Bob McCoskrie: Child poverty rhetoric ignores elephant in room

NZ Herald 8 February 2018
Family First Comment: In todays Hawkes Bay Today…..
“Despite marriage being one of the best protectors against child poverty, it has become politically unfashionable – some argue insensitive – to express such a view, but reducing child poverty rates will require encompassing analysis and debate. Based on the evidence, New Zealand’s rapidly changing family structure – including the declining marriage rate and the high solo parent rate (especially amongst Maori, who also have a disproportionately high teen pregnancy rate) – has contributed significantly to increasing income inequality. It’s time to talk about family structure, about marriage, about family breakdown – and the links they have to some of our negative social statistics that we must address.”
Read the full report https://www.familyfirst.org.nz/research/child-poverty-2016/

The current focus by the Prime Minister and other politicians and lobby groups on tackling child “poverty” is warranted, but “focus” and “targets” will simply be hot air and rhetoric until the elephant in the room is acknowledged – that is, the role of family structure.

Family malformation and breakdown is contributing significantly to increasing income inequality and child poverty, and must be confronted before we will see any significant improvements. NZ’s rapidly changing family structure has contributed significantly to increasing income inequality.

Our 2016 report, entitled “Child Poverty & Family Structure: What is the evidence telling us?” examined household incomes and family structure from the early 1960s through to current day, and found that while unemployment, low wages, high housing costs and insufficient social security benefits are consistently blamed for child poverty, a major culprit – if not the major culprit – is family malformation and family breakdown.

The correlation between family structure and child poverty is significantly stronger than the correlation between child poverty and other factors such as unemployment, high housing costs and low wages or benefits.

For example, despite families being much smaller, parents being older, and mothers being better educated and having much higher employment rates, child poverty has risen significantly since the 1960s.

In 1961, 95 per cent of children were born to married couples; by 2015 the proportion had fallen to 53 per cent. For Maori, 72 per cent of births were to married parents in 1968; by 2015 the proportion had fallen to just 21 per cent.

Single-parent families make up 28 per cent of all families with dependent children. Yet 51 per cent of children in poverty live in single-parent families. And single parents have the lowest home-ownership rates and the highest debt ratios.

But this isn’t just about single parents and the unique challenges and stresses that it brings.

In 2015, 27 per cent of registered births were to cohabiting parents. But by the time the child is aged 5, the risk of parental separation is four to six times greater than for married parents.

Despite marriage being one of the best protectors against child poverty, it has become politically unfashionable – some argue insensitive – to express such a view, but reducing child poverty rates will require encompassing analysis and debate.

Based on the evidence, New Zealand’s rapidly changing family structure – including the declining marriage rate and the high solo parent rate (especially amongst Maori, who also have a disproportionately high teen pregnancy rate) – has contributed significantly to increasing income inequality.

It’s time to talk about family structure, about marriage, about family breakdown – and the links they have to some of our negative social statistics that we must address.

But whenever marriage is promoted, it has often been labelled as an attack on solo or divorced parents, and that has kept us from recognising the qualitative benefits of marriage which have been discovered from decades of research.

In virtually every category that social science has measured, children and adults do better when parents get married and stay married – provided there is no presence of high conflict or violence.

This is not a criticism of solo parents or divorcees. They deserve all the support we can provide them. It simply acknowledges the benefits of the institution of marriage.

As the author of our report warned, suspension of fact is an abrogation of our collective responsibility to children.

Until we face some of these inconvenient facts, we won’t solve the problem.

Bob McCoskrie is the national director of Family First NZ. Views expressed here are the writer’s opinion and not the newspaper’s.
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/hawkes-bay-today/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503462&objectid=11989864&ref=rss
https://www.familyfirst.org.nz/research/child-poverty-2016/ twitter follow us

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