Is the value of two-parent households overrated?

In 1965, the US Labor Department released a report on the state of the black family in America. The document, widely known as the Moynihan Report, for its main author, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, became a flashpoint for controversy and debate because of its dual focus on structural economic barriers holding back black Americans as well on the impact of family structure and the high rate of single-parent households on the trajectory of African-American children. 

More than 50 years later, the controversy rages on, with a Harvard researcher the latest one to reignite the debate. Christina Cross, a postdoctoral fellow in Harvard’s sociology department, penned a recent op-ed in the New York Times, “The Myth of the Two-Parent Home,” arguing that the focus on household structure and the conventional wisdom on its importance is misplaced. 

“[W]hat if common knowledge is wrong, especially about a group whose family structures have long been used to explain their social and economic disadvantages — black Americans?” she writes. 

“Let me be clear,” Cross says. “I’m not suggesting that the two-parent family is bad for children of any race or ethnicity.” 

But Cross’s main message is that research she’s conducted shows that living apart from a biological parent and not growing up in a two-parent household does not have as strong a negative association with the educational success of black adolescents as it does with their white peers. She says the potential reasons for this include the already substantial “existing disadvantages” of “structural racism” faced by all blacks as well the compensating social supports from the greater tendency of black children to grow up in proximity to extended family members. 

She said both factors help explain the differential effect of single-parent households on black and white children, “though the former to a much greater extent.”

While Cross’s findings could represent a valuable addition to our understanding of social mobility, she uses them instead to unnecessarily cloud the issue. That’s because she seems determined to use her research to choose sides in a huge debate that isn’t actually a binary question of whether black children are being harmed by structural racist forces or family structure. 

While her op-ed raised eyebrows in conservative circles, it was left-leaning Mother Jones that seemed to best capture the puzzling bent of Cross’s message. 

“OK, so living in a single-parent home is bad for kids, after all. But it’s not as bad for black kids as it is for white kids,” Kevin Drum writes in the magazine. 

While progressives usually think we should do everything possible to help those who are already suffering the most, Drum says Cross “is suggesting the opposite: black kids are already suffering enough that we shouldn’t worry too much about tossing another log on the fire in the form of a one-parent home.” 

By emphasizing the weaker effect of household composition on black children, she seems to be waving off attention to the issue. But there’s an extensive literature pointing to the benefits of two-parent households, starting with the greater economic security that comes with two potential wage-earners versus one.  

As Drum shows in a graph, there is a growing marriage gap between black and white women with and without college degrees, as those with the advantages that come with education are gaining further advantage in their choices about household formation.

Structural forces in the economy, including some of its racist underpinnings, and the impact of being raised in a single-parent household are both harming black children. It doesn’t seem necessary to make the challenge of tackling the problem an either-or proposition. 

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The transportation climate initiative, or TCI, could increase gas prices 5 to 17 cents a gallon in 2022. (CommonWealth) For Gov. Charlie Baker, who is leading the charge on TCI, it’s a walk on the wild side. (CommonWealth) Most, but not all, big business organizations in the state are standing with Baker in support of the initiative. (Boston Globe) Anti-tax forces are lining up against the plan, denouncing it as a money grab that shows “how tone deaf Beacon Hill is” after voters rejected the indexing of the state gas tax to inflation five years ago. (Boston Herald

Dr. Sylvia Vogel urges lawmakers not to take away the religious exemption for vaccines. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and the City Council are at odds over immigrants again. (MassLive)

Father Bill’s and Mainspring, Quincy’s only homeless shelter, plans to cut 40 emergency beds next year as officials say they want to focus on prevention. But the move also comes as the city hopes to demolish the building the shelter is in to make room for a new police station. Another shelter would have to be built elsewhere, and Father Bill’s would have to foot the bill for that construction. (Patriot Ledger) 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

On the eve of his expected impeachment, President Trump sends House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a rambling six-page letter filled with unproven charges and disconnected grievance-laden paragraphs. (New York Times) Protesters gathered in Boston, Cambridge, and other communities to call for Trump’s impeachment. (Boston Globe

ELECTIONS

The House Ethics Committee said it will carry out a further probe of Rep. Lori Trahan after investigators concluded there was “substantial reason to believe” she violated campaign finance laws in using pouring $300,000 from her husband into her 2018 campaign. (Boston Globe)

Instead of pummeling each other over various aspects of their work and financial background, says a Globe editorial, Democrats running for president should keep the focus on President Trump’s norm-breaking decision to shield much of his finances from public scrutiny. 

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A report from the nonprofit Massachusetts Housing Partnership says 234,000 housing units could be built on land near MBTA stations, a move that would address the regional housing shortage while also promoting growth that won’t automatically lead to more congested roadways. (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

Waltham artist Sharrel Meeker turned to crocheting and ceramics as art therapy after being diagnosed with cancer—and now sells out her handmade ceramic mugs and crochet products on her “Mud and Yarn” Etsy store. (The Enterprise) 

TRANSPORTATION 

Ridership is up about 20 percent on the three Lawrence bus routes that are now free thanks to a decision by Mayor Dan Rivera to cover their cost with city funds. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth reported on the initiative when it was announced in September. 

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and Rep. Bill Keating sent a letter to US Army Corps of Engineers officials Tuesday, continuing to urge them to replace the Bourne and Sagamore bridges. (Cape Cod Times

The Massachusetts Housing Partnership says a lot of housing could be built around T stations. (Boston Globe) MassINC has done a lot of work on this issue, focusing mostly on commuter rail stations in Gateway Cities. 

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Sen. Nick Collins, Rep. Sarah Peake, and Conservation Law Foundation president Bradley Campbell say the Legislature needs to pass the climate adaptation bill to address the nitty gritty of climate change. (CommonWealth)

Anti-coal activists attempting to blockade a train supplying a New Hampshire power plant were outmuscled in Worcester on Monday night as the train kept steaming ahead, forcing activists from the tracks. (WBUR)

The state approved an Eversource power line through Sudbury and Hudson. (MetroWest Daily News)

Westport has received a $75,000 grant from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to study the effects of climate change. (Herald News) 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Nathan Aguilar, an 18-year-old with autism, is paralyzed from the neck down, on a ventilator and facing criminal charges, after he allegedly stabbed a state trooper who then shot him at a highway worksite in Amesbury. (Eagle-Tribune)

Stephen Pilson, a 52-year-old Beverly man, was arrested in Maine after allegedly drunkenly chasing a woman who was escaping into the woods near the turnpike. Pilson is accused of kidnapping that 27-year-old woman, and he has allegedly kidnapped her before. (Salem News

Last year, Judge Timothy Feeley gave a drug dealer a more lenient sentence because he was an immigrant, and he worried that jail time would cause him to be deported. The decision caused opprobrium from some corners, but Feeley weathered the calls for impeachment. This week he retired, and Judge Thomas Drechsler is taking over as regional administrative judge. (Salem News)