Freakonomics is the popular podcast that aims to expose the “hidden side of everything” by applying economics research to everyday realities. In a recent episode, they sought to understand why marriage is on the decline. Their conclusion was staggering: there is a clear link between child poverty and unmarried parents.
“It turns out that poverty and family structure are intertwined in this country,” Professor Melissa Kearney, a University of Maryland researcher, told Freakonomics’ Stephen Dubner. “You can’t be interested in children’s well-being and not look at family structure.”
According to Kearney, only 5 percent of births in the U.S. were to unmarried mothers in 1960. In 2014, that number skyrocketed to 40 percent. Along with it has come clear instances of poverty and signs that children caught in the middle are suffering as a result.
“Research consistently shows that kids who live with two married parents have lower rates of poverty, have higher cognitive test scores in childhood, have fewer behavioral problems,” she said. “They seem to have better health outcomes. They’re less likely to live in poverty when they’re 25. They’re more likely to complete college and they’re less likely to become young, unmarried parents themselves.”
The news revealed by Freakonomics supports years of research by the Georgia Center for Opportunity and others.
GCO President and CEO Randy Hicks says that there is hope of breaking the cycle for children and their parents. In a recent op-ed, he points to what he calls the “success sequence,” a research-backed three-pronged formula for success in America: graduate from high school, get a full-time job (or have a partner who does), and marry before having children.
“For children caught in multi-generational cycles of poverty, a good education can be a stick in the spokes of the poverty cycle that slows it down; for an adult, it’s a job; and for couples, it may be relationship enrichment programs and other supports,” Hicks said.
The Georgia Center for Opportunity offers programs and resources for parents looking to better the legacy of their families. For classes and other information, check out the Healthy Families Initiative.