Children Explained

This is Gary Becker, writing at the Becker-Posner Blog:

Children of divorced parents and other children raised by single moms generally do worse in school, attend less good schools, are more likely to drop out of high school, and have poorer job market experiences. Although the moms in single parent families also have lower incomes and education, I believe that a sizable portion of the below average performance of children from single parent families is due to their family structures…

The sharp deterioration during the past 50 years in the stability of black families in America is responsible, I believe, for much of the continuing dismal record in school performance and in society more generally of children from black families. When over half of all black children are raised in families with only one parent, one can hardly be optimistic about their development.

Comments (8)

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  1. Brian Williams. says:

    According to some research I saw from the Heritage Foundation, a child living with a single mother is 14 times more likely to suffer serious physical abuse than is a child living with married biological parents. A child whose mother cohabits with a man other than the child’s father is 33 times more likely to suffer serious physical child abuse.

  2. Virginia says:

    Becker is suggesting that we create economic incentives that favor the development of “intact families.” Is he also suggesting that we offer larger incentives for black families since that is where he thinks the majority of school under-performance originates?

    I disagree with his reasoning.

    Are intact families the cause or the result? Let’s assume that we offered incentives for people to marry. And in communities where there is the most abuse/single mother syndrome/social discord, we hand out such large subsidies that people can’t help themselves but get married.

    Does Becker actually think this will work? The single women will make good choices and end up with stable, two-parent households? Isn’t there a reason that the woman is a single mother in the first place? Isn’t there a reason that she’s shacking up with an abusive guy?

    Marriage is a by-product of cultural issues, and to think that you can fix under-performance in schools by adding incentives to get married is (in my opinion) a huge mistake. It doesn’t address the reason that these people aren’t married in the first place.

  3. Devon Herrick says:

    The lack of school performance (and the lower outcomes in life) is not a direct result of growing up in a “broken” home. Rather it’s a symptom of a larger issue — typically poor life choices.

    A never-married woman, that bears multiple children with an absentee father, is making a poorer choice than a similar woman that marries a mate who will stay and help nurture his offspring. In terms of evolutionary biology, it just reflects better planning to select a mate that assists with the offspring (that is why in biology, females that must care for offspring for an extended amount of time are always more choosy than males).

    I’m skeptical that giving two unmarried parents a free house, to encourage them to cohabitate like one big happy family, will make the kids any smarter (or better educated) if the only thing holding the family together is a cheap place to live.

    What I believe what determines success in life is partly the result of active parenting. Just because the parents are nearby doesn’t mean they are actually engaged in parenting!

  4. Vicki says:

    Unfortunately, the children were never a party to these choices.

  5. Nancy says:

    I agree with Vicki. The victims here were not consulted.

  6. Bart Ingles says:

    Becker is suggesting that we create economic incentives that favor the development of “intact families.”

    How do you do this without penalizing non-intact families?

  7. Devon Herrick says:

    Economic incentives for parents to cohabitate (preferably as intact families) already exists – such as the sharing of expenses like rent, utilities and food. In addition, cohabitation ensures better supervision of; and easier access to one’s children. The father has greater control over how “child support” is spent, which results in spillover effects (i.e. the father can live under the same roof he provides for his children).

    In addition, the government has already created economic incentives that favor families over single people. My, married friends’ household incomes are 50% greater than mine yet they pay 50% less in taxes.

    Much of my property tax is used to pay for local schools even though I have no children. My property tax also subsidizes a county hospital that I will never receive care from (Parkland memorial delivers more babies each year than any other facility in the United States).

    I do not believe domestic policy should penalize childless individuals, or non-intact families to an extent greater than what is already being done.

  8. Linda Gorman says:


    Don’t be too depressed. Those kids are going to be paying for your Social Security, Medicare, and ObamaCare.