate. Intellectual horizons would expand. New possibilities for action would emerge. The constraints that currently stifled public policy would be lifted. Individuals would become engaged. A small nucleus of Members of the Senate and the House would be sufficient to begin the development of this language. C. Mass Means of Communication As a new language is developed and utilized, new ideas would be introduced into the public forum. Senate and House resolutions, Member’s speeches, floor statements, Dear Colleague letters, Special Orders, and other means of congressional communications – much of which is transmitted over the C-Span television network – could be employed. This language would engender a dialogue among religious, community service organizations, business, fraternal and student organizations, government agencies and departments, and think tanks. A new dialectic of ideas would emerge. Over time, ideas would be circulated through newspapers, magazines, television, radio, drama, musical lyrics, and other modes of expression that impact popular opinion. A national dialogue would evolve. D. Hearts and Minds Ideas sufficiently profound would strike a resonance with the ‘hearts and minds’ of individuals throughout the country. The more profound the more striking the resonance. The ‘cry for freedom’ – an idea located in the mysterious depths of the human spirit – resonated throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and unleashed a democratic revolution that is still ongoing. In a similar way, a new political language of community will reach beyond institutions and programs into the ‘hearts and minds’ of individuals. It can have a profound transformative effect on the spiritual dynamics of the person, the family, the society, and eventually the culture. In this way, untold energies would become involved in bringing about change. In conclusion, let me admit that many will judge the prospects I have set forth to be overly ambitious and insufficiently practical. And that should come as no surprise. History records that the ‘hounds of cynicism’ are always on guard along the pathway to human betterment. And yet, it would be wrong to allow ourselves to be deterred by these forces. Cynicism should be challenged wherever it is found. Indeed, a mighty and revolutionary power already lies dormant within the spiritual depths of each individual – within their hopes and dreams, their existential desires and talents, and their intrinsic ‘crying out’ to belong with others through love in community – and this spiritual potential is waiting patiently for the trumpets to call. If we can begin to tap into that source of strength – and introduce subtle changes in the prevailing assumptions that shape how we think, act, create, and relate to one another – a new creative dynamic can slowly be unleashed that will give greater substance and new creative energies to the living dynamics of our families, our neighborhoods, our institutions, and our entire society. Such is the power of dialogue in the hard practical life of man.
Ms. Margy Waller
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today. My name is Margy Waller. I am a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. where my research focuses on poverty, welfare, and low-income working families. Please note however that my testimony today reflects my own views and not the views of any organization with which I am affiliated. It is an honor to appear before you to discuss the state of knowledge on the impact of marriage and divorce on children, with a particular focus on policy interventions to improve the well-being of children in low-income households. The administration proposes to encourage states to promote healthy marriages and in doing so to “place a greater emphasis in TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] on strengthening families and improving the well-being of children”. There is little argument that the body of academic literature supports the conclusion that children do best when they live with their married mother and father, provided that the marriage is one of low-conflict. However, other findings have important implications for consideration of policy interventions to promote safe, healthy marriages in low-income households. First, my testimony will review some important findings - and limitations of the research - for consideration in developing public policy to support the goals of healthy marriages and the well-being of children. Second, I will outline recommendations for public policy and federal investment in light of the research, including implications for the pending reauthorization of the 1996 welfare law. What the Research Reveals While there is much evidence to support the conclusion that children raised in a household with their married biological parents do better than children in other family structures, scientific data answering the question of why this is so is scant. Still, while children raised in single-parent households grow up at greater risk of emotional, social, educational, and employment difficulty, most children from single-parent households do not face these problems. Furthermore, much of the research about the effects of family structure and transitions has focused on middle-income families, or national data sets controlling for income. There is much less information about the particular outcomes in low-income households, and not much is known about the effectiveness of