In her recent book The Two-Parent Privilege, the economist Melissa Kearney assembles a mass of data supporting a proposition that has long been argued for by right-leaning scholars, and seems self-evident to countless people: that marriage is beneficial to society, and children are better off when raised by a mother and father. Kay Hymowitz observes:
What makes The Two-Parent Privilege an event is not [its conclusions], but the author herself. Ever since the brouhaha following the 1965 Moynihan Report’s warnings about the rise in single motherhood among low-income blacks, the policy and social-science establishment has been loath to engage the issue. This has remained true even as the same family troubles spread to the white and Hispanic working class, and even as evidence mounted that the breakdown in marriage was not only bad for children but also worsened inequality. When a prominent scholar with impeccable center-left credentials like Kearney forthrightly makes that case, she is veering into policy quicksand.
This is a danger of which she is well aware. At professional conferences, her colleagues have reacted to her research with comments on the order of: “I tend to agree with you about all this but are you sure you want to be out there saying this publicly?” Others have told her that she sounded “socially conservative,” implying that she was “not academically serious.”
[Indeed], the research enumerated in The Two-Parent Privilege enriches our understanding of working-class decline and, more broadly, the nation’s political and cultural polarization. . . . Kearney only touches on another uncomfortable truth emerging from The Two-Parent Privilege. The subject of the choice of whether or not to marry—something most Americans, liberal and conservative, revere as a personal decision—remains largely off limits despite its profound social and economic impact.
“We should be clear-eyed about the reality,” Kearney writes. “Parents affect their children’s lives and shape their outcomes in ways that government cannot fully make up for.”