2017 Family Prosperity Index Family Culture

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  1. Introduction
  2. Economics
  3. Demographics
  4. Family Self-Sufficiency
  5. Family Structure
  6. Family Health

FAMILY CULTURE

It is well established that there is a symbiotic relationship between families and the environment in which they live. Unwed births, crime rates, religiosity, and educational opportunities shape the culture of a family and, thus, their prospects for long-term prosperity. The Family Culture major index measures the extent to which the culture of families in a particular state is conducive to raising children to be productive adults.

While many would guess that divorce is the biggest driver of single-parenthood, the reality is that unwed births, on the margin, are the primary contributor to single-parent households. The greatest indicator of whether or not a couple will be together in five years is whether or not they were married at the time their child was born. Two-thirds of unmarried couples will separate within 5 years while 82 percent of married couples will still be together.[1]

The increase in unwed births creates a tremendous impediment to restoring America’s marriage rates, especially in the face of growing moral acceptance. As noted in a recent Gallup survey:

. . .[P]ublic perceptions of the moral acceptability of having children out of wedlock have increased dramatically over the past decade and a half. Gallup poll data show that the percentage who say this is morally acceptable currently stands at an all-time high (62% overall and 68% among millennials). As recently as 2002, just 45% said it was morally acceptable to have a child out of wedlock, while 50% said it was morally wrong.[2]

Thankfully, given the flux in the American family, violent and property crimes have been on the downswing. Yet, they still impose a large economic cost on society. Measuring that burden has not been an easy task. A recent study, however, took an in-depth look at the academic literature and estimated that the direct costs (police, courts, prisons, etc.) of violent crime are $42 billion while the indirect costs (pain and suffering) add another $156 billion.[3]

Additionally, the study recognizes that violent crime is very location–specific and its impact is capitalized into the value of the surrounding property. More specifically, the authors looked at seven cities and found that a 10 percent reduction in homicides would yield $16.5 billion in higher residential property values, while a 25 percent reduction would yield $41.25 billion.[4]

Since homes are Americans’ most valuable asset, this large wealth effect resulting from a decline in violent crime would be a tremendous economic and social boost to a community.

Yet, to realize reductions in crime of those magnitudes, the root causes of crime will have to be addressed. One of, if not the, most important factor is the increase in single-parent households. Children from single-parent homes are more prone to criminal activities in youth (more than twice as likely to be arrested) and young adulthood (three times more likely to be in jail by age 30) relative to children from intact married families.[5]

For male adults, marriage is directly and causally related to lower crime. Using one of the longest longitudinal studies available, scholars at Harvard University and the University of Maryland found:

. . .[B]eing married is associated with an average reduction of approximately 35 percent in the odds of crime compared to nonmarried states for the same man. These results are robust, supporting the inference that states of marriage causally inhibit crime over the life course.[6]

Of course, the discussion of marriage, or lack thereof, accomplishes nothing unless put into the institutional context that gives it meaning—the institution of religion. It is no coincidence that the decline in marriage goes hand-in-hand with the decline in religiosity.

However, there are steep social and economic costs associated with the decline in religious practice ranging from the very micro (individual) to the macro (societal).

In terms of individual benefits, Gallup performed an in-depth statistical analysis of over 550,000 interviews to determine the influence of religion in Americans’ lives. The analysis found that religious Americans have less depression and worry,[7] lead healthier lives,[8] and enjoy overall higher well-being.[9]

A series of studies from the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion looked at the impact of religion on society in general and found that religion can lead to lower crime rates,[10] reduced drug use,[11] and greater academic performance.[12] Additionally, religion and, relatedly, marriage are the only proven bulwarks against Demographic Winter.[13]

Given all of these benefits, one may ask why religiosity is on the decline. A recent study sheds light on this question by examining a key demographic that has seen the greatest drop in religious practice—working class whites:

Specifically, in the last forty years, white working class income, employment, marital stability, and cultural conservatism have all declined.