marriage strengthening strategies for poor parents. However, the data that we do have about family structure and the well being of low-income families and children suggest that we should proceed carefully as we attempt to fashion public policy in this arena. · Children in families with married biological parents have lower rates of poverty than children living with single or cohabitating parents. · A marriage simulation matching real single mothers and unmarried men who are similar in age, education, and race reveals that if it is possible to increase marriages to 1970 rates, the poverty rate would be reduced from 13.0 percent to 9.5 percent. · The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is developing a rich database of information about the characteristics of unmarried parents, and how they differ from married parents. Researchers reviewing the data conclude that while one-third of the unmarried parents face no serious barriers to marriage, marriage promotion would not work or could cause serious harm for one-third of the parents (and their children), and another third could benefit only if the marriage initiatives included employment and mental health services. · Ethnographic research by Kathryn Edin and others reveals that low-income parents believe in marriage, but desire economic security prior to marriage. Education, employment, and economic status impact the likelihood of getting and staying married for both men and women. · Income accounts for much of the difference between child well-being in married households and other family structures. Married and unmarried parents are different in a number of ways: age, education, income, levels of domestic violence and other relationship conflict, and use of substances. Parents who are not married at the birth of their child are disadvantaged on these measures, suggesting that marriage alone will not deliver the full set of advantages that families with parents married at the birth enjoy in household income or child well-being. · Some research points to household and parental income as more important determinants for various measures of child well-being than family structure. Notably, children's lasting educational deficits have been found to be more closely linked to early and deep poverty, while their risk of behavioral problems may be more linked to the family structure in which they grew up. · Children may suffer when there are family structure changes, and living in a stepfamily can have negative effects as well. Children in stepfamilies do not do as well as those living with married, biological parents, and may do no better than children in single-parent or unmarried, cohabitating households. There is some evidence that growing up in a single-parent household leads to better outcomes for children than living through family structure transitions. · Surveys of unmarried mothers in low-income households find a higher prevalence of domestic violence than in the national population. Couples experiencing domestic violence should not be encouraged to marry. · Children of immigrants are more likely than those of native-born Americans to be poor, despite the fact that they are more likely to live in a two-parent household and in families with full-time workers. · Teenagers who have a non-marital birth are less likely to get married later and even if teen parents do get married, these marriages are highly unstable and far more likely to fail than marriages between older individuals. While teen mothers face a host of economic and social challenges, their children bear the greatest burden and are at significantly increased risk of low birth weight and pre-maturity, mental retardation, poverty, growing up without a father, welfare dependency, poor school performance, insufficient health care, inadequate parenting, abuse and neglect, and becoming a teen parent themselves. · Studies of a variety of programs that are often called “abstinence-plus” provide strong evidence of effectively reducing sexual activity and pregnancy among teens. Interestingly, some of the most compelling results are from programs that involve teens in supervised community services. On the other hand, there is no strong evidence that “abstinence-only” programs delay sexual activity or reduce pregnancy among teens. The jury is still out, although there is a federal evaluation underway. Implications for Policy and Public Investment A review of this research reveals the risk of unintended consequences from investment in marriage promotion as a means of improving child well-being, particularly in low-income households. While we know that growing up in a household with biological parents in a low-conflict marriage is better for child well-being, we do not know why this is true. If we do not know exactly why it is true, then we are not certain how or whether to go about encouraging similar outcomes for children in single parent households. For example, if marriage is encouraged and supported for step-parent families, it is not clear that children will be better off. Many unmarried parents are at risk of factors known to contribute to marital disruption or conflict: domestic violence, unemployment, mental health problems, infidelity and others. If we end up encouraging marriage for such couples before addressing these issues, we put children at greater risk of experiencing marital conflict and a change in family structure with all of its negative consequences. If the policy goal