In 2004, the late Sara McLanahan published a landmark article called “Diverging Destinies: How Children Are Faring Under the Second Demographic Transition.” The paper was the first scholarly attempt to propose that the decline of the two-parent family in the United States since the 1960’s was intensifying the already unequal life chances for poor and more advantaged children. The insight encompasses an irony that continues to perplex social policy debates: post 1960’s changes in the family which promised people—especially women—greater personal freedom and liberation from traditional constraints was making inequality worse.
Armed with another 20 years of data, Melissa Kearney, an economist at the University of Maryland, has now revisited the subject in “The ‘College Gap’ in Marriage and Children’s Family Structure,” a working paper recently published in NBER. Her primary findings won’t surprise anyone keeping track of the scholarship on families and children, but she is able to expand and refine our understanding of the trends that McLanahan saw were creating a dangerous disparity in national well-being—disparities that since then have grown and hardened into a seemingly intractable socio-economic reality.
Kay S. Hymowitz is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. She is the author of several books, most recently The New Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.
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