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    558. The Facts Are In: Two Parents Are Better Than One

    en-usSeptember 21, 2023

    Podcast Summary

    • Discussing the Significance of Family Structure in Inequality and Social MobilityEconomist Melissa Kearney's new book highlights the importance of family structure in discussions on inequality and social mobility, focusing on the increase in U.S. births to unmarried parents and the lack of conversation around this topic in academic and policy circles.

      Freakonomics Radio has launched a membership program called Freakonomics Radio Plus, offering ad-free listening and weekly bonus episodes for those who want more content. Economist Melissa Kearney's new book, "The Two Parent Privilege," discusses the significant increase in U.S. births to unmarried parents and the lack of conversation around this topic in academic and policy circles. Kearney argues that family structure is crucial for discussions on inequality and social mobility. Marriage, as defined by Kearney, is an economic contract between individuals to combine resources and share household and child-rearing responsibilities. Economics has become a more prominent field in studying family formation, but it remains a niche area due to its focus on the economic aspects of family life.

    • The economic challenges faced by children in single-parent householdsSingle parent households in the US contribute to less economically secure situations, with potential long-term consequences for children's development, including behavioral issues, academic struggles, and lower levels of education.

      The economic situation of children in the US, particularly those growing up in single-parent households, should be a greater concern for economists, business leaders, and society as a whole. Melissa Carney's personal experiences and research highlight the importance of families as the fundamental economic unit of society, and the challenges faced by single parents can have long-term consequences for their children, including behavioral issues, academic struggles, and lower levels of education. The trend of increasing single-parent households in the US contributes to less economically secure situations, with fewer resources and less time and emotional bandwidth to invest in children's development. This issue is not niche, but rather a significant driver of income inequality and other societal problems.

    • Two parents in the house reduce negative outcomes for childrenHaving two parents at home significantly reduces negative outcomes for children, including involvement in crime and higher earnings as adults. Asian American children are more likely to live in married-parent households, contributing to this protective effect.

      Having two parents, specifically a dad in the house, plays a significant role in reducing negative outcomes for children, including involvement in the criminal justice system and achieving higher earnings as adults. This protective effect varies among different racial and ethnic groups, with Asian American children being more likely to live in married-parent households. Social norms and cultural values may contribute to these differences. It's essential to have an open and empathetic conversation about the benefits of two-parent households while acknowledging the challenges faced by single-parent families and working to support them economically. The decline in marriage rates and religiosity may also be contributing factors, but more research is needed in these areas.

    • Trend of Single Parent Households in US driven by non-marital birthsNon-marital births are the primary reason for the rise in single-parent households in the US, disproportionately affecting non-college educated individuals and communities of color, leading to disparities in economic security and resources for children. Education plays a key role in maintaining married parent households.

      The increase in single-parent households in the US is primarily driven by an increase in non-marital births, rather than divorce or cohabitation. This trend is particularly prevalent among non-college educated individuals and communities of color, leading to significant disparities in economic security and resources for children. Education appears to be a major factor in determining whether families are able to maintain married parent households. Despite the challenges faced by non-married parents, particularly those with criminal records, there is a strong desire to positively engage and contribute to their children's lives. Addressing systemic racism and barriers to employment and stable housing for these families is crucial in closing racial gaps and improving outcomes for children.

    • Trends in Single-Parent Households: Economic, Social, and Cultural FactorsEducation levels influence partnership choices, but both highly educated and non-college individuals are less likely to marry, contributing to income inequality and growing numbers of single-parent households. Strengthening families and promoting stable relationships through resources and policies is crucial.

      The trend toward increasing numbers of single-parent households is influenced by a complex interplay of economic, social, and cultural factors. While education levels can play a role in shaping partnership choices, the issue is not simply that college-educated individuals are more likely to marry each other, leaving less educated individuals behind. Instead, it's that both highly educated and non-college educated individuals are increasingly less likely to marry at all. This trend, in turn, contributes to growing income inequality between households. Moreover, the decision to marry or not, and the timing and number of children, are influenced not only by economic conditions but also by personal experiences and societal norms. For instance, growing up in a community where non-marital childbearing is common can make it seem like a more reasonable option. To address this issue, it's crucial to move beyond relying solely on schools to address the challenges faced by children from single-parent households. Instead, we should invest more resources in programs aimed at strengthening families and promoting stable relationships. Additionally, it's essential to consider how policies related to domestic violence are enforced and whether they unintentionally contribute to the rise in single-parent households. Ultimately, a comprehensive approach is needed to tackle this complex issue and support families in creating stable, loving homes.

    • The Complexity of Single ParentingWhile having two parents brings financial stability and emotional support, other factors like stress levels, available resources, underlying issues, and economic changes contribute to the rise of one-parent households.