is to encourage marriage, then the policy should also support programs intended to ensure that the marriage will last. There are serious questions about which parent population to target. For example, does it make sense to encourage step-parent marriages for cohabiting households when we have little evidence that one family structure is better than the other? Should we promote marriage for teenage parents? Is marriage a positive step for parents struggling with unemployment, mental health barriers, or a lack of education and skills to be self-sufficient? Should we focus on doing more to prevent people from becoming unmarried parents in the first place? An Agenda for Improving Child and Family Well-being The social science research provides important lessons for improving child and family well-being, with policies narrowly designed to support marriage, and using a broader approach in the pending welfare reauthorization legislation. Given the limited knowledge about how to support healthy marriages that improve child well-being, Congress should approach public investment and public discourse on the issue with care. Policies Intended to Encourage Marriage · Marriage Promotion Experimentation. Given the lack of social science research that provides a roadmap for marriage promotion and support among low-income families, Congress should proceed cautiously and with the goal of learning more about how to encourage marriage, while reducing the risk of harm to children. Research evidence that provides guidance for improving child well-being is growing, and the best investments are those that may indirectly promote marriage. (See below.) Congress should not put funding ahead of the science: a relatively small investment in marriage promotion research makes sense, if carefully targeted. The legislation should dedicate funding to experimental designs, focused on the strategies with promise – particularly those that combine counseling and education with barrier removal activities like education, training, and mental health services. · Domestic Violence Prevention. The research evidence is clear that low-income mothers targeted by the marriage promotion initiatives are at high risk of domestic violence. Accordingly, all marriage promotion programs and experiments must include requirements that 1) the program design be developed in coordination with local, state, or national domestic violence prevention advocates or experts; and 2) all participants are advised that the program is voluntary. · Teen pregnancy prevention. While promoting marriage for teens who become parents is not likely to improve child well-being, we know that giving birth outside marriage reduces the likelihood of marriage. Thus, one of the most effective marriage promotion investments is programs proven to reduce teen pregnancy. Unless new research results provide evidence of delayed initiation of sex and reduced pregnancy as an outcome of abstinence-only programs, the existing research suggests that resources should be directed to programs with proven effectiveness such as those that provide supervised community service opportunities for teens. · Public Discourse. Since the research regarding the benefits of marriage for child well-being is quite slim, and applies to those children living with married, biological parents in low-conflict relationships, it is irresponsible to overstate the importance of marriage for child well-being. As we have experienced with the public debate over work-based, time-limited welfare reform, public understanding of policy shifts can impact culture and behavior. It would be a serious disservice to single parents and their children if the public comes to believe incorrectly that these children are necessarily worse off than they would be if their primary caretaker were to marry. Welfare Reauthorization and Lessons from Research about Child Well-being While the administration is apparently moving ahead of Congressional action by using existing funds for marriage promotion activities, the primary legislative vehicle for discussion of marriage promotion is the current debate over welfare reauthorization. If members of Congress and the administration are committed to focusing on child well-being as a primary goal of welfare reauthorization, they should shift the investment priorities reflected in pending proposals. Current knowledge of the benefits and risks of encouraging marriage for low-income parents is limited. This suggests that further experimentation and rigorous evaluation is critical. Since we have no evidence of what works, Congress should provide a relatively small appropriation dedicated to research purposes. Overlooked for the most part in the marriage promotion debate is existing research on welfare and children that provides strong evidence of successful approaches to child well-being that policymakers should pursue in reauthorization. Some of these strategies may prove to support safe, healthy marriage indirectly, as well. In particular, programs designed to increase household income and economic security (by providing work supports like child care and transportation assistance or by improving employment income with education and training services) are known to improve the well-being of young children. · Make work pay and increase household income by - providing new resources for education and training, including transitional jobs, - creating a new credit to reward states for job placement rather than