The Changing American Family

How do family structure and stability affect economic outcomes in America? In this course, we argue the answer is: A Lot!


In the past, the family and the economy have been considered to be separate. Today, scholars and policy makers recognize that the national economy depends on the structure of the family. If we care about opportunity, equality, and poverty, we must also care about marriage and children.

The course provides an introduction to the economic consequences of the changing family structure in the United States from the 1960s until today. It examines the changes in American marriage and family trends over the last 50 years that have contributed to fewer children living in intact, two-parent families, including decreasing marriage rates, climbing divorce rates, declining religious affiliation, and rising out-of-wedlock births. It discusses the economic advantages to raising children in two-parent family units, as well as the important role that the family plays in building human and social capital. Finally, this course covers the 1965 Moynihan Report and approaches to strengthen family and marriage through public policy. 

The course is based on Home Economics: The Consequences of Changing Family Structure by Nick Schulz (American Enterprise Institute, 2013) and features interviews from leading public policy scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, Johns Hopkins University, and New York University.

Course Goals

Poverty, Family, and Economics seeks to provide students with a basic understanding of an under-appreciated topic: the social and economic consequences (for oneself, one’s family, one’s community, and the country) of changing family structure. These supposedly personal decisions—whether one marries, stays married, divorces, or has children—have, it turns out, a significant economic effect. This course introduces students to the following: research about national marriage and family trends; some of the causes behind the decline of the traditional family over the last half-century; the ways that intact families provide economic benefits; and efforts at strengthening the traditional family unit through public policy. Upon completion of the course students will better understand the connection between home life and economic well-being and will be better equipped to make wise life choices.

Course Organization:

This course consists of three sessions:

I. The Changing American Family, 1960 to the Present

The first session explains why changes in family structure bear profound economic consequences. In past decades, academic and public conversations about national economic trends and challenges have tended to ignore the role of the family. Yet family structures and patterns have a deep effect on a wide range of economic indicators. How has the family changed? What are some of the causes behind the changes?

II. The Economic Consequences of the Changing Family Structure

In the second session, the focus is directly on the economic consequences of the changing American family. Research data suggests that some types of family arrangements are more conducive to economic stability and well-being than others. This is in part due to significant changes in the American workforce over the past half-century. Recent marriage and family trends appear to be correlated with shifts in economic stability, poverty, and social mobility. What are those correlations? How have they changed over time? Why does the decline of the traditional family have severe economic consequences?

III. Public Policy and Cultural Change Since the Moynihan Report

In the third and final session a re-examination of social and cultural changes that were evident in the 1960s will be provided, in order to explore some of the reasons that family structure is often omitted from economic analysis and discussion. A 1965 report written by Daniel Patrick Moynihan directly addressed the economic aspects of changing family structure, and an ensuing controversy embroiled the report in race and class tensions, which remain unresolved to this day. In light of this controversy and the challenges of influencing positive social change, what can and should be done to better support families?

Course Introduction
Interview with Dr. Charles Murray, who discusses marriage and the family
Discussion Questions Based on Interview with Charles Murray
Interview with Dr. Katheryn Edin on Single Parenthood
Discussion Questions Based on Interview with Kathryn Edin
The Consequences of the Changing Family Structure
Generational, cultural, and political trends surrounding marriage and family.
Discussion Questions Based on Interview with Karlyn Bowman
Social Mobility and the Growing Marriage Divide
Discussions Questions Based on Interview with Brad Wilcox
How Can Public Policy Help?
Single-Parent Families and Social Mobility
Discussion Questions Based on Robert Doar Interview
What Needs to be Done to Improve Welfare Programs.
Discussion Questions Based on Interview with Lawrence Mead
Additional Resources
Concluding Comments from Micah Clark

What's included

  • 9 Video Lessons
  • 8 Text Lessons

  • Works on all devices
  • Certificate of completion

American Enterprise Institute