Balancing the Evidence on Family Structure

Economist Steven Horwitz has a recent post that is well-balanced in its approach to the social science on family structure. Responding specifically to W. Bradford Wilcox’s latest National Review piece, Horwitz brings up some excellent points that should be considered:

  • “[T]here are differences among single-parent households formed through: 1) the choice to have and raise a child by oneself; 2) death of a spouse; and 3) divorce. Each of these presents a different set of circumstances and tradeoffs that we might wish to consider when we think about the role of family structure.”
  • “The empirical evidence under discussion has to be understood with an “all else equal” condition. A healthy marriage will indeed produce better outcomes than, say, single motherhood. But there is equally strong social scientific evidence about the harm done to children who are raised in high-conflict households. Those children may well be better off if their parents get divorced and they are raised in two single-parent households with less conflict.”
  • “[T]o say that married parents create “better” outcomes for kids does not mean that other family forms don’t produce “acceptable” outcomes for kids. It’s not as if every child raised by a single mother, whether through divorce, widowhood, or simply not marrying the father, is condemned to poverty or a life of crime. Averages are averages.”
  • [P]arents matter too…That parents matter too is most obvious with divorce, where leaving a bad marriage may be extremely valuable for mom and/or dad, even if it leads to worse outcomes for the kids. The evidence from Stevenson and Wolfers that no-fault divorce has led to a decline in intimate partner violence as well as suicides of married women makes the importance of this point clear. We can acknowledge that higher divorce rates have not been good for kids, but we can’t do single-entry moral bookkeeping. We have to include the effects of divorce on the married couple, because adults matter too.”

Definitely worth chewing on.

1 thought on “Balancing the Evidence on Family Structure”

  1. Another factor to consider, though, is that high-conflict marriages, when ended, tend (in my experience) to result in high-conflict post-divorce co-parenting. I rather wonder whether the bulk of parents who co-parent well, aren’t also generally the ones who could have stayed together a bit longer with even better results for the children.

    Also, I think the current literature generally agrees that 50/50 parent time schedules are actually bad for children in that they often create attachment issues because the kids don’t have a single place to call “home”. Even under the most clinically “optimal” co-parenting arrangements, noncustodial parents (read: “fathers”) will have a drastically smaller role in their children’s lives.

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