caseload reduction, with extra incentives to place recipients in higher paying jobs, - allowing states to count education, training, and barrier removal activities as primary work participation, and - providing an appropriation (not just authorization) for a car ownership demonstration program and evaluation. · Provide adequate funding to maintain current levels of child care assistance to working poor families and add significant new resources for eligible families not currently receiving a child care subsidy. (Of course, any changes in work participation rates would require additional funding for the children of working welfare recipients.) · Protect families and children from the harm of income reducing sanctions by requiring outreach and review for alternatives to benefit reduction before eliminating household income. Do not require states to impose full family sanctions. · Do not mandate expensive work participation requirements that create incentives for states to utilize unpaid work (workfare) activities for the purpose of fulfilling federal requirements. Increasing work participation and work hours will lead to reduced state investment in more promising programs that are proven to improve child well-being. In contrast, increasing work hours decreases adult supervision of and interaction with adolescents who are already suffering academically when their parent(s) are participating in welfare-to-work activities. · Make it easier for states to reform child support rules so that children receive more of the child support collected for them as a means to increase household income and reduce poverty. · Allow states to provide legal immigrant households with “make work pay” supports, education, and other services intended to increase earnings. Reauthorizing current welfare law appears more likely to produce better outcomes for children than House and Senate proposals While welfare reauthorization provides an opportunity for policymakers to implement strategies and services likely to improve child well-being, all signs suggest that it is highly unlikely members can agree on legislation this year. The welfare law expired in September 2002, and Congress has passed six short term extensions of current law since then. Most recently, serious disagreements between members of the Senate and the administration led to the withdrawal of the bill from floor debate. The current extension will expire at the end of June. These short term extensions create uncertainty for welfare administrators, program providers, and low-income families. Furthermore, the current proposals are likely to reduce child well-being as a result of new mandates to increase work hours and otherwise reduce state flexibility. Since the proposals were introduced, many states and localities have created new marriage promotion initiatives. In 2002, some observers may have concluded that state policymakers were overlooking the opportunity to promote marriage as part of welfare to work initiatives. For good or for ill, that is not the case today. Given these facts and the policy choices under consideration, the current best option for members of Congress to improve child outcomes through the welfare law would be a straight, multi-year reauthorization of the current law. If Congress nevertheless chooses to implement a marriage promotion experiment while reauthorizing current law, a balanced approach is critical. Members should couple a small, targeted experiment with additional funding for child care because it is a strategy known to improve child well-being. Policymaking should support promising research, but Congress should not let funding get ahead of the science. Selected References Bachman, H.J., Coley, R.L., & Chase-Lansdale, P. L. (2003). Marriage or Partnering? Effects of Cohabitation and Family Structure Changes on Child and Adolescent Well-Being. Paper presented at the first annual conference of the National Poverty Center, Washington DC. Working paper available at: http://www.npc.umich.edu Edin, K. (2000) How Low-Income Single Mothers Talk About Marriage. Social Problems, 47 (1), 112-133. Gibson, C., Edin, K., & McLanahan, S. (2003) High Hopes But Even Higher Expectations: The Retreat from Marriage Among Low-Income Couples. Center for Research and Child Wellbeing Working Paper # 2003-06-FF. Hamilton, G. (2002) Moving People from Welfare to Work: Lessons from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education. Haskins, R. & Sawhill, I. (2003) Work and Marriage: The Way to End Poverty and Welfare. WR&B Policy Brief #28. Washington, D.C.: Brookings. Kaye, K. (2004) Effects of Marriage on Family Economic Well-Being: Summary. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Kirby, D. (2002) Do Abstinence-Only Programs Delay the Initiation of Sex Among Young People and Reduce Teen Pregnancy? Washington, D.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Kirby, D. (2001) Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy. Washington, D.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Lichter, D.T. & Graefe, D.R. (2001) Finding a Mate? The Marital and Cohabitation Histories of Unwed Mothers. In Wu, L.L. & Wolfe, B. (Eds.), Out of Wedlock: Trends, Causes and Consequences of Nonmarital Fertility, 329. