Locking up ethnic minority men helps children as it lowers the number of poor fathers, U.S. study finds
By Daily Mail Reporter
25th January 2011
Increasing prison rates among black and Hispanic men in the U.S. has helped children - because it reduces the number of bad dads around, a surprising academic study has found.
The research tracked the rising numbers of men from a 'minority' background in jail, and found a link to the reduction in high school drop out rates.
The unexpected results suggest two-parent households may not always be best for children, say the researchers from the University of California Irvine.
They said policymakers should encourage parenting skills and help low income families, rather than attempting to bolster marriage.
Economist David Neumark, one of the study's authors, said: 'Previous research has found that children who grow up in an environment other than a married, two-person household are more likely to repeat a grade, be expelled or suspended, or receive treatment for an emotional problem.
'Our research shows that policy efforts to create more married, two-parent households won’t necessarily improve outcomes for children and – depending on which spouse is available – may even worsen them.'
Using U.S. Census data and state-by-state incarceration rates, he and a colleague found evidence linking decreases in minority youth high school drop-out rates to the growing prison rate for minority men between 18 and 40 – because of the latter’s effect on marriage prospects for minority women.
The study was published in the quarterly Journal of Human Resources, and Prof Neumark added: 'Incarceration rates affect the supply of potential husbands in what is still a largely same-race marriage market.'
Between 1970 and 2000, the researchers found, the nationwide prison rate for blacks and Hispanics aged 18 to 40 increased 7.3 and 1.5 per cent respectively, while the rate of whites in jail grew by 1 per cent.
At the same time, the number of children living with mothers who had never married rose 1 percent among whites, 3.4 percent among Hispanics and 18.5 percent among blacks, while the number of high school drop-outs among all races was cut nearly in half.
Prof Neumark said: 'The results indicate that the increasing incarceration rate of minority men is directly linked to a decrease in the number of minority high school drop-outs.
'By removing potentially lower-quality husbands and fathers from the marriage market via incarceration, it appears that their negative influence on children in the home is reduced.
'So although a higher incarceration rate leaves in its wake a higher number of never-married mothers, their children actually end up doing better.'
This, he said, has important implications for current US policies such as the 1996 welfare reforms and the Healthy Marriage Initiative included in the 2006 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families reauthorization.
Targeted at low-income, single mothers, these policies encourage the formation of married, two-parent families, Neumark said.
'Marriage promotion policies presume that marriage itself will directly improve outcomes for children, yet our findings show that encouraging marriage for poor, unmarried mothers may not improve outcomes for their children – and could even worsen them, depending on which marriages form as a result of such policies,” he said.
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