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Family Culture


[Note: Text that references rankings, charts, and data will be updated as work progresses on the 2020 Family Prosperity Index.]


It is well established that families influence and in turn are influenced by the environment in which they live.[1] Unwed births, crime rates, religiosity, and educational opportunities shape the culture of families and thus their prospects for long-term prosperity. The Family Culture major index measures the extent to which the culture of families in a particular state is conducive to raising children up to be productive adults.


While many people would guess that divorce is the biggest driver of single parenthood, the reality is that unwed births are the primary cause of single-parent households. The most powerful predictor of whether a couple with a newborn will be together in five years is whether they were married at the time their first child was born. Two-thirds of unmarried couples with children will separate within 5 years while 82 percent of married couples with children will still be together.[2]


Unfortunately, it is the children who will bear most of the costs of their parents’ unmarried status:


. . . [A]lthough unmarried parents have “high hopes” for their relationships at the time their child is born, low capabilities and distrust lead to high rates of union instability and growing family complexity. Instability and complexity, in turn, reduce parental resources by lowering parental resources (financial and health), paternal investments, and the quality of mothers’ parenting, all of which undermine children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development. At the aggregate level, these pathways explain how non-marital childbearing contributes to the persistence of disadvantage across generations.[3]


The increase in unwed births creates a tremendous impediment to restoring America’s marriage rates to their once-high levels, especially in the face of growing moral acceptance of the practice. As noted in a recent Gallup survey:


. . .[P]ublic perceptions of the moral acceptability of having children out of wedlock have increased dramatically over the past decade and a half. Gallup poll data show that the percentage who say this is morally acceptable currently stands at an all-time high (62% overall and 68% among millennials). As recently as 2002, just 45% said it was morally acceptable to have a child out of wedlock, while 50% said it was morally wrong.[4]


So why has unwed childbirth increased so tremendously—up 661 percent to 40.1 percent of all births in 2015 from only 5.3 percent in 1960? A Social Capital Report from the Joint Economic Committee concludes:


“While many changes have played a role, we find that the most important have been the increase in the pool of never-married women (expanding the number of potential unwed mothers) and the decline in post-conception, pre-birth marriage (“shotgun marriage”).[5]


Given the flux in the American family, violent and property crimes have, thankfully been on the downswing. Yet, they still impose a large economic cost on society. Measuring that burden has not been an easy task. A recent study, however, took an in-depth look at the academic literature and estimated that the direct costs (police, courts, prisons, etc.) of violent crime are $42 billion while the indirect costs (pain and suffering) add another $156 billion.[6]


Additionally, the study recognized that violent crime is concentrated in relatively few neighborhoods and its impact can be seen in property values. More specifically, the authors looked at seven cities and found that a 10 percent reduction in homicides would yield $16.5 billion in higher residential property values, while a 25 percent reduction would yield $41.25 billion.[7]


Since homes are Americans’ most valuable asset, the large wealth effect that would come from a decline in violent crime would be a tremendous economic and social boost to a community. Additionally, in-depth county-level evidence shows that violent crime significantly reduces upward economic mobility.[8]


Yet, to get to reductions in crime of those magnitudes, the root causes of crime will have to be ameliorated. One of, if not the, most important impediment toward further reductions in the crime rate is the increase in single-parent households. Children from single-parent homes are more prone to criminal activities in youth (more than twice as likely to be arrested) and young adulthood (three times more likely to be in jail by age 30) compared to children from intact married families.[9]


A married adult male is significantly less likely to commit a crime—and he is significantly less likely to commit a crime because of the fact that he is married. Using one of the longest longitudinal studies available, scholars at Harvard University and the University of Maryland found:


. . .[B]eing married is associated with an average reduction of approximately 35 percent in the odds of crime compared to nonmarried states for the same man. These results are robust, supporting the inference that states of marriage causally inhibit crime over the life course.[10]


Of course, the discussion of marriage, or lack thereof, accomplishes nothing unless put into the institutional context that gives it meaning—the institution of religion. It is no coincidence that the decline in marriage goes hand-in-hand with the decline in religiosity


A recent survey chronicles this decline and explains its numerous economic and social characteristics. The survey, not surprisingly, finds that religious affiliation is shrinking, especially among younger Americans. Mormons, however, stand out as an exception to this trend: they are younger, have the highest level of marriage, and the largest families.[11] These characteristics are readily apparent in the FPI scores of the two states with the largest Mormon populations—Utah (51 percent Mormon, #1 FPI rank) and Idaho (20 percent Mormon, #2 FPI rank).


