SALT LAKE CITY — Did you know that 40 percent of families do not have enough savings to survive more than one month?
Or that more than 90 percent of parents over age 65 were married when they first had children, but only 30 percent of those younger than 30 were married when their first child was born?
Forty percent of Americans have faced significant economic challenges in the past year, like not being able to pay a major bill or avoiding medical care because of the expense. These economic crises are experienced less often among married people.
These are just three of the many findings of the American Family Survey, a joint project of the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, now in its second year.
Released Thursday with ongoing coverage on deseretnews.com and in the Deseret News print edition, it reveals and analyzes "beliefs on the stability of the family unit, ideal family structure, the desirability and value of marriage as an institution, appropriate parenting practices, the effect of economic factors on American families, degree of social connectedness, the diversity of modern family arrangements and the value of government benefit programs for families."
This is no casual undertaking. Great effort has gone into making the survey a true marker that can be analyzed year after year and add to the quantitative research on the overall health of the American family. The data can then be used to report on solutions to societal problems affecting families, children and individuals.
The survey is the brainchild of Allison Pond, who heads up our award-winning Enterprise team, and Deseret News Editor and Publisher Paul Edwards.
Prior to joining the Deseret News, Pond worked as a survey researcher at the PEW Research Center and is well-versed in crafting quantitative work. She partnered with Christopher Karpowitz and Jeremy Pope, co-directors of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and associate professors of political science at BYU, to craft the areas of inquiry.
An advisory panel of national experts was assembled to assist and give recommendations to the work, including Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow and research coordinator for the American Enterprise Institute; Sara McLanahan, a Princeton professor and founding director of the Bentheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing; W. Bradford Wilcox, associate professor of sociology and the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia; and Richard Reeves, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution and policy director of the Center on Children and Families.
In addition to its online presentation released Thursday on deseretnews.com, it was presented at Brookings in Washington, D.C. and discussed by an expert panel of scholars under the title, "Like Father, Like Son? Family Instability Across the Generations" which can be viewed online at deseretnews.com.
Why should you care? Because these results tell us where help is needed.
Lois Collins, who reported on the findings for the Deseret News, said several things jumped out at her from the data.
"People really seem to be feeling fragile financially," Collins said, noting the very personal conversations she had with individuals. "It's clear from the survey that many people don't have robust savings and it worries them. And four in 10 are skipping meals, paying partial bills, borrowing from family or even moving in with them."
She continued: "One thing that was emphasized to me by all the experts I interviewed is that parents who give their kids a stable childhood without a lot of disruptive transitions will see those kids grow into adults who are more stable financially and in their personal relationships."
Additionally, the survey offers insight into our nation during this election cycle. For example, directly from the survey summary:
"Liberals and conservatives have very different views about marriage and families, but their marital and parenting practices are closely similar. For example, a vast majority of both liberals (84 percent) and conservatives (91 percent) believe parents should set boundaries on their children’s media consumption. Liberal and conservative families also eat dinner together, do chores, go out together and support family members’ activities at roughly the same rates.
"That said, there are some social and economic differences depending on which candidate Americans support. Those who supported Donald Trump in the primaries were more likely to be male, more likely to be married, more authoritarian in their attitudes and less likely to have experienced any kind of economic crisis in the last year."
The survey will continue to inform our coverage during the year as we highlight problems and solutions.
Doug Wilks is managing editor of the News Division for Deseret Media Companies, the combined newsroom for the Deseret News and KSL.