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. McLanahan, S. (2003) Fragile Families and the Marriage Agenda. Princeton, NJ: Princeton, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. McLanahan, S. & Sandefur, G. (1994) Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. National Center for Children in Poverty. (2002) Letter to Members of Congress: Researchers discuss the effects of welfare reform on children’s well-being. Available at: http://www.nccp.org/item_25.html Parke, M. (2003) Are Married Parents Really Better for Children? What Research Says About the Effects of Family Structure on Child Well-Being. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy. Parke, M. (2004) Who Are ‘Fragile Families’ and What Do We Know About Them? Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy. Reardon-Anderson, J., Capps, R., & Fix, M. (2002) The Health and Well-Being of Children in Immigrant Families. Washington, DC: Urban Institute. Seefeldt, K.S. & Smock, P.J. (2004) Marriage on the Public Policy Agenda: What Do Policy Makers Need to Know from Research? University of Michigan, National Poverty Center. Available at: http://www.npc.umich.edu/publications/workingpaper04/paper2/04-02.pdf Sigle-Rushton, W. & McLanahan, S. (2003) For Richer or Poorer?: Marriage as an Anti-poverty Strategy in the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. Thomas, A. & Sawhill, I. (2002) “For Richer or for Poorer: Marriage as an Antipoverty Strategy.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 21(4), 587-599.
Mr. Patrick Fagan
Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on the challenge that family life in America presents to the children and the leaders of our nation. The family is the building block of our society. It is the place where everyone begins life and to which they always belong. The more that members of a family belong to each other, the more each individual and each family thrive. When rejection occurs in the family, especially between the parents when they separate or divorce, or even when they never come together, the entire family and especially the children, suffers. The accompanying extended remarks in the form of a booklet called “The Map of the American Family” illustrate in charts the trends and the dynamics of belonging and rejection in the United States over the last fifty years. These charts are mainly from federal surveys and give a snapshot of what is occurring within America’s families. (British data are used when there is no corresponding U.S. federal survey….a situation that should be remedied.) The effects of belonging, rejection, and indifference are illustrated in these graphs. National survey data repeatedly and consistently show that the highest levels of positive outcomes are in those families where the parents have always belonged to each other and to their children: the intact married family. These families (adults and children) are less likely to live in poverty, less likely to be dependent on welfare, more likely to be happy, and to have a host of other positive outcomes. Further, the children in these families are more likely to exhibit positive outcomes (such as higher grade point average) and less likely to exhibit negative ones (such as depression). Though these charts are correlational --- deliberately so, to give the best picture or snapshot of what is happening with America’s children --- the regression analysis and causative exploration by the nation’s top family sociologists repeatedly find that the intact married family is the best place in which children thrive. When parents reject each other by divorce or an out of wedlock birth that eventually ends in totally separate lives for the father and mother, the strengths of their children are not as developed as they could be, and more weaknesses occur in major outcomes such as deprivations, addictions, abuse and failure. When fathers and mothers belong to each other in marriage their children thrive. When they are indifferent or walk away from each or reject each other, their children do not thrive as much, and many wilt a lot. The chart below gives a picture of how many children have been affected by changes in family structure over the past fifty years, changes in the levels of belongingness and the levels of rejection during these five decades. This chart shows that in 1950 for every hundred children born, that year, 12 entered a broken family --- four were born out of wedlock and eight suffered the divorce of their parents. By the year 2000 that number had risen five fold and for every 100 children born 60 entered a broken family: 33 born out of wedlock and 27 suffering the divorce of their parents. We must conclude that over the last fifty years America has changed from being preponderantly “a culture of belonging” to now being “a culture of rejection”. Because of this level of the rejection by fathers and mothers of each other this growing cohort of children has not nor will not attain the fullness of its capacities. Neither can the nation attain the fullness of its capacity to fulfill its destiny and role. The children of parents who reject each other suffer: in deep emotional pain, ill health, depression, anxiety, even shortened life span; more drop out of school, less go to college, they earn less income, they develop more addictions to drugs and alcohol, and they engage in increased violence or suffer it within their homes. Society also suffers with more gangs, more assaults, more violence against women and children, more sexual abuse of women and children, and much bigger bills for jails, increased need for health care, supplemental education, addiction programs, foster