Single Parent vs Married Families: Stop the Comparisons

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Some headlines just beg a clicking, for better or for worse. Marriage: America’s best antidote to child poverty, was one of those. In this piece, the Heritage Foundation presents the argument that because a disproportionate number of families with children living in poverty are single parent ones versus married ones, the United States should advance policies that promote and reward marriage.

Wedding rings

Frankly, suggesting marriage as the solution to poverty because a high number of those in poverty are unwed is like promoting becoming white as a solution to poverty because a high number of those in poverty are nonwhite.

I had written a post responding to this “fact sheet” until it dawned on me their argument is completely invalid because their research is wrong. As a matter of fact, most studies on single parent households are wrong.

When you are doing a study and you are seeking to compare and contrast, your study’s strength relies on the variables and controls. In other words, if you want to determine whether or not drinking food colored water affects the health of mice, you have to make sure your mice are very similar and eat exactly the same diet with one exception– what they drink. Group A drinks regular water, Group B drinks food colored water, and Group C drinks neither regular or food colored water but orange juice.

So what does this have to do with single parent studies? Too many variables.

If you really want to arrive at concrete conclusions on the differences between single and married families, you need to reduce as many variables as possible, especially income since income is critical in a capitalist economy. Get the data on families with two children making $35,000 a year. What are the differences between married and unmarried households there? Get the data on families with two children making $50,000 a year. What are the differences between married and unmarried households there? Get the data on families with two children making $100,000 year a year. What are the differences between married and unmarried households there? Get the data on families with two children making $250,000 a year. What are the differences between married and unmarried households there?

My gut tells me that the more variables you remove, the more similarities there are. In other words, a house where both parents work full-time, have two children, and make $50,000 a year is probably very similar to a house where there is only one parent, that parent works full-time, has two children, and makes $50,000 a year.

People promoting “traditional values” as the solution to poverty and other problems in society have it backward. If you want to preach anything, you need to make sure you have an audience that is ready to listen. And that means having an audience that is not worried about the next meal, the next light bill, the next trip to the gas pump, or the next illness. You want to reduce the number of unwed families? Ok, no problem. Get them to a place where their life is easier so they have the time, energy, and self-esteem needed to find a good marriage partner. In other words, you don’t solve poverty with marriage. You solve single parenthood by reducing or eliminating poverty.

What do you think is a better indicator of a family experience: income or marriage status? Do you think marriage translates into more money? I can’t help but think of this other piece where a couple left their toddlers at home while they went to get married. Why? Because they are both unemployed and in Florida if you’re unmarried you need to have a child support agreement in enforcement to collect state benefits. In my mind, broke is broke; doesn’t matter if it’s two people or one. Am I missing something here?

 

Photo Credit: elfinheimerschmidt.

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