The rates of out-of-wedlock births and divorce have leveled off recently. But cohabitation ? no substitute for marriage ? has continued to climb. Children of cohabiting parents are closer in their indicators of well-being to the children of single parents than they are to children of two-parent families. Three-quarters of cohabiting parents split up before their children reach age 16.
So, promoting involved fatherhood means promoting marriage. That will require a broad-based effort of government and the private sector. Roughly half of unmarried mothers are living together with the father at the time of the child's birth, and another one-third are still romantically involved with him. The trick is to convert these relationships into marriage, which the Bush administration wants to attempt by including marriage-promotion measures in a new round of welfare reform. As welfare guru Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation argues, two-thirds of black children are born out of wedlock ? but it can't be that two-thirds of black men are, as critics of the Bush proposal sometimes suggest, "un-marriageable."
Middle-income couples are obviously part of the equation too. The culture should be attempting to reach them with the message that all marriages have problems and usually they are soluble. An activist named Mike McManus has been promoting pre-marriage counseling through churches for young couples. A public-interested philanthropist could do worse than pouring resources into an expanded version of his "Marriage Savers" program.
In the meantime, give dear old traditional dad his due. He might not be cool, but he's important. We need more of him.