The steep social and economic costs associated with the decline in religiosity range from the very micro (individual) to the macro (societal).


Gallup performed an in-depth statistical analysis of over 550,000 interviews to determine the influence of religion in Americans’ lives. The analysis found that religious Americans have less depression and worry,[12]
lead healthier lives,[13]  and enjoy overall higher well-being.[14]


Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor-in-chief, has summarized the individual and social benefits:


“Religious Americans are healthier and happier than those who are not religious. This finding is important because it potentially connects with one of the major social and economic problems of our time -- a hugely expensive healthcare system with costs that reflect in part the nation’s unhealthy lifestyle choices. Religious Americans exhibit more of the types of behaviors that those interested in the health and well-being of the nation want to encourage. If Americans were to become more religious, it is quite possible they would be happier and healthier, and the cost of healthcare in this country would decline.”[15]


A series of studies from the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion looked at the impact of religion on society in general and found it can lead to lower crime rates,[16] reduced drug use,[17] and greater academic performance.[18]  Churches can also help improve labor market networks.[19] Additionally, religion and, relatedly, marriage are the only proven bulwarks against Demographic Winter.[20]


Given all of these benefits, one may ask why religiosity is on the decline. A recent study sheds light on this question by examining a key demographic that has seen the greatest drop in religious practice—working class whites:


Specifically, in the last forty years, white working class income, employment, marital stability, and cultural conservatism have all declined.


[Such factors] … have long been linked to religious institutions which are now less powerful in the lives of working class whites than they used to be. .… [O]ur results suggest that the erosion of the labor market and cultural structures associated with … such factors … may have played an important role in accounting for recent declines in religious attendance among working class whites.[21]


Thus begins the vicious cycle in which the decline in the economic fortunes of the working class, through globalization and automation, combined with cultural changes, leads to the unraveling of religiosity, a key bulwark against economic decline.


Finally, educational attainment is an important cultural value that yields significant economic returns. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in 2014, the median weekly earnings of a person with less than a high school diploma were only $488. Earnings jumped with higher levels of educational attainment: associate degree ($792), bachelor’s degree ($1,101), and doctoral degree ($1,591).[22]


Of those individuals who moved up the educational ladder and received a bachelor’s degree, 36 percent came from intact, married families. In stark contrast, only 8 percent came from single–parent families. Additionally, 32 percent attended religious services weekly, while only 14 percent never attended any religious services.[23]


As shown in Chart 53 and Table 6:


Unwed Birth Rate


The unwed birth rate (the number of unwed births in a year as a percentage of all births) increased nationally by 19 percent from 33.7 percent in 2000 to 40.1 percent in 2015 (Chart 54). In 2015, Mississippi had the highest unwed birth rate at 53.3 percent, while Utah had the lowest rate at 18.7 percent—or 35 percent of the Mississippi rate.[24]


Utah had the top score for the unwed birth rate sub-index (10.00), followed by Colorado (9.90), North Dakota (8.55), Idaho (7.45), and Washington (7.26). Louisiana had the lowest score (0.92). Other low-scoring states included New Mexico (1.12), Mississippi (1.39), Nevada (1.82), and Florida (2.21).


The U.S. unwed birth rate has soared 661 percent between 1960, when it was 5.3 percent, and 2015, when it was 40.1 percent (Chart 55).


