The economic burdens on single-parent households are now widely recognized, but few appreciate the more subtle costs of growing up in a fragmented family. A new study at the University of Illinois reports that the more years a child spends in a one-parent household, the more ground he or she loses in school.

As the study points out, this pattern has grave implications in the struggle against poverty: "Female-headed families make up a disproportionate and increasing share of the poverty population. Educational advancement is one route out of poverty, but the children in these families get increasingly less of it."Is the country's welfare underclass doomed to be self-perpetuating? Unless we can find ways to revive family structures that work, the answer may be yes.