Burgoo: Something to stew over

February 8, 2013 

I know from past experience that I'm going to upset some folks by saying this, so brace yourselves: Marriage is very important and beneficial to the raising of children, but there's little evidence that it fights crime. I bring this up in response to the sincere, well-meaning readers who say that we won't be able to do anything — anything — about urban violence until we reverse the decline of marriage in African-American households. I'm as troubled as any other concerned black parent about the rise in out-of-wedlock births in black America since the 1950s. But I am even more troubled when I hear people try to lay every social problem, including the nation's current gun violence debate, at the feet of single-parenting, as if nothing else mattered. I believe we can't expect to see much of a turnaround in out-of-wedlock births as long as we have rising educational and income inequality — and not just in black America. A variety of sociologists and economists from the ideological left, right and nonpartisan middle have found downward mobility to be a shared experience across racial lines for many working-class and middle-class Americans, especially since the Great Recession. If the rise in out-of-wedlock births was tied that closely to crime and violence, I think we would see a more consistent pattern connecting them. Instead, we see crime going sharply up and down in various cities and across the country, while the rise in unwed child-rearing steadily climbs. We need more than simple one-size-fits-all analysis.

Clarence Page, syndicated columnist

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