My colleague Isabel Sawhill and I have conducted research to learn whether adults who follow three traditional norms of American life by completing high school, working full time and getting married and waiting until age 21 to have a baby are rewarded by achieving economic stability.
Based on Census Bureau data, we found that only 2% of adults who had followed the norms were in poverty and around 70% were in the middle class, defined as income three times the poverty level ($61,000 in today’s dollars). By contrast, nearly 80% of those who had violated all three norms were living in poverty and only 5% were in the middle class. Although we can’t say these gaping differences in income and poverty rates were caused by whether people followed the three norms, the odds clearly favor young people who follow them. For this reason, the three norms are often called the “success sequence.”
Many children learn how important the three norms are through their family, their church, their schools and their peers. But popular culture, the ineffective approach of some parents and unfortunate peer groups can undermine the three norms.
Gov. Scott Walker is proposing a plan in his 2017-2019 biennial budget, called Wisconsin Works for Everyone, that creates programs designed to boost children’s knowledge about the success sequence. Much of Walker’s plan was suggested by Wisconsin’s Future of the Family Commission, which operated on a bipartisan basis and reported to the governor last December.