But as encouraging as all these recent studies are, they still don't tell us for sure what we all really want to know. Yes, fewer kids are living with solo moms, but more kids are living with single dads, with cohabiting moms, and (saddest of all) in no-parent families. Taking into account all of these complex trends, are American families headed in the right direction? Are American children today more or less likely to live with their own two married (biological or adoptive) parents?
The Census Bureau, sadly, is no help. Despite repeated requests from family scholars and journalists, they have so far declined to analyze and release this data, the single most important family indicator. (President Bush? These guys work for you. Could you do something about that?)
Nor did any of these three important recent studies compile and release this information. But at the request of David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, Child Trends' Sharon Vandivere kindly agreed to run some separate, unpublished analyses to find out. And here is the answer.
Between 1997 and 1999, the proportion of children living with their own two (biological or adoptive) married parents ticked up a notch, from 60.26 percent of American children to 60.74 percent. This difference is within the statistical margin of error. It is too soon to say that on the home front, things are getting better. But it is not too soon to say that for the very first time in two generations, the negative family disintegration trends that scholars once pronounced unstoppable have suddenly stopped getting worse.
Which is good news indeed. It means for the first time, we can begin to focus good old-fashioned American know-how on the other, more optimistic side of the ledger: how to make things better.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.