Miley Cyrus and Divorce

Miley Cyrus [Feat. RockMafia]

I’ve long admired country music star Billy Ray Cyrus’s family as they seemed to be the exception in Hollywood. They publicly professed their faith in God and their love and support  for one another. Their famous daughter Miley, who at age 11, was catapulted to fame by the children’s television show Hannah Montana seemed lucky to have such principled parents looking out for her.

Her dad was always there right by her side singing with her on stage or co-starring in movies with her and her mom Tish managed her career. So, when I read that her parents were divorcing, I wondered how this might affect Miley. A young adult now, she no longer needs her parents to sign off on her career choices.

Her rebellion slowly began to emerge a couple of years ago with her revealing clothing choices, PDA and cohabitation with boyfriends, pictures of her reported drug use and her recent sexually explicit performance at the Video Music Awards. In recent pictures, her tongue is stuck out and her clothing looks like it was put through a shredder leading to the obvious conclusion that she is in great emotional pain.

Much of that emotional pain might be wrapped up in the family turmoil leading to her Mom filing for divorce. In June, she posted Twitter messages asking her Dad to tell the truth or she would tell the public. And when there was no response by Billy Ray, she posted a picture of her dad with a woman who is not her mother. To make it even worse, a couple years back, there were rumors floating through the media that her mom had an affair with a musician which prompted talk of divorce for the couple.

Thankfully, in August, the Cyrus couple publicly said they were halting divorce proceedings to try and work on their marriage. However, whatever has gone wrong with their marriage has presumably taken an emotional toll on Miley and her siblings and the public is seeing it play out.

We can observe the pain of a girl like Miley who is in the public eye but, with the divorce rate (3.6 per 1,000 people) now up to over half of the marriage rate (6.8 per 1,000 people), how are the children of these unions responding to the great upheaval that divorce inflicts on a family? How are they performing academically and emotionally? Will they be more likely to cohabitate and not marry?

The real costs associated with divorce include costs in terms of government growth as parents with children outsource expenses to the government in the form of Medicaid, TANF, SCHIP, Child Welfare, etc. These are expenses that could obviously be paid for and reduced if there were a watchful mother and father in the home. A study by Ben Scafidi, The Taxpayer Costs ofDivorce and Unwed Childbearing (pdf), estimates the taxpayer cost of divorce and unwed childbirth by state concluded that divorce costs, for example, Oklahoman taxpayers $430 million.

Further, in an NBER paper released this month, Cohabitation and the Uneven Retreat from Marriage in the U.S., 1950-2010 (pdf), economists Shelly Lundberg and Robert A. Pollak find:

The poor and less educated are much more likely to rear children in cohabitating relationships. The college educated typically cohabit before marriage, but they marry before conceiving children and their marriages are relatively stable.

Further, they find:

Marriage is the commitment mechanism that supports high levels of investment in children and is hence more valuable for parents adopting a high-investment strategy for their children.

The 1996 Welfare Reform Act which turned AFDC (Aid for Families with Dependent Children) into TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) spelled out four goals, the fourth which was to “Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent households.” Of the $31 billion in grants given by DC to the states for TANF in 2012, only 1 percent of this money was spent on programs to support two-parent families. Unfortunately, most government entities seem disinterested in reducing reliance on welfare.

Everyone should want parents to have a “high investment strategy” for their children. After all, having children that are emotionally well-adjusted, smart, compassionate and ambitious are some of the most important traits we want to see in our future entrepreneurs, workers and leaders. When children come from a two-parent home, the probability that these types of children will emerge significantly increases.

They also will emerge wealthier. Pat Fagan of the Family Research Council, who testified this month at an interim study conducted by Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, reports that of those households with children, it is in married, intact households where the median income of $82,270 outstrips that of the next highest household income by 25 percent, or $16,454.

The development of no-fault divorce ultimately changes people’s time horizons. When people aren’t forced to prove why a divorce is in the best interest of the man, woman and child, they no longer think of marriage as a lifetime commitment. As a result, the data show that people are choosing to not even bother marrying despite the overwhelming economic evidence that over their lifetimes, they will be much poorer for not doing so.

If we as a culture embrace cohabitation and divorce instead of lifetime marriage, we are upsetting the singular institution (outside of the rule of law) responsible for our moral and durable culture.

A shorter version of this blog appeared in the Edmund Sun: “A High-Investment Strategy for Oklahoma Children”