Behind the Headline: The Poverty Cure: Get Married

On Top of the News
The Poverty Cure: Get Married
Wall Street Journal | 10/28/15

Behind the Headline
Revisiting the Moynihan Report on its 50th Anniversary
Education Next | Spring 2015

In the Wall Street Journal, Bill Galston reviews several studies on the impact of family structure just published in the fall 2015 issue of the academic journal the Future of Children.

He concludes

If this research is correct, we should never imagine that efforts by government and civil society, however effective, can fully substitute for the influence of stable, intact families. True equal opportunity for African-Americans will take not only programs to boost black incomes, neighborhoods, schools and job opportunities, but also mothers and fathers living and working together to raise their children.


Education Next published a series of articles on the state of the American family this spring to mark the 50th anniversary of the  Moynihan Report.

As Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks explain in their article, “Was Moynihan Right?,”

In his 1965 report on the black family, Daniel Patrick Moynihan highlighted the rising fraction of black children growing up in households headed by unmarried mothers. He attributed the increase largely to the precarious economic position of black men, many of whom were no longer able to play their traditional role as their family’s primary breadwinner. Moynihan argued that growing up in homes without a male breadwinner reduced black children’s chances of climbing out of poverty, and that the spread of such families would make it hard for blacks to take advantage of the legal and institutional changes flowing from the civil rights revolution.

Moynihan’s claim that growing up in a fatherless family reduced a child’s chances of educational and economic success was furiously denounced when the report appeared in 1965, with many critics calling Moynihan a racist. For the next two decades few scholars chose to investigate the effects of father absence, lest they too be demonized if their findings supported Moynihan’s argument. Fortunately, America’s best-known black sociologist, William Julius Wilson, broke this taboo in 1987, providing a candid assessment of the black family and its problems in The Truly Disadvantaged. Since then, social scientists have accumulated a lot more evidence on the effects of family structure.

—Education Next

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College