Skip to main content
baby005
Social Mobility Memos

Six Quotes from Isabel Sawhill on ‘Why Marriage is the Best Environment for Kids’

Isabel V. Sawhill and Joanna Venator

Today on Brookings Cafeteria Podcast, Isabel Sawhill is talking about family formation, social mobility, and her new book, Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage.

You can listen in here:

If you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, here are the six big takeaways from the podcast:

On gaps in family formation:

At 2:50:  “For all the talk about income inequality and the gaps that are arising there, there are also gaps in education, and there are gaps in family structure and in parenting styles that are also creating very unequal starts for American children.”

On unwed childbearing:

At 5:30: “Unwed childbearing is getting close to being the ‘new normal’ for women under 30— the proportion of all children born outside of marriage is now over 50%. So we’re at kind of a tipping point here in our society about whether marriage is going to be the standard way to raise children or whether most of them are going to be raised outside of marriage.”

On the “marriage-go-round”:

At 7:50: “Most of the time the cohabiting partner is the father of the child. And then he often leaves. And then there may be a new partner and a new child from the new relationship—and the mother may do the same thing. So we not only have a problem of these couples breaking up but we have them forming new partnerships and having additional children with the new partners. And I call that the “marriage-go-round” or rather I should say Kathy Edin1 calls it the “marriage-go-round.” I have sometimes called it “musical partnerships.”

On deciding to have children:

At 16:31: “We need to have people take responsibility and make explicit choices about when to have children, whether to have children, who to have children with—and not to treat it so casually. Because after all children are what should matter for the future.”

On birth control:

At 18:33: “We haven’t done enough in this country to both inform women about their birth control choices, make them accessible and make them affordable.”

On social mobility:

At 28:00: “Where I finally come out is to argue that if we want more social mobility, more opportunity in America, we have to do two things. First of all we have to provide the effective programs from early childhood education all the way through a better K-12 system, more access to college, and technical training—we have to do all that stuff. But we also have to worry about personal responsibility and whether people are taking charge and not drifting into early childbearing and partnering with people that may not be good, long-term stable partners.”

1 Correction: The phrase “marriage-go-round” was originally used in sociologist Andrew Cherlin’s book of the same name. The phenomenon has, however,  also been referred to by Edin as the “family-go-round.”

Get daily updates from Brookings