The unwed birth rate has changed at different rates across the states as well as for the nation. So while it has been increasing generally, the growth has been much slower in some states. For example, Utah had the lowest unwed birth rate in 2015, 18.7 percent. The last time the U.S. average was this low was in 1981, which was in turn 259 percent higher than the 1960 U.S. average. North Dakota’s unwed birth rate (31.3 percent, ranked 4th) is equivalent to the 1993 U.S. average, and North Carolina’s (41 percent, ranked 30th) is equivalent to the 2009 U.S. average.


But the trend has been accelerating in other states. The unwed birth rate in 20 states in 2015 was above the U.S. average. Mississippi’s unwed birth rate—the highest in the country—is 33 percent above the U.S. average (53.3 percent) and is higher than the national unwed birth rate at any point during the 1960 to 2016 time-period.


Violent Crime Rate


The violent crime rate (as a percent of population) declined nationally by 22 percent from 0.5 percent in 2000 to 0.4 percent in 2016 (Chart 56). In 2016, Alaska had the highest violent crime rate at 0.8 percent, while Maine had the lowest rate at 0.12 percent—or 15 percent of the Alaska rate.[25]


Maine had the top score for the violent crime sub-index (7.67), followed by Connecticut (7.40), New Hampshire (7.25), New Jersey (7.07), and Vermont (7.00). Alaska had the lowest score (0.00). Other low-scoring states included New Mexico (1.24), Nevada (1.87), Tennessee (2.70), and Louisiana (2.90).


While it has declined since 2006, the violent crime rate increased 149 percent between 1960 and 2016, as it went from 0.16 percent in 1960 to 0.40 percent in 2016 (Chart 57). The violent crime rate has changed at different rates across the states as well as for the nation, growing much more slowly in some states than in others.


For example, Maine had the lowest violent crime rate in 2016 at 0.12 percent, which is lower than the national violent crime rate at any point during the 1960-to-2016 time period. New Mexico’s violent crime rate (0.7 percent, ranked 49th) is equivalent to the 1994 U.S. average, and South Carolina’s (0.5 percent, ranked 41st) is equivalent to the 2001 U.S. average.


But there are 19 states with violent crime rates above the 2016 U.S. average. Alaska’s violent crime rate—the highest in the country—is 104 percent above the U.S. average (0.8 percent), and it is higher than the national violent crime rate at any point during the 1960-to-2016 time period.


Property Crime Rate


The property crime rate (as a percent of population) declined nationally by 32 percent from 3.6 percent in 2000 to 2.44 percent in 2016 (Chart 58). In 2016, New Mexico had the highest property crime rate at 3.93 percent, while New Hampshire had the lowest rate at 1.51 percent—or 39 percent of the New Mexico rate.[26]


New Hampshire had the top score for the property crime sub-index (8.40), followed by Massachusetts (7.92), Maine (7.91), New Jersey (7.88), and New York (7.72). Property crimes were less frequent in these states. But New Mexico had the lowest score (0.31), making it the state with the greatest problem with property crime. Other low-scoring states included Alaska (1.60), Washington (1.87), Louisiana (2.48), and Arkansas (2.69).


Also, Chart 59 illustrates how the property crime rate has increased 42 percent between 1960 (1.72 percent) and 2016 (2.45 percent). It also compares how the property crime rates for the states in 2016 compare to the U.S. average as it moves through time.


For example, New Hampshire had the lowest property crime rate in 2016 at 1.5 percent, which is lower than the national property crime rate at any point during the 1960-to-2016 time period. Oklahoma’s violent crime rate (3 percent, ranked 41st) is equivalent to the 2009 U.S. average, and California’s (2.6 percent, ranked 24th) is equivalent to the 2014 U.S. average.


But there are 27 states with violent crime rates above the 2016 U.S. average. New Mexico’s violent crime rate—the highest in the country—is 61 percent above the U.S. average (2.4 percent) and equivalent to the U.S. average in 1998.


