- Gov.-elect Youngkin and Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears should promote legislation to add the success sequence message to the state’s existing Family Life Education standards beginning in the 9th grade. Tweet This
- Students in Virginia deserve to know that following the “success sequence” is a simple and proven formula for avoiding poverty. Tweet This
Editor's Note: In the seventh essay in our weeklong symposium, Alysse ElHage and Brad Wilcox of IFS explain why the "success sequence" should be taught in Virginia high schools.
One way that Governor-elect Glenn Younkin can keep his campaign promise to improve K-12 education for every child in the state is by encouraging schools to teach what is known as the “success sequence.” This is the idea, first spotlighted by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill at the Brookings Institution, of taking three steps on the path towards adulthood: 1) finish high school, 2) get a full-time job, and 3) get married and then have children. Students in Virginia deserve to know that following this “success sequence” is a simple and proven formula for avoiding poverty.
Research by the Institute for Family Studies and the American Enterprise Institute shows that 97% of young people who follow the success sequence avoid poverty as young adults in their late twenties and early thirties. The success sequence is also linked to better outcomes for young men and women of all racial and income backgrounds. Importantly, putting marriage and parenthood in the right order significantly reduces young adults’ risk of poverty: for example, getting married before having a first child reduces the odds of being in poverty by 60 percent for today’s young adults.
The success sequence is a much-needed message in a state where 4.3% of students drop out of high school, and about 30% of children are growing up in single-parent homes, and 13% are living in poverty. Poverty, of course, is higher in single-parent versus married families—with 5.2% of children in married families in poverty in Virginia, vs. 31% of children in single-parent families, according to the Census Bureau. Children from low-income and at-risk backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to falling into a cycle of family instability and poverty. They especially need to know that specific steps, like delaying parenthood until marriage, can help them forge a path out of poverty and toward a more stable future.
Under the state’s Family Life Education guidelines, students in Virginia’s public schools are already taught about the importance of marriage and the various keys to success through life-goal planning. The success sequence fits easily into such lessons, particularly at the high school level. In the 2020 legislative session, then-Rep. Jason Miyares, Virginia’s new Attorney General, introduced a bill to implement the success sequence in Virginia schools, but it did not make it out of committee. Gov.-elect Youngkin and Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears should promote similar legislation to add the success sequence message to the state’s existing Family Life Education standards beginning in the 9th grade when students are on the verge of entering adulthood.
Virginia’s students deserve to receive a strong and consistent message about this proven path to future economic well-being. Education, work, and marriage are all essential to the success of the commonwealth’s children. As the Youngkin-Sears administration seeks to answer the call of Virginia parents to transform the state’s public school system, getting the success sequence message into the classroom should be at the top of the education agenda.
Alysse ElHage is the editor of the Institute for Family Studies blog. Brad Wilcox is a senior fellow of the Institute for Family Studies and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.