Welfare Reform Shows Signs of Restoring Nuclear Family Norm

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Despite rather gloomy recent reports from the Census Bureau indicating a declining proportion of married-couple households, it seems that the nuclear family may not be about to go the way of the dinosaurs, after all. Or so says a new analysis of the Census data, which focuses specifically on the living arrangements of children. According to a report released last week by two scholars with the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), welfare reform is working better than they thought it would. Because of time-limited benefits, the proportion of American children under 18 living with a single mother actually dropped between 1995 and 2000. Additionally, the proportion of children living in two-parent families rose in the late 1990’s. Wendell Primus, an author of the report and former Clinton administration official at the Department of Health & Human Services, was moved to conclude that the decline of marriage “really seems to have come to a halt.”

Both figures had remained at relatively steady levels from 1985 to 1990. The proportion of Black children and Hispanic children living with a single mother declined more rapidly than among White, Non-Hispanic children. Moreover, the proportion of Black and Hispanic children living with married parents rose, but the decline among White children was negligible-less than one percentage point. Also, among lower income children the proportion living with a single parent declined, while the proportion remained stable among higher income children.

While the CBPP analysis is encouraging, other Census Bureau data regarding living arrangements of children are discouraging. For example, the proportion of children living with a cohabiting mother has increased steadily since the late 1980’s. This is not surprising, since the overall number of cohabiting couples increased dramatically throughout the 1990’s. This trend is troubling not only because of the obvious moral implications. Children living with a cohabiting couple-most especially in situations where the adult male is not the biological father-are more likely to be physically and sexually abused than children living with their own married parents.

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