[Such factors]…have long been linked to religious institutions which are now less powerful in the lives of working class whites than they used to be.…[O]ur results suggest that the erosion of the labor market and cultural structures associated with…such factors…may have played an important role in accounting for recent declines in religious attendance among working class whites.[14]

Thus begins the vicious cycle where the decline in the economic fortunes of the working class, through globalization and/or automation, leads to the unraveling of religiosity, which is the best bulwark against such decline.

Finally, educational attainment is an important cultural value that yields significant economic returns. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in 2014, the median weekly earnings of a person with less than a high school diploma were only $488. Earnings jumped with higher levels of educational attainment: associate’s degree ($792), bachelor’s degree ($1,101), and doctoral degree ($1,591).[15]

For those individuals who moved up the educational ladder and received a bachelor’s degree, 36 percent came from intact married families. In stark contrast, only 8 percent came from single–parent families. Additionally, 32 percent attended religious services weekly, while only 14 percent never attended any religious services.[16]

As shown in Chart 50 and Table 6:

STATE HIGHLIGHT: UTAH[17]

It is not an understatement to say that Utah dominates the FPI, not only ranking in the top spot but also holding commanding leads over the second-ranked state and the national average. This conforms to other recent analysis showing Utah ranking high in economic mobility and the size of its middle class. Clearly, Utah is on the right track for expanding family prosperity.

In fact, to that point, a landmark study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found Salt Lake City ranked first in the nation in intergenerational mobility:

Intergenerational mobility varies substantially across areas. For example, the probability that a child reaches the top quintile of the national income distribution starting from a family in the bottom quintile is 4.4% in Charlotte but 12.9% in San Jose. The spatial variation in intergenerational mobility is strongly correlated with five factors: (1) residential segregation, (2) income inequality, (3) school quality, (4) social capital, and (5) family structure.[18]

Another study from the Brookings Institution reinforces this point, revealing that the three cities with the largest middle class (as a percent of households) are all in Utah: Ogden-Clearfield (60 percent), Provo-Orem (59 percent), and Salt Lake City (57 percent).[19]

Such evidence has led prominent libertarian economist Tyler Cowen to the following conclusion:

Finally, income inequality may begin to reverse itself through the evolution of social norms. Poor people who see no way out of their plight won’t all be able to advance without outside help, but some of the impoverished will succeed despite the barriers they face.

Religions and social movements with strong moral codes may be able to help improve life prospects. It is striking, for example, that Utah fits the economic profile of an older, more middle-class-oriented America. The reasons for this are complex, but they may stem in part from the large number of Mormons in the state.

Mormons have done relatively well in economic terms, perhaps, at least in part, because their religious culture encourages behavior consistent with prosperity, such as savings, mutual assistance, family values and no drug and alcohol abuse.

I am not a Mormon and am not advocating that religion or any other. But it seems reasonable to observe that changing social norms, sometimes associated with religion, can help improve living standards.[20]

The one area of concern is Utah’s drop in the Family Health index caused specifically by its low score on the self-mortality sub-index, which consists of suicides and drug overdoses as a percent of population (see New Hampshire state highlight for more detailed analysis). To be sure, both of these issues are of growing concern on the national level, but Utah’s higher-than-average rates must be addressed with some urgency.

Additionally, a county-level FPI analysis raises some red flags. Of particular concern is Salt Lake County since it is, by far, the most populous county in Utah. As such, changes in the status of Salt Lake County families can swiftly sway the state average.

Unfortunately, there are several disturbing trends in Salt Lake County that deserve further scrutiny. First, the percent of families with related children in poverty has accelerated in recent years. In 2009 (the earliest data available), 9.5 percent of Salt Lake County families with related children were in poverty and the county fell below the state average of 10.4 percent.

However, by 2014, families with related children below poverty in Salt Lake County increased by 54 percent to 14.5 percent from 9.5 percent in 2009. This dramatic growth moved the county from below the state average to significantly above the state average (11.6 percent in 2014) for this sub-index.

