This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

We Can All Agree That Families Matter, Right?

One of the major themes of the inequality literature is the fact that children raised in two-parent families (especially if the parents have a college education) have a much greater chance of success in modern society than those raised by a single parent. This idea that marriage matters has been pushed along by strong research from social scientists including Andrew Cherlin at The Johns Hopkins University and Linda Waite at the University of Chicago. Both of them are Past Presidents of the Population Association of America and have strong academic credentials. Thus, when Dr. Cherlin authored an op-ed in today's NYTimes, we need to pay attention. His major point is that in the United States both conservatives and liberals seem to be on the same page with respect to families--they matter and we need to help them. The helping mechanisms on offer may not always be in sync, but we have a start. Here are some key points:
Liberals now seem to acknowledge the downsides of the retreat from marriage. A report on strengthening families that was released in January by the liberal Center for American Progress recommended not only economic assistance but also social support, such as couples’ counseling services and visits by specially trained nurses and other professionals to the parents of young children. 
The growth of legal same-sex marriage has made it possible for liberals to endorse the importance of marriage without feeling that they have abandoned their commitment to equality. Same-sex couples are seizing the opportunity to marry in large numbers: According to American Community Survey data analyzed by the demographer Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, 34 percent of all same-sex couples in the Northeast in 2013 were married. Far from undermining heterosexual marriage, as its opponents warned, same-sex marriage has broadened support for marriage beyond its conservative base. 
A tougher test of the truce would be whether anyone can summon broad support for providing paid parental leave. Current federal law requires large employers to offer 12 weeks of unpaid family leave, which few low-income workers can afford to take. Conservatives often say that they favor programs that encourage work, and paid family leave would most likely do that: In wealthy countries with paid leave, women are more likely to be in the work force, although they tend to work part-time more than American women do.
The policy-relevance of these issues--of helping families who then more successfully raise the next generation--is obvious. And it is very hopeful, as Cherlin notes, that there is at least enough bipartisan on that point that we may be able to make some progress legislatively. 

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