August 6, 2002 | Commentary on Family and Marriage
Getting Congress to approve $4.3 billion in federal childcare
subsidies -- atop the $12 billion in federal and state funds we
already spend annually -- wasn't hard. In fact, it was so easy that
some members want to add $8 billion more.
Few lawmakers question spending this large sum, despite numerous
studies that show institutionalized daycare -- even that considered
"high quality" -- is a poor substitute for a stay-at-home parent or
other relative. Indeed, it appears in many cases to do genuine
One highly publicized 2001 study found that children who spend
long periods in daycare -- 26 hours a week or more -- were almost
three times more likely to be overly aggressive and disobedient
than those who spend less time in daycare. Researchers at the
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (an arm of
the National Institutes of Health) tracked more than 1,300 children
in 10 cities over 10 years and found the ones who spent more than
26 hours a week in daycare were "more likely to bully, fight with,
or act mean to other children."
Other studies show that children in daycare get sick more often
and have trouble developing emotional attachments. Daycare has also
been connected to a variety of behavioral, developmental, health
and social problems later in life, including divorce rates twice
those of people cared for by an at-home parent.
Not surprisingly, those who dislike such unwelcome conclusions
challenge these studies vigorously. But even those who swear by
daycare usually admit that a full-time parent is the best
caregiver. Which prompts the question: Why have Bush administration
officials caught so much grief over their desire to spend $300
million promoting marriage?
Critics call the proposal sexist, elitist, even racist. But
promoting marriage would produce measurable benefits for all
Americans -- and for a lot less money.
According to "Why Marriage Matters" -- a recent report
co-authored by 13 leading social-science scholars, including
University of Maryland professor William Galston, who was a
domestic policy adviser to the Clinton administration -- children
in intact, two-parent families earn more, learn more and get into
trouble less. They also tend to lead longer, healthier, happier
lives, avoid alcohol and drug abuse and endure significantly less
physical, mental and psychological abuse. Because of this, they
generally require fewer government-paid social services such as
remedial learning, criminal justice, drug and alcohol
rehabilitation, depression counseling, and medical-, income- and
Mothers benefit, too. According to "Why Marriage Matters," the
risk of becoming victims of domestic abuse or even random street
crime decreases dramatically for women when they marry. They're
also happier, learning more and earning more than their unmarried
counterparts. A recent Heritage Foundation study found that if
marriage rates had continued at 1960 levels, the child-poverty rate
would be nearly one-third less than what it is today.
Even married fathers fare better. "Why Marriage Matters" shows
they earn 40 percent more, on average, than single men of similar
ages and professional experience. They also tend to lead happier,
healthier lives with fewer alcohol or drug-abuse problems. They
avoid trouble with the law and stay employed.
Surveys show that a clear majority of unwed couples,
particularly those with children, want to get married. But in many
cases they can't, or won't, because of roadblocks put up by the
same institution that thinks nothing of spending about $40 on
daycare for every $1 the president proposes to spend on marriage:
Half of unwed mothers are living with their baby's father when
they give birth, and another third are still romantically involved.
Nearly three-fourths say there is a better than even chance they
eventually will marry the father. But many low-income parents
refrain from doing so when they learn that marrying will cause them
to lose more than $8,000 per year in government benefits.
Contrary to stereotypes, most unwed fathers want to be involved
in their children's upbringing. Four in five provide financial
support during pregnancy. By promoting marriage, we encourage this
healthy interest in their children.
All of society would benefit if more couples would marry and stay married. Rules regarding welfare benefits and eligibility should, at the very least, be changed to cease working against this goal. Other than the moms -- many of whom now earn as much or more than their counterparts -- who benefits from our spending billions of dollars on childcare? Not children. Not society. Not America.
Patrick Fagan, a former family counselor, is the FitzGerald research fellow in family and cultural affairs at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), where Jennifer Garrettis a researcher in domestic policy.
Originally Appeared on June 30th in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal