By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — Children who grow up in single-parent homes are at greater risk of falling into a life of poverty, struggling in school and being exposed to violence, according to a new report from a conservative Bay State group that promotes traditional family values.
With marriage rates on the decline in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Family Institute, based in Woburn, published a report warning of deep social and economic costs associated with the increasing number of children growing up in households without a father.
According to the report, 35 percent of children in Massachusetts are born to unwed parents. In the past 45 years, the percentage of children in single-parent homes has increased from less than 10 percent to over 30 percent, or about 435,000 children.
“The census data and social sciences clearly show that children growing up without a married mother and father are at a decided disadvantage in every critical area of their lives,” Massachusetts Family Institute President Andrew Beckwith said in a video prepared by the organization for the release of the survey.
The report, titled “Fatherless in Massachusetts,” concludes that children in single-parent homes are more likely to live in poverty, have trouble in school, commit crimes, become teen parents or be exposed to violence in their homes and neighborhoods.
While highlighting what they see as value in a two-parent household, the report’s authors say they don’t wish to condemn hard-working single-parents but hope to use the data to promote family-centered public policy.
Among its recommendations, the report calls for a publicity campaign to alert the public, businesses and neighborhood and religious leaders about the “decline of the traditional family,” and for tax reforms to alleviate the burden on families.
The institute said it would also support welfare reforms to “encourage marriage among those receiving public assistance,” and legislation to protect against compulsive gambling and to strengthen the role of parents in education and health care decisions for their children.
The report does not get into specifics about how any of those objectives might be achieved through public policy.
Describing what it calls an “epidemic of fatherlessness,” the Family Institute reports that the rise of single-parent households spreads across geographic and demographic lines, but is most acute in urban centers. In Springfield, New Bedford, Boston, Fall River, Brockton and Lynn, over half of the children in those cities are being raised by single parents.
According to the report, only 5 percent of children with married parents in Massachusetts live in poverty compared to 26 percent who live with a divorced or separated mother and 51 percent living with a mother who never married the child’s father.
While the high school dropout rate in Massachusetts is 6.5 percent, the institute says the rates are “correspondingly elevated” in cities with the highest rates of fatherlessness. Children with married parents are also six times less likely to have experienced violence in their neighborhoods compared to children born to mothers who never married and four times less likely than children with divorced or separated parents.
Children living in fatherless households are nine times more likely to witness violence in their own homes, the report found.
“It’s no wonder that marriage is increasingly being recognized as a uniquely powerfully tool for fighting poverty and improving the lives of children,” Beckwith said.
Between 1980 and 2011, the annual number of divorces in Massachusetts declined from 18,000 to 13,000 as the number of marriages also declined. Marriages per year declined from 49,000 to 36,000 over the same period.
The ratio of divorce to marriage rose from 17 percent in 1960 to 49 percent in 2011.