The American dream needs married fathers

A family of Hispanic origin is shown.
A family of Hispanic origin is shown. (iStock)

The American dream needs married fathers

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As Brookings Institution senior fellow Richard Reeves tells it, we now live in “a world where mothers don’t need men.” Almost 40% of births take place outside marriage, up from 5% in 1960. Reeves would like you to believe these are “marvelous developments.”

He couldn’t be more wrong.


Decades of social science research have found that children, but especially boys, have a better chance of succeeding if they are raised with a married father in the home. Boys from single-mother homes are more likely to be suspended from school, more likely to get in trouble with the law, less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to go to college, and more likely to be jobless as an adult.

The absence of fathers harms boys more than girls, so when one generation of boys grows up without fathers, it is even more difficult for the next generation of women to find suitable husbands. The result is a doom cycle of more unmarriageable men and more single women.

This problem is not confined to black families anymore. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote The Negro Family: The Case for National Action in 1965, he was alarmed that the percentage of black children born to unmarried mothers had risen from 15% in 1940 to 25% in 1963. But that trend has spread. The percentage of white children born out of wedlock has risen from 15% in 1990 to 30% today. Two out of every five children are now born outside marriage.

Harvard researchers have found that fewer of today’s children are surpassing their parents’ success. The American dream is disappearing. And it is in those communities without fathers where economic mobility has declined the furthest.

“The strongest predictors of upward mobility are measures of family structure,” the researchers write, “such as the fraction of single parents in the area.” More than income, more than race, the presence of fathers in the home is the biggest predictor of whether children will grow up to be productive adults.

Leftist academics such as Reeves argue that marriage can be replaced by giving fathers paid parental leave and by allowing divorced fathers to exchange alimony payments for parental care. On this, he is wrong again. Men who father one child outside of marriage, or who are divorced, do not become celibate. They form relationships with other women. Most will have another child. Without marriage to bind men and women together to care for each other and their children, men float aimlessly from one woman to the next, and their ties with their children dwindle as they move on.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Married fathers can again be the norm.

The federal government has a two-track policy on marriage. The wealthy are rewarded for marriage with tax breaks and spousal Social Security benefits. The lower class, meanwhile, is punished for marriage. Name any federal safety net program — the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, Section 8 housing, Medicaid, even Obamacare health insurance subsidies — and every one of them punishes mothers by withdrawing the money when they marry the father of their child or children.


No wonder marriage, not race, is the defining class feature of our time.

Marriage penalties should be ended. It can be made easier for working-class families to have married fathers in the same home as their children. First, it must be admitted that fathers are necessary. Then, marriage-friendly policies must be put in place so more fathers will help raise their children.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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