What do U.S. Supreme Court top picks Judges Kentaji Brown Jackson, Leondra Kruger, and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi have in common? No no, not what the president or the media have emphasized. They were raised in two-parent households. Judge Jackson’s father was an attorney for the Miami-Dade school board and her mother a school principal for a magnet high school. Judge Kruger is the daughter of two physicians. And both of Judge Jackson-Akiwumi’s parents were judges; her father was Senate-confirmed to the prestigious Eastern District of Virginia no less. And together, those parents—not without challenges, I’m sure—raised daughters that thrived through six Ivy League degrees and will forever be powerful voices in American law, Supreme Court or not.
That should give us hope in the American Dream. Together, a family can raise children to be more successful than them. No doubt, those families are unique in their own ways, and as Nancy Pelosi likes to say, the plural of anecdotes is not data. And, in seeing that only 38 percent of Black children live with two married parents, compared to 87 percent of Asians and 76 percent of White children, we know this gap has its causes.
But the data does back up the importance of the two-parent home. The odds of Black young adults getting a college degree are almost 70 percent higher if they were raised by their own two parents. Moreover, a two-parent household makes a difference that transcends race. For example, 36 percent of young Black women from two-parent families have graduated from college compared to just 28 percent of young White women from single-parent families. Likewise, 14 percent of young Black men from intact families have been incarcerated, compared to 18 percent of young White men from single-parent families. And, while 31 percent of White children raised by a single mom live in poverty, just 12 percent of Black children do when living with married parents. I’m not saying a single-parent home is outcome determinative by any means, just that there are encouraging data about two-parent homes.
As we know, neither these statistics nor these stories have given people confidence that the American dream is reachable for everyone. The reality is unavoidable: the poverty rate for Black Americans in 2020 was 19.5 percent, compared to 8.2 percent for Whites (and slightly less for Asians).
This is no doubt a problem. But the hoped-for solutions haven’t achieved their intended outcomes. Take affirmative action. The evidence is “sobering,” in the eyes of affirmative action proponents, that these types of well-intended boosts can put students at a disadvantage, and derail their plans for rigorous careers. And even on its best day, affirmative action only helps those students who were going to some college anyway. Or take welfare. Social programs—from Head Start to Medicaid—were intended to give the poor the tools they need to raise children alone. But since the War on Poverty began, single-parenthood has skyrocketed and single parents are still far more likely to be poor. Or take contraception. A recent (global) study shows access to contraception did not make women richer and actually decreased health. Or take public school. Millions of dollars later, a Baltimore High School reported only 12 students read at grade level, but 71 read at a kindergarten level.
Bandaids cannot fix internal bleeding. The injury is deeper than these approaches are equipped to fix. It’s time to think about inequality differently. It’s time to focus on family structure.
Deciding we care about family structure, as the pathway to a more prosperous life for everyone, won’t be easy. The topic itself has veered toward off-limits. And even if we could discuss family structure, repairing it seems nearly impossible. It requires, in my assessment, a frank discussion of the harms of the sexual revolution and certain brands of feminism. And it requires bringing back masculine jobs, too many of which have been shipped overseas. Others may disagree. But this issue, family structure, should be number one on our minds. More than Ukraine, more than bridges, more than fuel efficiency.
We view too much through the lens of race. The civil rights movement had a greater plan, that we are worthy as individuals. And in acting otherwise, we not only deny accomplished people the recognition and humanity all people deserve but deny their families their praise in raising successful children. In America, a hardworking family can thrive. And that is something worth celebrating.