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Restoring a Culture of Marriage: Good News for Policymakers from the Fragile Families Survey

Patrick Fagan

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President George W. Bush has taken the first bold step in reshaping federal policy to address the root cause of many of society's ills: the breakdown of the married, two-parent family. Specifically, he has requested nearly $300 million a year in the reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Act for efforts that promote marriage.

Though critics of the proposal claim that most single parents do not have strong desires or the wherewithal to marry, most of their assertions are to a large extent unfounded. As recently released data from an ongoing longitudinal survey of new parents show, a majority of unwed mothers and fathers not only have a strong desire to marry, but also believe the chances are good that they will. What these new parents need is more encouragement and preparation to realize their hopes.

The first round of data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study--a four-year project of Princeton University's Center for Research on Child Wellbeing and Columbia University's Social Indicators Survey Center--already shows the promising potential for federal-state efforts to reduce out-of-wedlock births, especially among the poor. For example, according to the survey:

  • Contrary to public opinion, the overwhelming majority of children born out of wedlock have parents who are living together or who are romantically involved or seeing each other on a regular basis; they are not born to single mothers with absentee fathers.
  • Moreover, a majority of unwed mothers say they are interested in marrying the father and believe they have a 50 percent chance of doing so, and an even greater percentage of these fathers believe their chances to be the same.

Thus, there exists within fragile families a very large group of parents who are likely to participate in programs that would prepare them for marriage.

Read the entire article on the Heritage Foundation website.



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