As the institutional Left has increasingly demanded “racial equity” – parity between races in everything from income to incarceration rates – it has simultaneously rejected the very thing that evidence suggests could move the needle most: encouraging households headed by two parents.
Children raised by one parent, which is the case for a disproportionate number of minorities, are far more likely to break the law and grow up poor, data shows. And while liberals in the past, including President Clinton, have lamented the breakdown of two-parent households, it is often embraced by modern leftist institutions such as Black Lives Matter which in 2020 called for “disrupt[ing] the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.”
“Now it’s like they’re celebrating [single motherhood],” said Ian Rowe, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who studies upward mobility and family formation. “[Liberals are] saying we should have systems that cater to this, rather than the government saying it’s something to be avoided if possible. The government can never make up for what two married parents can provide for a child.”
It’s not just Black Lives Matter that seems to reject the traditional family structure. Well-funded, elite institutions that have traditionally shaped policy from the Left advance the same position through their donations. The Daily Wire analyzed the historical giving of seven of the nation’s largest philanthropic foundations: the Ford Foundation; Open Society Foundations; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; MacArthur Foundation; W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Carnegie Corporation; and Hewlett Foundation. All help set the agenda on social issues in America by steering billions of dollars to woke social groups and causes that see the government, not the family, as key to raising children.
Philanthropic foundations like Ford and Kellogg were founded on a belief in social science, and that by studying how to impact human behavior, wealthy benefactors could make the world a better place. The foundations’ admiration for the field is so great that four of the seven foundations jointly fund the Social Science Research Council, according to tax return data.
In recent years, they have made racial inequality a primary focus. When it comes to “equity,” “inequity,” and “equality,” there are nearly 6,000 grants totaling nearly $4 billion.
These dual priorities would seem to make encouraging intact families a natural fit: Few variables in social science so dramatically predict outcomes as the presence of two parents. Such positive outcomes would reduce racial inequality.
Yet the foundations have almost completely avoided the issue of family structure. Combined, the records showed $110 billion of giving across 131,000 donations. Almost none of it went to promoting marriage or fatherhood.
Only 59 donations, totaling $8.7 million, dealt with fatherhood. And even among these, the largest grant recipient actually appeared to work against intact families, complaining about how delinquent dads were being inconvenienced by being forced to pay child support. The Ford Foundation tasked the Center for Family Policy and Practice “to analyze the impact of state and federal child-support policies and child-support debt on the ability of low-income, noncustodial fathers to achieve economic stability and build assets.” This and a similar grant totaled about half a million dollars. Then Kellogg paid it another half-million to “inform policymakers” of the research.
In the 1990s, foundations made at least a few grants that promoted fatherhood, such as one to the Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization to “expand and replicate a fatherhood responsibility program in cities,” and another to the Parent Resource Center to “strengthen parenting skills of high-risk teen fathers through participation in a 20-week group program.”
But by the 2000s, they appeared not just neutral but hostile to that line of thinking. In 2006, Ford paid $25,000 to a progressive think tank called Political Research Associates to write a pair of reports attacking the push for two-parent households. The first was titled “Pushed to the Altar: The Right Wing Roots of Marriage Promotion.”
The second belied a sensitivity to the fact that working against intact families contradicted a large body of work in a field that foundations ordinarily exalted.
“Social science research is no more rigorous than the standards of the practitioners,” it said. “When those practitioners are using social science trappings to support their ideological positions, it is time for their flawed procedures to be exposed.”
“These two reports demonstrate the Right’s use of federal funds to exert social control and their use of agenda driven treatises, masquerading as science, to justify, and elicit support for, this ideological maneuvering,” it continued. “The rightist fatherhood movement relies on biased scholarship to support its assertion that a family is not complete without the presence of a father.”
It said that people who argue that marriage leads to prosperity are violating a “fundamental rule of social science” by “confusing correlation with causality”: One should not assume people are poor because of a lack of marriage when it could be that “they are unmarried because they are poor.”
Christopher Brown, president of the nonpartisan National Fatherhood Initiative, said it took only common sense, not a doctoral degree, to reject that.
“Being poor doesn’t cause you to be unmarried,” he told The Daily Wire. “Obviously you have the potential to have more income earners when you have two parents instead of one, especially because income rates are usually measured at the household level.”
The data on foundation grants about “marriage” are similar. Since 2011, the foundations spent $5.6 million advancing and celebrating gay marriage rights. But one has to go back to 1997 to find the last grant attempting to keep heterosexual couples married: A $20,000 donation to “Increase the likelihood of successful African-American marriages through development of a model African-American Couples Mentoring Program.”
Even if promoting marriage would do more in the longterm to achieve equality, superficial efforts – such as rejiggering the percentages of minorities on corporate boards – make donors feel good, Brown said.
“If you look at data on why people give to certain causes, it’s because they like to see the effect in terms of direct services. They want to ameliorate the symptoms so they can see the effect, rather than address the root causes,” Brown said.
Only one of the seven philanthropic foundations returned requests for comment.
“I see the logic in your connection but this is not a research area we are involved with as a philanthropic funder… We fund a lot of work around family engagement in an education context. Not the direction you are asking about,” Celeste Ford, a spokeswoman for the Carnegie Corporation, said.
Rowe, who studies upward mobility and families, previously led charter schools in the Bronx and was deputy director of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He said what makes foundations’ insistence on spending money on anything but family structure so remarkable is that their existing efforts – geared at “cosmetic” fixes rather than root causes – have little to show for them.
In 2017, Bill Gates acknowledged that despite 17 years of his foundation pouring money into education initiatives, “schools are still falling short on the key metrics of a quality education.”
“Melinda and I made public education our top priority in the U.S. because we wanted to do something about the disparity in achievement and postsecondary success for students of color and low-income students. That inequity persists today,” he said.
Gates said his “insights will change what we focus on over the next five years.” But nowhere in his 3,000 word speech did he say the words “parents,” “family,” or “father.”
Rowe, for his part, said “What I’m trying to do is encourage philanthropists is to take another look at how they’ve decided to spend their money, because it’s not working.”