by Sharon Barrett
September 28, 2012
As Maria Reig Teetor, MARRI intern wrote recently, social science shows a clear link between family structure and mental health. For instance, a study on child poverty found that children who grow up in poor families are more likely to develop depression and personality disorders. Maria explains:
Poor children are exposed to a wide range of risk factors that affect their social and emotional development. The environment they grow up in is surrounded by drug abuse, inadequate nutrition, crime, parental instability, divorce, maternal depression….
This environment also causes the children to externalize their emotional turmoil with behavior outbursts such as delinquency or drug and sexual abuse. In short, poverty affects children and has grave consequences.
Just as mental health disorders are linked to child poverty, so is child poverty linked to non-intact family structure. Poverty does not occur in a vacuum. Since the 1960s, marriage rates and employment rates have declined in tandem. In the 2010s we see the full-blown effects of the divorce revolution and the sexual revolution. With the devaluing of the intact family, we also suffered a deficit in human capital and an inflation of poverty rates. Original research published by MARRI explains the statistics:
55 percent of U.S. children entering adulthood in 2008 had experienced the breakup of their family of origin.
This number is even more staggering when we see it alongside the number of children living in poverty conditions in 2010: 43%. Furthermore,
Up to 20 percent of [American] children are unequipped to compete in the modern economy because of a lack of essential skills formed within the intact married family.
When this is combined with the high risk of mental health disorders, poor children are at an overwhelming disadvantage. But look closely at the reason:
Family planning policies have undermined fertility rates and simultaneously discouraged marriage and encouraged out-of-wedlock births. Among its main target group, the poor, marriage has virtually disappeared, and been replaced with serial cohabitation [emphasis mine].
The solution to the child poverty crisis is not a social program, but a simple proposal: marriage, which Maria Reig Teetor calls the strongest anti-poverty weapon. Reviving a culture of marriage can help restore the benefits of the intact family to those who need them most: poor children.