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Only 46% of children grow up in an intact home, study says

WASHINGTON (BP) — Only 46 percent of children in the United States will reach age 17 having grown up in a home with biological parents who are married — a figure that has a significant impact on the nation’s graduation, poverty and teenage birth rates, according to a new report.

“We have never faced anything like this in human history,” said the Family Research Council’s Pat Fagan, one of the co-authors of the study.

Compiled by Fagan and psychologist Nicholas Zill and released by the Family Research Council’s Marriage & Religion Research Institute, the data shows that:

— The intact family rate is highest in the Northeast (49.6 percent) and lowest in the South (41.8)

— Minnesota (57) and Utah (56.5) have the highest intact family rate among all 50 states, with Mississippi (34 percent) the lowest.

— Asians (65.8) have the highest rate among ethnic and racial classes, blacks (16.7) the lowest.

The authors call their report the index of family belonging, and they say there is a direct correlation between a low “family belonging” rate, and high poverty and low graduation rates. A north-to-south trip on the Mississippi River, from Minnesota to Mississippi, is a good example of this correlation, the authors say.

The percentage of children who reach age 17 with married biological parents falls drastically as one travels down the river, from 57 percent in Minnesota, to 49 percent in Illinois, 40 percent in Tennessee and 34 percent in Mississippi. At the same time, the graduation rate also falls significantly (Minnesota, 86 percent; Illinois, 80 percent; Tennessee, 75 percent; Mississippi, 64 percent). The family belonging rate is “more closely linked” to graduation rates than is government spending, the report said.

Likewise, the child poverty rate is closely tied to the breakup of the family. The child poverty rate in Minnesota is 14 percent. It then climbs during the trip down the Mississippi River: Illinois (19 percent), Tennessee (24 percent) and Mississippi (31 percent). Similarly, the unmarried teen birth rate climbs: Minnesota (6 percent), Illinois (9 percent), Tennessee (11 percent) and Mississippi (14 percent).

The report suggested four reasons why the poverty rate is so closely tied to the breakup of the family:

— Even if wages are low, a couple is more likely to avoid poverty if both parents contribute financially.

— It is “inherently more costly” for parents to live apart and to spend money on two houses.

— A father is “motivated to work harder to support a child” when he lives with the child and mother.

— Many non-residential parents don’t pay child support.

“The foundational relationship of marriage has quite an impact on the wellbeing of children, and on the welfare of both the states and the nation,” said Fagan, director of FRC’s Marriage & Religion Research Institute. “Sad to say, our family culture today is primarily a culture of rejection between parents…. Most American mothers and fathers cannot stand each other enough to raise the children they brought into existence.”

The study can be read online at http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF11K29.pdf.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Michael Foust