      The decline in marriage and rise in one-parent households can't be solely attributed to the presence or absence of a second parent. While having two parents brings financial stability and emotional support, it's important to consider other factors like stress levels and available resources. Some researchers argue that single mothers may face underlying issues that impact their children's outcomes, regardless of a second parent's presence. Economic changes, including widening inequality and the decline of well-paying jobs, have also contributed to this trend. Overall, it's a complex issue with various contributing factors, and it's essential to consider the interplay between social, economic, and personal factors when discussing this topic.

    • Supporting men without college degrees for stronger familiesExpand community college access, increase EITC, reduce child poverty, and prioritize two-parent homes to improve economic conditions for men, leading to better marriage partners and fatherhood.

      Improving economic conditions for men without a college education is crucial for creating more reliable marriage partners and better fathers. Melissa Carney proposes bolstering federal support for community colleges and expanding the earned income tax credit to achieve this goal. Additionally, she advocates for policies to reduce child poverty, such as extending the enhanced child tax credit, and emphasizes the importance of a two-parent home for children's well-being. Despite the evidence supporting these solutions, they are often overlooked in progressive and academic circles, making it essential to foster a broader conversation on these issues.

    • Penalizing Marriage, Incentivizing Single ParentingOutdated policies discourage marriage and favor single-parent households, necessitating complex solutions and collective effort for progress

      The current tax code and welfare policies in the US unintentionally penalize marriage and incentivize single-parent households. This is due to outdated assumptions about women's workforce participation and the generosity of welfare benefits. The speaker suggests ideas like removing the marriage disincentive or imposing a tax on single-parent households, but acknowledges that these solutions are complex and may not be effective on their own. The speaker remains pessimistic about substantially addressing this issue soon but believes that collective effort and recognition of the problem can lead to progress. The speaker also expresses support for communal parenting but acknowledges that it cannot replace the presence of a second parent in the household.

    • The Evolution of Family StructuresAncient civilizations practiced communal living and non-biological adults sharing responsibilities, challenging the notion that the nuclear family is the only effective family structure.

      The concept of family and the number of parents considered ideal have evolved throughout history. The nuclear family, consisting of two parents, is a relatively new concept. Archaeological findings from ancient civilizations, such as Chatsalhuyuk in Turkey, suggest that communal living and non-biologically related adults sharing responsibilities were common. A community called Twin Oaks in rural Virginia has been experimenting with this concept for decades, with residents sharing childcare and living in a communal setting. The community's findings challenge the notion that the nuclear family is the only natural or effective family structure. The discussion also raises questions about the potential benefits of having more than two parents involved in child-rearing.

    • Communal Child-Rearing at Twin OaksTwin Oaks values strong bonds between children and their 'primaries,' who are not just family members but other adults in the community. Communal child-rearing is an essential part of their economic structure, allowing for better work-life balance but presenting economic challenges.

      At Twin Oaks, communal living goes beyond sharing resources and work; it also includes communal child-rearing. The community values strong bonds between children and their "primaries," who are not just family members but other adults in the community. These primaries play significant roles in raising children, from babysitting to education and mentorship. At Twin Oaks, time spent caring for children counts towards work hours, making it an essential part of the community's economic structure. This communal approach to child-rearing allows for better work-life balance but comes with economic challenges, such as fewer hours worked when a new child is born. The community's unique approach to child-rearing is a testament to their commitment to communal living and supporting each other in all aspects of life.

    • Communal living shifts towards more familiar family structuresCommunal living offers benefits like constant adult support, but parents value personal space and privacy in traditional family life

      Communal living and child rearing models, like those at Twin Oaks and Kibbutzim, have evolved to give parents more autonomy and preserve the importance of secure family attachments. These communities started with a radical, communal approach but shifted towards a more familiar, "nuclear-ish" family structure in the late 1980s. While there are benefits to having communal support in raising children, such as fresh adult energy and constant availability, many parents value the privacy and personal space that comes with traditional family life. Twin Oaks residents, including those who grew up there, appreciate the community's unique aspects but also recognize the importance of maintaining connections with the outside world. Ultimately, these communities offer a balance between shared resources and individual family bonds.

    • Communal living benefits for raising childrenResearch shows children in collective living arrangements have better school performance, higher social adaptability, and greater self-esteem. The norm of sharing childcare responsibilities across multiple adults could be a privilege for raising great kids together.

      Communal living arrangements, such as the one at Twin Oaks commune, may have benefits for raising children. According to research, children raised collectively in Israel have better school performance, higher social adaptability, and greater self-esteem. Kristen Godsey, author of "Everyday Utopia," argues that this model of sharing childcare responsibilities across multiple adults has been the norm for most of history. While the two-parent privilege is cherished by many parents, the idea of a larger community supporting and sharing in the work of raising great kids together can also be seen as a privilege. The Atlas Obscura podcast explored this concept in their segment on Twin Oaks, highlighting the potential advantages of such an arrangement. While more research is needed, the evidence suggests that communal living could be an effective alternative to traditional family structures for raising children.

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