Comparing Presidents, The Nuclear Family (or “For the Children!!!”)

This post looks at the change in proportion of children living in two parent households over time. I think most of us can agree that in most circumstances, it is better for children to live in circumstances that include both their parents, and this is certainly a big issue with the right in the US. Data on the proportion of children living with both parents is available from the Census.

Here’s a picture.

Note… according to the footnote, beginning in 1982, improved methods for collecting data began to be used. Here’s a summary… because of the structural break, Reagan’s figures only include 1982 – 1988, but I include Reagan’s entire term also at the bottom of the table.

Is the data before and after the structural break comparable? I don’t know. My guess is that yes… the structural break takes the form of a one-time bump in the data, but the trends would be no different without the break in the data. Either way, it seems Carter did poorly, but the other two Dems did better than Reps (either in their half of the sample or in the whole sample).

Here’s something interesting. As we saw in an earlier post, there really wasn’t Welfare Reform may not have done anything positive (and probably did some damage) to the cause of marriage. But… there is an improvement in the percentage of children living with both parents from 1996 to 2000. So what is going on? Is the Welfare Reform Act hurting marriages and helping children? My guess… not. My guess is that once again, increases in income have a positive effect on the rate of children living in two parent households that swamped any effect in the Welfare Reform Act. (As noted in the earlier post… real median income rose much more quickly than normal (for the post WW2 era) from 1996 to 2000.) Note that whatever improvements were observed from 1996 to 2000 reversed after 2000, when real median income also began a reverse.

So… below I put in a couple of tables looking at the correlation between the rate of change of the percentage of children living in two parent homes and the rate of change in several other factors: income, real GDP per capita, and the divorce rate. I don’t expect real GDP per capita to matter … but I’ve been asked why in some recent posts I’ve been looking at real median income rather than real GDP per capita…

What do we see? Well, real median incomes matter, and a heck of a lot more than real GDP per capita when having a decision whether or not keep a family together. So my speculation earlier about the uselessness (at best) of the Welfare Reform Act in this regard may well be correct.

As to divorce, obviously, it matters a lot. Interestingly, it seems (and the data bounces around a lot so its hard to say) but divorces that happened years earlier can affect the % change in the fraction of children living with two parents. Perhaps a woman that has been divorced in the past is more likely to have a child outside of marriage in the future?

Given this post was on families staying together for the benefit of children, I’ll have a post soon on the decision to have children.