Religious Attendance


The religious service attendance rate (the percentage of the population that regularly attends religious services) declined nationally by 7 percent from 42 percent in 2008 (the earliest data available) to 39 percent in 2016 (Chart 60). In 2016, Mississippi had the highest religious service attendance rate at 61 percent, while Vermont had the lowest rate at 22 percent—or 36 percent of the Mississippi rate.[27]


Mississippi had the top score for the religious attendance sub-index (10.00), followed by South Dakota (9.74), Alabama (8.95), Utah (8.70), and South Carolina (8.38). Maine had the lowest score (0.89). Other low-scoring states included Vermont (0.94), Massachusetts (1.41), Rhode Island (1.55), and Nevada (1.55).


Note: Due to data limitations, the measure for the year-to-year change could only be measured in one-year increments.


Educational Attainment


Charts 61, 62, and 63 show the variance in educational attainment nationally and in the 50 states from 2000 to 2015. [28] The data tracks the attainment of associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and graduate degrees as a percent of the population between the ages of 25 and 64.


The associate degree rate increased nationally by 26 percent from 7.2 percent in 2000 to 9.1 percent in 2016 (Chart 61). In 2016, North Dakota had the highest associate degree rate at 15.8 percent, while Louisiana had the lowest rate at 6.7—or 42 percent of the North Dakota rate.


The bachelor’s degree rate increased nationally by 20 percent from 17.2 percent in 2000 to 20.8 percent in 2016 (Chart 62). In 2016, Colorado had the highest bachelor’s degree rate at 26.1 percent, while West Virginia had the lowest rate at 13.8—or 53 percent of the Colorado rate.


The graduate degree rate increased nationally by 28 percent from 9.3 percent in 2000 to 11.9 percent in 2016 (Chart 63). In 2016, Massachusetts had the highest graduate degree rate at 19.3 percent, while Nevada had the lowest rate at 7.4—or 38 percent of the Massachusetts rate.


Minnesota had the top score on the educational attainment sub-index (7.51), followed by New Hampshire (6.88), Massachusetts (6.83), Colorado (6.82), and Virginia (6.66). Nevada had the lowest score (1.85). Other low-scoring states included Louisiana (2.03), Arkansas (2.13), West Virginia (2.94), and Mississippi (2.97).


Note: The associate degree, bachelor’s degree, and graduate degree rates were all weighted equally in the educational attainment sub-index.


[1]      “What We Do Together: The State of Associational Life in America,” Social Capital Project, Joint Economic Committee, May 2017. https://www.lee.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/b5f224ce-98f7-40f6-a814-8602696714d8/what-we-do-together.pdf


[2]      Carlson, Marcia J., “Trajectories of Couple Relationship Quality after Childbirth: Does Marriage Matter?” Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, Working Paper #2007-11-FF, April 2007.  http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=


[3]      McLanahan, Sara, “Family Instability and Complexity after a Nonmarital Birth: Outcomes for Children in Fragile Families,” Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, Working Paper #09-16-FF, May 22, 2009. http://crcw.princeton.edu/workingpapers/WP09-16-FF.pdf


[4]      Fleming, John, “Gallup Analysis: Millennials, Marriage and Family,” Gallup, May 19, 2016. http://www.gallup.com/poll/191462/gallup-analysis-millennials-marriage-family.aspx


[5]      “Love, Marriage, and the Baby Carriage: The Rise in Unwed Childbearing,” Social Capital Project, Joint Economic Committee, SCP Report No. 3-17, December 2017. https://www.lee.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/3a6e738b-305b-4553-b03b-3c71382f102c/love-marriage-and-the-baby-carriage.pdf


[6]      Hassett, Kevin A. and Shapiro, Robert J., “The Economic Benefits of Reducing Violent Crime: A Case Study of 8 American Cities,” Center for American Progress, June 2012. https://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2012/06/pdf/violent_crime.pdf


[7]      Sharkey, Patrick and Torrats-Espinosa, Gerard, “The Effect of Violent Crime on Economic Mobility,” Journal of Urban Economics, vol. 102, pp. 22-33, November 1, 2017. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S009411901730058X


[8]      Ibid.


