Family stability is strongly associated with less violence, greater economic growth, greater economic mobility, less child poverty, better children’s school performance, higher average family income, better physical and mental health, and longer life expectancy in the United States, studies have shown.
Poor children who grow up in communities with a higher rate of children raised by only one parent are less likely to escape poverty than children in communities with higher rates of children raised by their married parents. According to these studies, family stability is a more relevant factor for socioeconomic advancement than factors such as inequality, government spending, race and school quality.
Strong families tend to produce certain values and virtues in spouses and their children,
such as work ethic and delayed gratification, which contribute to the creation of human and social capital,
producing greater trust and mutual respect between community members, generating greater productivity and higher levels of savings for possible future adversities, reducing disrespect for rules and laws, reducing conflicts. Married men tend to work with more dedication, more prudence and greater success, and have fewer addictions. As a result, they tend to earn between 10 per cent and 30 per cent more than single men and accumulate more assets. Married women tend to work less, dedicating themselves more to their children’s needs. Married men and women tend to reach retirement age with three times as much wealth accumulated as men and women who have never married or who have divorced. And children who grow up in solid family environments, with their parents present, tend to have fewer disciplinary problems in school and better academic performance.
The percentage of married men who say they are very satisfied with life (43 per cent) is more than double that of men who are single (20 per cent) or cohabiting (21 per cent). Married men with children have a 25 per cent lower incidence of depression. Never-married women and men have a 48 per cent higher suicide rate than married or cohabiting women and men. Men who marry and stay married have a life expectancy that is 10 years longer than men who do not marry or who divorce.
It is estimated that the reduction in the proportion of married individuals and the growth in the number of children being raised by only one parent in the USA from the 1960s onwards had a strong influence on the increase in child poverty, the worsening of school performance, the decrease in social mobility, and greater levels of social inequality and urban violence.
According to Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson, ‘family structure is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, predictors of…urban violence across cities in the United States.’ Differences in economic mobility between black and white children tend to be smaller in communities with a greater presence of paternal figures and married adults. Married couples tend to contribute proportionally more in taxes to the national treasury and benefit less from government assistance services.
But the weakening of families has not affected different social classes equally. The weakening of families has been more pronounced among the poorest and those with lower levels of education. This has generated a vicious circle that perpetuates poverty and increases social inequalities, since the proportion of married individuals among the richest and with the highest levels of education remains at high levels. As a result, the children of poorer couples tend to grow up without the same family structure that benefits the children of richer parents, thus perpetuating inequality in this fundamental factor for human flourishing and professional success, which is growing up in an environment of strong family unity, with the presence of both parents. Although elites tend to publicly reject the ideal of family stability, promoting, through the media, the entertainment industry and universities, values that promote greater family instability (and which end up being adopted by the poorest), in their private lives they tend to adhere to this ideal of family stability and benefit from it to the detriment of the lower classes.
In an article titled ‘The American Dream Can Be Achieved If We Spend More Time Building Strong, Stable Families’, sociologists Brad Wilcox and Chris Bullivant present results from some of the studies that show the importance of family stability for reducing poverty, inequality social issues, and violence, and discuss why such an important factor in combating these social evils is so ignored.
The growing increase in social inequalities in the United States in recent decades has occurred in parallel with the disintegration of American lower and lower-middle class families. Until the late 1970s, there were no significant differences in family structures by class. But since then, a gulf began to open between the upper classes and the lower classes when it came to family structure. Among the upper and upper-middle classes, more than 90 per cent of children live with both parents. Among the lower and lower-middle classes, only 35 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively, live with their married parents. And according to Wilcox and Bullivant, this difference in family structure is the predominant factor in the increase in socioeconomic inequalities and the increasing difficulty of social mobility among the poorest.
Wilcox and Bullivant note that there is a disconnect between the discourse and practice of the upper classes. These are the classes that most vigorously defend values that contribute to weakening the stability of families while they are the group most committed, in practice, to the ideal of family stability.
In other words,
members of the upper classes promote values that they themselves do not practice.
And it is this disconnect between discourse and practice that has been one of the main factors in the growing socioeconomic disparities that are harming the poorest and most vulnerable. After all, the advent of values that contribute to the weakening and disintegration of families have been promoted by the elites of the media, Hollywood, universities, large corporations, and politics, but those who have adopted these values are the poorest, those who consume the products and values disseminated by an elite who know that family stability is important for the flourishing of their children and themselves. But that doesn’t seem to stop them from promoting values that undermine the institution of family as a whole and the stability of lower-class families in particular.