Oklahoma Interim Study: Family structure key factor in economic growth
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Published: 18-Oct-2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – A national analyst told members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives that family structure is a salient predictor of a child’s personal success and for overall economic development. In a recent presentation before an interim study panel, he said that, in the big picture, family collapse is driving the lethargy of the American economy.

Patrick Fagan, Senior Fellow and Director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) (Marri.us), said a desire for economic dynamism should encourage among policymakers efforts to promote “intact families” -- through both positive law and political rhetoric.

Fagan argued family intactness improves a wide range of social and economic outcomes.

Oklahoma has high divorce rates and a wide range of negative social indicators. He commented, “The Bible Belt is in fact the weakest of the regions.” He stressed, however, that every section and “every demographic is in meltdown.” 

In discussions with legislators, including state Reps. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City and Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, Fagan -- a clinical psychologist who formerly worked in the federal government as well as at the Heritage Foundation and Free Congress Foundation in the nation’s capital -- compared the development of a child within a healthy family as analogous to a runners’ relay:

“Marriage is like the passing of the baton, the critical moment in a relay. In a good marriage there is a successful passing of the baton from one generation to the next, from family, church and school to the marketplace and government. “

He continued, “That passing of the baton effects the economy, the entire population and the creation of human capital -- that is, the workers. Technology plays a role – in that it is in ‘capital’ harnessed by human capital.”

Fagan pointed to a 2004 analysis in the American Economic Review that concluded that for every $100 of income for an unmarried male, there is a $27 “positive premium” for marital status – i.e. a married male will earn $127 for every $100 earned by an unmarried male.

With a wide-ranging cluster of evidence, including a mapping of marital patterns across the nation (MARRI.us/Mapping-America), Fagan stressed his thesis: “The single biggest program for reducing poverty is not a program – it's marriage.”

While controversial to some, Dr. Fagan’s analysis is not a solo act. In a 2004 essay,  among others, Bryce Christensen noted the Moynihan Report of 1965 had blamed growing economic, educational and social problems among African-Americans on “family structure [that had become] highly unstable, and in many urban centers [was] approaching complete breakdown.”

Christensen noted that within 20 years, “the cycle of black family disintegration that Moynihan could already see beginning to ‘feed on itself’ in the mid-Sixties was so far advanced that it had utterly consumed the normative status of black marriage, especially in inner-city areas. 

Between 1960 and 1987, the percentage of black children born out of wedlock rose from 23 percent (a level that seemed alarmingly high to Moynihan) to 62 percent, while during roughly the same period the percentage of black women ages 25 to 29 who were married plummeted from 60 percent to 32 percent.”  

As Fagan told legislators in his presentation, in the most recent analyses, the U.S. percentage for intact marriages  – with children spending their formative years within an intact family – has steadily declined.

Today, the percentage of children who grow up in intact families has declined to 46.4 percent, Fagan reported. Percentages were noted for demographic sub-groups were: Black 17.4 percent; American Indian & Alaskan Native 33.9 percent, Hispanic  40.2 percent, white/Caucasian 53.8 percent and Asian 62 percent. 

Over the course of nearly decades, Fagan said, “There has been a significant retreat from marriage among all classes.” In fact, he said, the marriage rate among Asian-Americans – the strongest of any major demographic – is now weaker than were the percentages among African-Americans that so concerned Moynihan.

Fagan stressed that some behaviors can alleviate the negative effects of the non-marital status data within demographic groups, including church attendance and educational attainment.

Despite his conservative-oriented policy perspective, Dr. Fagan’s prescriptions were modest. He said political and cultural leaders should “stop encouraging the bad behaviors,” and begin to speak up for the functionality of marriage in the lives of real people, and real children. 

He said: “Rather than directly and in blunt language confront the bad, we need to tout the good in family, church and schools. … Grow the good, support a culture that wants to grow marriage.” 

Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, asked for the interim study to investigate studies such as Fagan’s.

In a statement to Oklahoma Watchdog, he said, “We must begin to consider marriage as an anti-poverty tool and a key to our state’s economic future. We simply cannot afford to punish people financially for wanting to get married.”

Shannon concluded, “We must change the conversation on poverty to focus on stronger families, which in turn will not only produce a more stable and healthy economy, but also improve overall well-being for all Oklahomans.”

You may contact Pat at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com

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