Second, Salt Lake County has an elevated level of crime. Its violent crime rate in 2014 was 0.33 percent (of population) which is higher than the state average of 0.22 percent. Salt Lake County’s property crime rate in 2014 was a whopping 4.21 percent, which is higher than both the state average (2.9 percent) and the national average (2.6 percent).

Third, Salt Lake County has the lowest level of married taxpayers in the state at 40.4 percent (46.7 percent for the state) in 2013 (the latest data available), falling from 41.4 percent in 2010.

Finally, the county is where most unwed births occur in the state. In 2014, 46 percent (4,413) of Utah’s unwed births (9,687) occurred in Salt Lake County.

Not surprisingly, many of these factors are inter-related. For example, children from single-parent homes, emanating from a high unwed birth rate, are more prone to criminal activities in youth (more than twice as likely to be arrested) and young adulthood (three times more likely to be in jail by age 30) relative to children from intact married families.[21]

Based on the data, poverty can be directly attributed to the breakdown of the family.[22] In 2014, the poverty rate for families with related children was 18 percent nationally. However, for married couples the poverty rate is only 8.2 percent while for single parents the poverty rate jumps to 35.9 percent.

The negative trends identified in the Salt Lake County FPI analysis reflect a declining rate of well-being and quality of life among families living in the state’s most populous county. By virtue of its population size, these trends, if left unchecked, will begin to move the state average and, consequently, reduce Utah’s rank on the FPI.

Unwed Birth Rate

As shown in Chart 51, the unwed birth rate (as a percent of births) increased nationally by 20 percent to 40.5 percent in 2014 from 33.7 percent in 2000. In 2014, Mississippi had the highest unwed birth rate at 54.1 percent, while Utah had the lowest rate at 18.7 percent—a difference of 189 percent.[23]

Overall, for the unwed birth rate sub-index, Utah and Colorado had the top score (10.00), followed by Washington (7.25), Massachusetts (7.18), Alaska (7.15), and Minnesota (7.15). Mississippi had the lowest score, (1.07) followed by Louisiana (1.79), Nevada (1.94), Florida (2.25), and New Mexico (2.32).

Also, Chart 52 illustrates how the U.S. unwed birth rate (as a percent of births) has soared 670 percent between 1960 (5.3 percent) and 2013 (40.6 percent). In particular, it also compares how the unwed birth rates for the states in 2015 compare to the U.S. average as it moves through time.

For example, Utah had the lowest unwed birth rate in 2014 of 18.7 percent. The last time the U.S. average was this low was in 1981, and that was still 255 percent higher than the 1960 U.S. average. Note on Chart 52 that Minnesota’s unwed birth rate (33 percent) is equivalent to the 1999 U.S. average, and Missouri’s (40.3 percent) is equivalent to the 2013 U.S. average.

However, not shown on Chart 52 are the 24 states with unwed births rates above the 2013 U.S. average. Louisiana’s unwed birth rate—the highest in the country—is 30 percent above the U.S. average (53 percent).

Violent Crime Rate

As shown in Chart 53, the violent crime rate (as a percent of population) declined nationally by 24 percent to 0.38 percent in 2015 from 0.5 percent in 2000. In 2015, Alaska had the highest violent crime rate at 0.73 percent, while Vermont had the lowest rate at 0.12 percent—a difference of 519 percent.[24]

Overall, for the violent crime sub-index, Vermont had the best score (8.24), followed by Maine (7.42), Connecticut (7.17), New Hampshire (7.03), and Virginia (6.87). Alaska had the lowest score (0.62), followed by Nevada (0.91), New Mexico (1.52), Tennessee (2.34), and Arkansas (3.14).

Property Crime Rate

As shown in Chart 54, the property crime rate (as a percent of population) declined nationally by 31 percent to 2.49 percent in 2015 from 3.6 percent in 2000. In 2015, Hawaii had the highest property crime rate at 3.81 percent, while Vermont had the lowest rate at 1.41 percent—a difference of 171 percent.[25]

Overall, for the property crime sub-index, Vermont had the best score (9.25), followed by New Jersey (7.92), New Hampshire (7.76), Massachusetts (7.75), and New York (7.72). Hawaii had the lowest score (0.00), followed by New Mexico (0.70), Washington (1.64), Louisiana (2.15), and South Carolina (2.55).

