The media cacophony this seemingly innocuous and self-evident assertion ignited was startling. One might have thought that Quayle had desecrated the grave of Martin Luther King or something of similar magnitude.
Isabel Sawhill, however, writes in the Washington Post that now, some twenty years later, Quayle has been vindicated. Here's her lede:
On May 19, 1992, as the presidential campaign season was heating up, Vice President Dan Quayle delivered a family-values speech that came to define him nearly as much as his spelling talents. Speaking at the Commonwealth Club of California, he chided Murphy Brown — the fictional 40-something, divorced news anchor played by Candice Bergen on a CBS sitcom — for her decision to have a child outside of marriage."Yes, but so what?" ask those who see marriage as little more than a temporary alliance that need not impose any constraints of any sort on the participants.
“Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong,” the vice president said. “Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.”
Quayle’s argument — that Brown was sending the wrong message, that single parenthood should not be encouraged — erupted into a major campaign controversy. And just a few weeks before the ’92 vote, the show aired portions of his speech and had characters react to it.
“Perhaps it’s time for the vice president to expand his definition and recognize that, whether by choice or circumstance, families come in all shapes and sizes,” Bergen’s character said.
Her fictional colleague Frank, meanwhile, echoed some of the national reaction: “It’s Dan Quayle — forget about it!”
Twenty years later, Quayle’s words seem less controversial than prophetic. The number of single parents in America has increased dramatically: The proportion of children born outside marriage has risen from roughly 30 percent in 1992 to 41 percent in 2009. For women under age 30, more than half of babies are born out of wedlock. A lifestyle once associated with poverty has become mainstream. The only group of parents for whom marriage continues to be the norm is the college-educated.
Sawhill answers the question:
There are three reasons to be concerned about this dramatic shift in family life. First, marriage is a commitment that cohabitation is not. Taking a vow before friends and family to support another person “until death do us part” signals a mutual sense of shared responsibility that cannot be lightly dismissed. Cohabitation is more fragile — cohabiting parents split up before their fifth anniversary at about twice the rate of married parents. Often, this is because the father moves on, leaving the mother not just with less support but with fewer marriage prospects. For her, marriage requires finding a partner willing to take responsibility for someone else’s kids.Perhaps equally as important, marriage often establishes a family support structure that extends beyond just the two parents. One of the advantages that children of married couples have that children of single moms don't is two sets of grandparents plus a network of uncles, aunts, and so on, all of which have resources and connections which they're often willing to contribute and from which children often derive enormous advantages. One reason it's hard to break out of poverty, even if one earnestly wants to, is that this adult support structure is often lacking for many poor children of single mothers.
Second, a wealth of research strongly suggests that marriage is good for children. Those who live with their biological parents do better in school and are less likely to get pregnant or arrested. They have lower rates of suicide, achieve higher levels of education and earn more as adults. Meanwhile, children who spend time in single-parent families are more likely to misbehave, get sick, drop out of high school and be unemployed....
Third, marriage brings economic benefits. It usually means two breadwinners, or one breadwinner and a full-time, stay-at-home parent with no significant child-care expenses. Unlike Murphy Brown — who always had the able Eldin by her side — most women do not have the flexibility afforded a presumably highly paid broadcast journalist. And it’s not just a cliche that two can live more cheaply than one; a single set of bills for rent, utilities and other household expenses makes a difference. Though not necessarily better off than a cohabiting couple, a married family is much better off than its single-parent counterpart.
Sawhill has more to say in her article. Give it a read and give Dan Quayle a thumbs up for having the guts to stand against the liberal zeitgeist and brave the demeaning slings and arrows those folks often substitute for reasoned argument.