The Link Between Family Structure and Poverty

Barb Wire

By Nicole M. King

The New York Times recently highlighted a study that seems to show promising results for a specialized-care program for children born into poverty.

In 1972, researchers in North Carolina began tracking two groups of babies from poor families.  In one group, “the children were given full-time day care up to age 5 that included most of their daily meals, talking, games and other stimulating activities.” The other group received baby formula, but no other form of interaction. The full study was published in Science on Thursday of last week. “By age 30,” reports the Times, “those in the group given special care were four times as likely to have graduated from college.” In addition, however, both men and women in the treatment group had better health outcomes, including lower rates of hypertension and risk factors for heart disease, better nutritional habits, and lower rates of diabetes and stroke. Surprised by the physical health benefits and thrilled about potential outcomes for children born into poverty, the researchers are currently looking into how the cost of the program ($16,000 per child, per year, in 2010 dollars) compares with the cost of medical care were the children not enrolled.

While better outcomes for children born into poverty is undoubtedly a worthy goal, the glaring omission in this story is what places those children in poverty to begin with. Other research has demonstrated that we might better use that $16,000 per child, per year.

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The New Research — The key determinant of child poverty

According to the prevailing dogma of the welfare system, better job-training programs, education, and daycare subsidies will lift unwed mothers and their children out of poverty. That strategy — which has been pursued for at least a generation — has little to show for itself, while its framers have ignored the growing body of evidence that suggests the country will make little headway in reducing poverty without addressing one of its major causes: the growth of the percentage of children being raised outside of an intact family.

The latest study, mining county-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, and the American Religious Data Archive, reinforces that verdict. Conducted by Sri Ranjith of the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka and Anil Rupasingha of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the study identifies numerous economic and demographic determinants of poverty while zeroing in on the relationship between social capital, religious adherence, and child poverty.

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The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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