“As rates of nonmarital childbirth have increased in the United States in the past half-century, a new family type, the fragile family, has emerged. Fragile families, which are formed as the result of a nonmarital birth, include cohabiting couples as well as noncohabiting, single mothers. Such families evoke public concern in part because they are more impoverished and endure more material hardship than married-parent families and have fewer sources of economic support.” Future of Children: Fragile Families- “Mothers’ Economic Conditions and Sources of Support in Fragile Families”
Jason DeParle asserts in his article in the NY Times that changes in family structure have helped to broaden income gaps. Americans who are college educated are more likely to marry one another, which brings the advantage of higher dual-income earnings. Women who have not finished college or who are less educated are becoming less likely to marry at all. Not only do they have lower paychecks themselves when compared to the college-educated, but they also lack the advantages of dual-income.
As DeParle writes, “estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns–as opposed to changes in individual earnings–may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes.”
In his Economic Inequality and the Changing Family blog, DeParle states, “Inequality has grown much faster for households with children than it has for households over all.” Future of Children editor-in-chief Sara McLanahan points out that, “the people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers. The people with less education are more likely to have complex unstable situations involving men who come and go. I think this process is creating greater gaps in these children’s life chances.”
As DeParle points out, “No one has suggested that single parenthood is the sole or even main force driving the increases in inequality, just an important one that is sometimes overlooked. Had single parenthood not continued to increase, there would be less inequality now.”
Over all, it is important for policy makers to recognize that with rates of nonmarital childbirth at their current level, and potentially rising still, fragile families are likely an enduring fixture among U.S. families. It is thus essential to strengthen policies that both support their economic self-sufficiency and alleviate their hardship during inevitable times of economic distress. Future of Children: Fragile Families- “Mothers’ Economic Conditions and Sources of Support in Fragile Families”