Time and again I am struck by two robust social science findings.
The first, to which social conservatives nod their appreciation, concerns the benefits of successful marriages—which are a substantial predictor of health, longevity, personal happiness, and the well-being of children. An example: As I documented here, U.S. Child Health Surveys have shown that children living with two parents have been half as likely as those living with a never or formerly married mother to have been suspended or expelled from school—even after controlling for variations in race, family size, and parental education and income. To be sure, most single-parented children thrive, and many co-parented children are dysfunctional. Yet show me a place where nearly all children are co-parented by two adults enduringly committed to each other and their children and I will show you a place with relatively low rates of psychological disorder and social pathology. Marriage matters.
The second, to which progressives nod their appreciation, is that economic inequality is socially toxic. Places with great inequality have more social pathology—higher rates of crime, anxiety, obesity, and drug use, and lower life expectancy and happiness (see here and here). Show me a place with great inequality and I will show you a place with a comparatively depressed and dissatisfied populace. Disparity dispirits.
Moreover, argues John Hopkins University sociology chair Andrew Cherlin, there is a path between these two oft-confirmed findings: Rising income inequality contributes to family dissolution. As the gap between rich and poor has widened, unstable cohabitations and nonmarital child-bearing have dramatically increased among those with lower incomes—or where men have dim job prospects. In deteriorating job markets, marriage wanes and families become less stable. Moreover, for working single parents, affordable quality child care may be out of reach.
Ergo, doesn’t it follow that those who support marriage and stable co-parenting (a typically conservative value) should also be economic progressives—concerned about reducing inequality and poverty? To envision a culture that welcomes children into families with two or more people who love them is to envision an economic environment that nurtures secure families.
What do you think: Might this vision of a family-supportive just economy be a meeting place between conservatism and progressivism? And might it be a basis for depolarizing our politics and unifying our aspirations?
A glimmer of hope: After writing this essay, I learned of Fox News’ conservative voice, Tucker Carlson, recent lament that “families are being crushed by market forces” . . . to which Dean Baker of the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research replied: “It’s a bit scary to me how much of this I agree with.”
(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life visit TalkPsych.com.)