The best recent article on upward mobility’s dependence on the family

by Ryan Streeter on October 29, 2013. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Brad Wilcox of UVA has an informative new article in The Atlantic on how marriage drives upward mobility – especially among low-income children.

Take a look at this chart, which compares the graduation rates of men and women measured according to 2 factors: whether their mother is a college graduate and whether their parents were married:

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Wilcox writes:

The marriage bump is strongest among families where the parents didn’t go to college (the left half of the graph above). Among less-educated families, the children of married parents earn about $4,000 more than their peers from non-intact families, as the next chart shows.

He goes on to point out that income differences are insignificant among men and women with college-educated mothers, whether their mothers were married or not.

In addition, living in areas where single-parent homes are concentrated has an enormous depressive effect on mobility. Citing the recent Chetty-Saez-et-al study, he writes:

[T]he most important predictor of economic mobility was the low share of single moms in a community. Mobility for poor kids was highest in the Salt Lake City metro area, which also happens to have one of the lowest rates of single motherhood of any major metro area in the country.

The economics of family formation remains one of the most empirically sound bodies of research out there, and yet it still remains off-limits in too many public debates about poverty and upward mobility.