Dan Quayle was right


Last week, Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution wrote in the Washington Post ( no bastion of conservatism) that former Vice President Dan Quayle was right about Murphy Brown and unmarried mothers. You may remember his family values speech that he delivered as the 1992 campaign was heating up:
“Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong,” the vice president said. “Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.”
Twenty years later, Sawhill writes, Quayle’s words seem less controversial than prophetic. “A lifestyle once associated with poverty has become mainstream.”

“There are three reasons to be concerned about this dramatic shift in family life.”
“First, marriage is a commitment that cohabitation is not. Taking a vow before friends and family to support another person ‘until death do us part’ signals a mutual sense of shared responsibility that cannot be lightly dismissed. Cohabitation is more fragile — cohabiting parents split up before their fifth anniversary at about twice the rate of married parents.  Often, this is because the father moves on, leaving the mother not just with less support but with fewer marriage prospects. For her, marriage requires finding a partner willing to take responsibility for someone else’s kids.”
“Second, a wealth of research strongly suggests that marriage is good for children. Those who live with their biological parents do better in school and are less likely to get pregnant or arrested. They have lower rates of suicide, achieve higher levels of education and earn more as adults. Meanwhile, children who spend time in single-parent families are more likely to misbehave, get sick, drop out of high school and be unemployed.”
“It isn’t clear why children who live with their unmarried biological parents don’t do as well as kids who live with married ones. Adults who marry may be different from those who cohabit, divorce or become unwed mothers. Although studies try to adjust for these differences, researchers can’t measure all of them. People in stable marriages may have better relationship skills, for instance, or a greater philosophical or religious commitment to union that improves parenting. Still, raising children is a daunting responsibility. Two committed parents typically have more time and resources to do it well.”
“Third, marriage brings economic benefits. It usually means two breadwinners, or one breadwinner and a full-time, stay-at-home parent with no significant child-care expenses. Unlike Murphy Brown — who always had the able Eldin by her side — most women do not have the flexibility afforded a presumably highly paid broadcast journalist. And it’s not just a cliché that two can live more cheaply than one; a single set of bills for rent, utilities and other household expenses makes a difference. Though not necessarily better off than a cohabiting couple, a married family is much better off than its single-parent counterpart.”

Sawhill concludes her column with this warning: “But in the end, Dan Quayle was right. Unless the media, parents and other influential leaders celebrate marriage as the best environment for raising children, the new trend — bringing up baby alone — may be irreversible.”

Read her full column HERE
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