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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Friday, April 8, 2016

The Role of the Family in Changing Inequality in the U.S.

Thanks to John Mauldin for pointing to an article by Roy Boshara of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, detailing the differences between "thrivers and strugglers" in the U.S. This article is a very good bit of supplemental reading for my Chapter 10 on the Family and Household Transition. The article is lengthy and detailed, and I can't do it justice in a single blog post, so I encourage you to read it thoroughly on your own, but here are some highlights. First, the issue at hand:
Given wealth’s importance, it is disturbing that the wealth gap has grown dramatically during the last few decades. The Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances5 shows a massive shift in wealth away from those we are calling strugglers, who generally are younger, less educated, and non-white, and toward those we are calling thrivers, who generally are middle-aged or older, better educated, and white or Asian.6 Although thrivers’ share of the population has risen 9 percent since 1989, their share of the nation’s wealth has grown 23 percent. Stated another way, thrivers used to command less than one-half of the nation’s wealth, but now they own about two-thirds, despite accounting for slightly less than one-quarter of the population. [Note that Boshara uses data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, but the results are the same as from the Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation.]
Boshara discusses the various demographic predictors of the differences--age, race/ethnicity, education, and marital status. You will recall all of these from my Chapter 10. The most well-off people in the U.S. are older married whites with a graduate level education. But Boshara points out that the trends in marital status play an especially key role:
A growing number of academics on both the political left and right appear to now be coming together around concerns over declining rates of marriage14 and rising rates of single-parent households, especially among less-educated persons. Their common economic concern: the ability of single parents to make it on one income and get their kids on a track for upward mobility. Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution recently remarked, “There’s a growing danger that marriage, with all its advantages for stability, income, and child well-being, will look like a gated community for the baccalaureate class, with ever-shrinking working-class participation. We’re not there yet, but that’s the trajectory we’re on.”15 June Carbone and Naomi Cahn, authors of Marriage Markets, report that four out of five couples are married in the top 20 percent of earners, while fewer than one in five couples are married among the bottom 20 percent; they also observe that increasing income inequality influences the markets for marriage.16
Robert Putnam in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis focuses on the implications of this growing class divide for children.19 He notes that one in three children is being raised by married, college-educated parents, who are investing more time and money in their children than any previous generation. In fact, research by Shelly Lundberg and Robert Pollak finds that marriage is thriving among better-educated couples precisely because it is being used as a commitment device to raise highly successful children.20
These are themes that I have discussed over time. I was a bit disappointed to see that Boshara's perspective is that we cannot likely change the trends toward less family solidarity among those with lower levels of education, so we have to do other things to help strengthen the lives of kids as they grow up. I don't disagree with his policy initiatives, but my own view is that we should, in fact, put kids first and in my view a society committed to having kids within marriage, so that they can have the greatest amount of possible resources available to them, is not too lofty a goal to achieve (or, in fact, re-achieve). 

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