[9]      Rector, Robert, “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty,” The Heritage Foundation, Domestic Policy Studies Department, Special Report, No. 117, September 5, 2012. http://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/2012/pdf/sr117.pdf


[10]     Laub, John H.; Sampson, Robert J.; Wimer, Christopher, “Does Marriage Reduce Crime? A Counterfactual Approach to Within-Individual Causal Effects,” Criminology, Vol. 44, No. 3, 2006. http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/sampson/files/2006_criminology_laubwimer_1.pdf


[11]     Cox, Daniel and Jones, Robert P., “America’s Changing Religious Identity,” Public Religion Research Institute, September 6, 2017. https://www.prri.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/PRRI-Religion-Report.pdf


[12]     Agrawal, Sangeeta; Newport, Frank; and Witters, Dan, “Very Religious Americans Report Less Depression, Worry,” Gallup, December 1, 2010. http://www.gallup.com/poll/144980/Religious-Americans-Report-Less-Depression-Worry.aspx


[13]     Agrawal, Sangeeta; Newport, Frank; and Witters, Dan, “Very Religious Americans Lead Healthier Lives,” Gallup, December 23, 2010. http://www.gallup.com/poll/145379/Religious-Americans-Lead-Healthier-Lives.aspx


[14]     Agrawal, Sangeeta; Newport, Frank; and Witters, Dan, “Religious Americans Enjoy Higher Wellbeing,” Gallup, February 16, 2012. http://www.gallup.com/poll/152723/religious-americans-enjoy-higher-wellbeing.aspx


[15]     Newport, Frank, ”How Religion Could Lower Health Costs in America,” God is Alive and Well, 2012. http://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/161669/religion-lower-health-costs-america.aspx


[16]     Johnson, Byron R., “The Role of African-American Churches in Reducing Crime Among Black Youth,” Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, 2008. http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/ISR_Role_African_American.pdf


[17]     Johnson, Byron R., “A Better Kind of High: Religious Commitment Reduces Drug Use Among Poor Urban Teens,” Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, 2008. http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/ISR_Better_High.pdf


[18]     Regnerus, Mark D., “Making the Grade: The Influence of Religion Upon the Academic Performance of Youth in Disadvantaged Communities,” Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, 2008. http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/ISR-Making-Grade_071.pdf


[19]     Asquith, Brian J.; Hellerstein, Judith K.; Kutzbach, Mark J.; and Neumark, David, “Social Capital and Labor Market Networks,” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 23959, October 2017. https://www.popcenter.umd.edu/research/working-papers/papers/pwp-mprc-2017-007/at_download/file


[20]     Fagan, Patrick and Potrykus, Henry, “Marriage, Contraception, and the Future of Western Peoples,” Marriage and Religion Research Institute, November 30, 2011. http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF11K50.pdf


[21]     Cherling, Andrew J.; Messel, Matthew; Uecker, Jeremy E.; and Wilcox, W. Bradford, “No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life Among the White Working Class,” Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 23, pp. 227-250, 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315336/pdf/nihms621991.pdf


[22]     “Earnings and Unemployment Rate by Educational Attainment,” U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 12, 2016. http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm


[23]     Fagan, Patrick F. and Talkington, Scott, “’Ever Received a Bachelor’s Degree’ by Current Religious Attendance and Structure of Family of Origin,” Mapping America, No. 105. http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF11G27.pdf


[24]     U.S. Department of Commerce: Census Bureau. The data was extracted from the Kids Count Data Center published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/7-births-to-unmarried-women?loc=1&loct=2#detailed/2/2-52/false/36,868,867,133,38/any/257,258


[25]     Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the U.S. https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/crimestats


[26]     Ibid.


[27]     Gallup Analytics, based on response of religious attendance as “at least once a week” and “almost every week.”


[28]     U.S. Department of Commerce: Census Bureau. The data was extracted from the Kids Count Data Center published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/6295-educational-attainment-of-working-age-population-25-to-64?loc=1&loct=1#detailed/1/any/false/36,868,867,133,38/1311,1304,1264,1265,1309/13092,13093