Religious Attendance

As shown in Chart 55, the religious attendance rate (as a percent of population) declined nationally by 10 percent to 38 percent in 2015 from 42 percent in 2008 (the earliest data available). In 2015, Mississippi had the highest religious attendance rate at 62 percent, while Vermont and New Hampshire had the lowest rate at 21 percent—a difference of 195 percent.[26]

Overall, for the religious attendance sub-index, Mississippi had the top score (9.59), followed by Alabama (8.48), Utah (7.90), Tennessee (7.84), and Louisiana (7.82). New Hampshire had the lowest score (0.00), followed by Vermont (1.53), Massachusetts (2.31), Washington (2.73), and Wyoming (2.74).

Note: Due to data limitations, the measure for the year-to-year change could only be measured in one-year increments.

Educational Attainment

Charts 56, 57, and 58 show the variance in educational attainment—including for associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and graduate degree—nationally and in the 50 states from 2000 to 2014.[27]

As shown in Chart 56, the associate’s degree rate (as a percent of population between ages 25 to 64) increased nationally by 25 percent to 9 percent in 2015 from 7.2 percent in 2000. In 2015, North Dakota had the highest associate’s degree rate at 15.3 percent, while Louisiana had the lowest rate at 6.9 percent—a difference of 122 percent.

As shown in Chart 57, the bachelor’s degree rate (as a percent of population between ages 25 to 64) increased nationally by 19 percent to 20.4 percent in 2015 from 17.2 percent in 2000. In 2015, Colorado had the highest bachelor’s degree rate at 26 percent, while West Virginia had the lowest rate at 13.1 percent—a difference of 99 percent.

As shown in Chart 58, the graduate degree rate (as a percent of population between ages 25 to 64) increased nationally by 25 percent to 11.6 percent in 2015 from 9.3 percent in 2000. In 2015, Massachusetts had the highest graduate degree rate at 18.9 percent, while South Dakota had the lowest rate at 7.5 percent—a difference of 153 percent.

Overall, for the educational attainment sub-index, Minnesota had the top score (7.97) followed by North Dakota (6.93), New Hampshire (6.63), Connecticut (6.62), and Virginia (6.51). West Virginia had the lowest score (1.94), followed by Oklahoma (2.30), Nevada (2.67), Arkansas (2.70), and Louisiana (2.85).

Note: The associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and graduate degree rates were all weighted equally in the educational attainment sub-index.

Jump to Section:

  1. Introduction
  2. Economics
  3. Demographics
  4. Family Self-Sufficiency
  5. Family Structure
  6. Family Health

[1] Carlson, Marcia J., “Trajectories of Couple Relationship Quality after Childbirth: Does Marriage Matter?” Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, Working Paper #2007-11-FF, April 2007. http://crcw.princeton.edu/workingpapers/WP07-11-FF.pdf

[2] Fleming, John, “Gallup Analysis: Millennials, Marriage and Family,” Gallup, May 19, 2016. http://www.gallup.com/poll/191462/gallup-analysis-millennials-marriage-family.aspx

[3] Hassett, Kevin A. and Shapiro, Robert J., “The Economic Benefits of Reducing Violent Crime: A Case Study of 8 American Cities,” Center for American Progress, June 2012. https://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2012/06/pdf/violent_crime.pdf

[4] Ibid.