care, homelessness programs and on and on. The expansion of all these social program budgets is directly linked to the breakdown in marriage. There is not a single area of governmental concern, not a single budget of a major social policy area that does not grow in size when marriages fail, or when parents reject each other. Picking up the pieces becomes not just the work of the fragmented family itself but of all taxpayers and the whole of society. The breakdown has now reached such a level as to be massively expensive. With these results we can say this cultural change --- America’s latest experiment with freedom --- has been a big failure. Though it may seem far removed from the point of this hearing, this cultural phenomenon is now a foreign policy issue. To be the leader of the free world we need a culture that we are proud of, a culture that is a source of domestic strength and happiness. How do we reverse this situation? As a nation we need to set about restoring the conditions that will grow again a culture of belonging, with all the ingredients that go into such a culture: courtship, marriage, worship and communities of families that form neighborhoods that are nice places to come home to: neighborhoods in which romance, courtship and marriage are normal and frequent. Behind this simple goal --- some might, without grasping its import, say simplistic goal --- lies a huge amount of work especially for everyone, including this body. The Senate, which has played such a critical role so often in shaping the ideas that guide and correct the unfolding American experiment in freedom, and which has helped shape the ideals of this nation so often, is now called again to play again its foremost role in bringing this about the changes needed: debate. We are a political nation, founded on a political ideas and ideals that animate our constitution and our national history. And the Senate is the institution designed most to be that place where America debates the next form of its ongoing experiment with freedom: more than the House, more than the Supreme Court, more even than the Presidency. This is the preeminent institution of debate in this country --- so at least was the intention of the Founders, and so still is the need of the people. George Washington in his Farewell Speech to the Nation drew attention to the need for the American people to be a people of worship if this experiment in freedom is to work. The latest data show us that these families—those that worship most, are those that most belong to each other, that give us the most of what we want in all our social policies, and produce the least of what we try to prevent in all our social programs….but that is a topic for another hearing, one well worth having. When mothers and fathers belong to each other and strive to belong to God in worship the greatest strengths emerge and the least problems are present. For instance on something the whole country and this Senate constantly talk, and worry about, and spend a lot of money on ---education attainment and outcomes --- children from the intact family that worships God most frequently has the highest Grade Point Average, while children from the fragmented family that worships least or not at all, as a group, has the lowest Grade Point Average, as the attached chart illustrates from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, our biggest and most comprehensive survey ever of adolescent outcomes. A host of other outcomes illustrate the same basic point. There is much in the scientific literature that points towards religious practice as a great preserver and fosterer of marriage and family strengths. Thus we increasingly have data pointing towards two fundamental strengths for this nation: love between fathers and mothers in marriage, and regular worship of God. Significantly both are premised on America’s most fundamental premise, freedom: both marriage and worship can only truly happen with the totally free undertaking of the people involved. There is absolutely no room for any form of coercion in these great enterprises…hence the importance of the role of debate and persuasion, especially debate in the Senate. In this time of an obvious failure of one phase of America’s experiment with freedom, the challenge before you, the leaders of this nation, is how to lead America back to having a culture of belonging rather than being a culture of rejection; to being a country where people and families belong to each other and especially fathers belong first to the mothers of their children and mothers belong first to the fathers. Parents belonging to each other are what children need more than anything else this nation can give them. The first step on how to get there is being taken by discussions such as this. This and the debate that will follow among your colleagues is a major service to the whole nation. I sincerely thank Senator Brownback and Senator McCain for inviting me to testify before this committee. It is a great honor for me. I hope my testimony has been helpful to you. ******************* The Heritage Foundation is a public policy, research, and educational organization operating under Section 501(C)(3). It is privately supported, and receives no funds from any government at any level, nor does it perform any government or other contract work. The Heritage Foundation is the most broadly supported think tank in the United States. 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