A Coordinated Campaign to Put the Family Together Again

Let's talk about family units, baby, let's talk about you and me.

Social media campaigns are accused of everything from mass shootings to Russian influence in U.S. elections, so why can't social media try doing some good?

Perhaps, for instance, an unapologetic marketing campaign to emphasize the importance of a two-parent household?

Arcane, you say? Hardly.

Family-oriented public relations initiatives have been remarkably successful in the past. Take the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Since the campaign’s introduction in 1996, teen pregnancy has fallen 60 percent.

It’s difficult to quantify precisely how big a role the campaign played, but the trend is unmistakable. Yeah, some may say social media are already doing the job of reducing pregnancy. The mere movement of the social edifice into a virtual reality (online relationships rather than face-to-face ones) means less chance of physical interaction of the impregnating kind.

But "families" are still forming, and it's well-established that families that follow the success sequence — education, marriage, then children — experience more and better benefits.

97 percent of Millennials who have followed the success sequence are not in poverty by the time they reach the ages of 28 to 34.

Sequence-following Millennials are also markedly more likely to flourish financially than their peers taking different paths; 89 percent of 28-to-34 year olds who have followed the sequence stand at the middle or upper end of the income distribution, compared with just 59 percent of Millennials who missed one or two steps in the sequence. The formula even works for young adults who have faced heavier odds, such as Millennials who grew up poor, or black Millennials

So consider a "National Campaign for Two-Parent Families." It could hasten a similar effect on family structure as the teen pregnancy campaign did.

Kay S. Hymowitz, author and fellow at the Manhattan Institute, suggests that policy and PR initiatives can change attitudes about marriage and family without being preachy.

There's a risk that a pro-marriage PR campaign could end up sounding like Sunday morning sermonizing rather than a pragmatic policy initiative. But there are ways to avoid that.

On the policy side, Hymowitz suggests rewarding marriage rather than punishing it.

As is, when two single, low-income earners marry, their joint income often rises enough to reduce or negate their eligibility for government benefits. The obvious solution: Eliminate marriage penalties in the federal tax code and in means-tested benefits programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Another important change would be to help low-skilled, marriage-aged men earn more money through apprenticeships and other linkages between their careers and technical education.

Lastly, Hymowitz suggests another tack.

Look beyond eroding marriage norms to the consequence that concerns us most: the effect on children who grow up in fragile or chaotic homes. Not only is it harder to raise children without a reliable father in the house, but low-income mothers often use harsh or inconsistent discipline and remain emotionally and verbally unresponsive to their infants and young children. Home-visiting programs have had some success in increasing mothers' sensitivity and children's self-control. One well-known and carefully evaluated multisite program providing home visits for poor pregnant women and new mothers is the Nurse Family Partnership, which has also been shown to reduce antisocial behavior among the children it treats.

Changing attitudes about marriage and the family may be a long and difficult process, but a good PR/public policy campaign could convince Americans that two-parent households are preferable to single-parent setups.

Marriage is an important factor in the well-being of children. A solid household is better-off financially than a splintered one, so why not fund a sophisticated campaign to point out the facts?

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