[5] Rector, Robert, “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty,” The Heritage Foundation, Domestic Policy Studies Department, Special Report, No. 117, September 5, 2012. http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2012/pdf/sr117.pdf

[6] Laub, John H., Sampson, Robert J., Wimer, Christopher, “Does Marriage Reduce Crime? A Counterfactual Approach to Within-Individual Causal Effects,” Criminology, Vol. 44, No. 3, 2006. http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/sampson/files/2006_criminology_laubwimer_1.pdf

[7] Agrawal, Sangeeta, Newport, Frank, and Witters, Dan, “Very Religious Americans Report Less Depression, Worry,” Gallup, December 1, 2010. http://www.gallup.com/poll/144980/Religious-Americans-Report-Less-Depression-Worry.aspx

[8] Agrawal, Sangeeta, Newport, Frank, and Witters, Dan, “Very Religious Americans Lead Healthier Lives,” Gallup, December 23, 2010. http://www.gallup.com/poll/145379/Religious-Americans-Lead-Healthier-Lives.aspx

[9] Agrawal, Sangeeta, Newport, Frank, and Witters, Dan, “Religious Americans Enjoy Higher Wellbeing,” Gallup, February 16, 2012. http://www.gallup.com/poll/152723/religious-americans-enjoy-higher-wellbeing.aspx

[10] Johnson, Byron R., “The Role of African-American Churches in Reducing Crime Among Black Youth,” Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, 2008. http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/ISR_Role_African_American.pdf

[11] Johnson, Byron R., “A Better Kind of High: Religious Commitment Reduces Drug Use Among Poor Urban Teens,” Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, 2008. http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/ISR_Better_High.pdf

[12] Regnerus, Mark D., “Making the Grade: The Influence of Religion Upon the Academic Performance of Youth in Disadvantaged Communities,” Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, 2008. http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/ISR-Making-Grade_071.pdf

[13] Fagan, Patrick and Potrykus, Henry, “Marriage, Contraception, and the Future of Western Peoples,” Marriage and Religion Research Institute, November 30, 2011. http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF11K50.pdf

[14] Cherling, Andrew J., Messel, Matthew, Uecker, Jeremy E., and Wilcox, W. Bradford, “No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life Among the White Working Class,” Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 23, pp. 227-250, 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315336/pdf/nihms621991.pdf

[15] “Earnings and Unemployment Rate by Educational Attainment,” U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 12, 2016. http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm

[16] Fagan, Patrick F. and Talkington, Scott, “’Ever Received a Bachelor’s Degree’ by Current Religious Attendance and Structure of Family of Origin,” Mapping America, No. 105. http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF11G27.pdf

[17] The full Utah study can be found at http://www.familyprosperity.org/application/files/6714/8434/1231/UTAH_Family_Prosperity_Index_2016-WEB.pdf

[18] Chetty, Raj, Hendren, Nathaniel, Kline, Patrick, and Saez, Emmanuel, “Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 129(4): 1553-1623, 2014. http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/assets/documents/mobility_geo.pdf

[19] Reeves, Richard V. and Rodrigue, Edward, “The American Middle-Class is Still Thriving in Utah,” Brookings, The Avenue, March 10, 2016. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2016/03/10/the-american-middle-class-is-still-thriving-in-utah/

[20] Cowen, Tyler, “Why There’s Hope for the Middle Class (With Help From China),” The New York Times, April 15, 2016. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/04/17/upshot/why-theres-hope-for-the-middle-class-with-help-from-china.html

[21] Rector, Robert, “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty,” The Heritage Foundation, Domestic Policy Studies Department, Special Report, No. 117, September 5, 2012. http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2012/pdf/sr117.pdf

[22] Wilcox, W. Bradford, “The Evolution of Divorce,” National Affairs, Fall 2009. http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-evolution-of-divorce

[23] U.S. Department of Commerce: Census Bureau. The data was extracted from the Kids Count Data Center published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/7-births-to-unmarried-women?loc=1&loct=2#detailed/2/2-52/false/36,868,867,133,38/any/257,258

[24] Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the U.S. https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/crimestats

[25] Ibid.

[26] Gallup Analytics, based on response of religious attendance “at least once a week” and “almost every week.”

[27] U.S. Department of Commerce: Census Bureau. The data was extracted from the Kids Count Data Center published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/6295-e...