Discussions about marriage and family often get co-opted by culture war histrionics, but over at the Institute for Family Studies this week there was a compelling interview with Ross Douthat on the challenges facing families, why they matter, and what to do about them. Douthat argues that the family faces a “compounding effect”: economic trends and poor norms related to marriage create a vicious cycle in which each new generation is more skeptical of marriage and childbearing than the generation before.As Douthat points out, both sides of the political spectrum recognize the negative outcomes he associates with the collapse of the family (for example, that children, especially boys, of single parent families fare worse on a number of economic, social, and educational metrics than children of intact families), but they have different solutions. The Left tends to emphasize the importance of getting more money into people’s pockets to make marriage and childbearing easier and more attractive, whereas the Right often talks about social solutions. But both are important. Here’s Douthat:
There I think that the current hints of a left–right consensus on some of these issues are promising: There’s increasing interest on both sides of the aisle in criminal justice reform, wage supports for unmarried men, and other ideas that might make a difference to couples or would-be couples on the margins. But that consensus won’t hold if the policy drift is just toward a kind of open-ended support for single parents. There has to be a specific focus on making men marriageable, and making it easier to be married to them, and that focus has to cash out (literally) in whatever policy choices we make.
For more on how that program might work, and why it’s so important, read the whole interview. It’s more crucial than ever to have a productive conversation about making marriage and responsible child-raising both attractive and possible for Americans, and this interview is a great place to start.