Friday, March 09, 2007

Who Needs Marriage!!

If we are to believe a pair of articles in the Washington Post, only upper crust women still live by the old adage -- first comes love, then marriage, then the baby carriage.

“As marriage with children becomes an exception rather than the norm, it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and the affluent” wrote Blaine Harden in his Post article (“Numbers Drop for the Married with Children,” 3/4/07). Meanwhile, the working class and the poor “increasingly steer away from marriage, while living together and bearing children out of wedlock.” I have a vision of masses of low income women who steer away from marriage in order to have babies on their own.

Isabel V. Sawhill, an expert at the Brookings Institution, concludes: “The culture is shifting, and marriage has almost become a luxury item, one that only the well educated and well paid are interested in.” One has to wonder why the poor are uninterested in marriage.

Sociologists call the tendency of educated, affluent people to unite in marriage “assortative mating.” A corollary to the theory applies to uneducated, poor people who also tend to unite, but in hookups and pregnancies, forgoing marriage.

What accounts for this increasing divergence? Harden blames “the rise of a class-based marriage gap to the erosion since 1970 of the broad-based economic prosperity that followed World War II.” Harden seems to believe that economic prosperity peaked just after WWII, demonstrating a gross ignorance of basic macro-economics.

Harden concedes that “marriage raises the earnings of men and motivates them to work more hours… and reduces by two-thirds the likelihood that a family will live in poverty.” I can tell you that babies born into loving families motivate the father’s working/earning gene at least as much as the marriage itself. Unfortunately, marriage and childbearing seem to be “de-coupled” among many black people with about three-quarters of first births coming before marriage (which usually never happens) compared to a third among white women.

In his Post op-ed (“Family Value Chutzpah,” 3/7/7) Harold Myerson notes that “the Ozzie and Harriet family still rolls along within the upper-middle class but has become much harder to find in working-class America, where cohabitation without marriage has increasingly become the norm.” Myerson blames conservative policies that have “condemned American workers to lives of economic insecurity and as their level of economic security declines, so does their entry into marriage.”

Let’s parse that conclusion: Conservative policies lead to economic insecurity which leads to children born out of wedlock. Myerson believes, apparently, that times are tougher now than during the Great Depression when illegitimate births were rare.

Here is an alternate perspective. Liberal theories and policies (feminism, welfare, entitlement and irresponsibility) lead to babies born to single mothers leading to economic insecurity and poverty.

Look at the evidence.

“In 1960 just about everyone, from a Smith grad living in New Canaan to a high school dropout in Appalachia, first tied the knot and only then delivered the bouncing bundle of joy,” wrote Kay Hymowitz in the City Journal (“Marriage and Caste”). Far less than 1% of high school graduate women had children without being married, while the rate among high school dropouts hit barely 1%. How things changed, as the affluence of Americans bloomed. By 2000 the out-of-wedlock birth rate among college graduates increased to 4% while the rate soared to about 15% among mothers with less than a high school education.

Furthermore, when college educated women get married they tend to stay married. As of 2000 only about 10% of mothers with college degrees were living without husbands compared to 36% of mothers without college degrees. Overall the situation is dire with fully 33% of children born to single mothers in 2004, amounting to 1.5 million children, the highest number ever. The vast majority of those children are going home to dysfunctional homes.

Hymowitz maintains that “the marriage gap results in a yawning social divide.” Among upper-middle-class families (those making more than $75,000 yearly) 92% of the children are living with both parents. Among the poor (earning less than $15,000) only 20% of the kids live with both parents. The consequences for children are severe: “Children in single-parent families are getting less of just about everything that we know helps to lead to successful adulthood.” The odious result for these poor people is “entrenched, multigenerational poverty.”

Hymowitz explains the upper class dynamic as “The Mission: the careful nurturing of their children’s cognitive, emotional, and social development, which, if all goes according to plan, will lead to the honor roll and a spot on the high school debate team, which will in turn lead to a good college, then perhaps a graduate or professional degree, which will all lead eventually to a fulfilling career, a big house in a posh suburb, and a sense of meaningful accomplishment.” They sound like Palos Verdes moms to me.

The pregnant question is this: Why don’t their low-income sisters “still believe in marriage as an institution for raising children?” Who needs marriage?

Unfortunately the women who are going without husbands are precisely the ones who need them the most. Hymowitz concludes: “When Americans made marriage optional, low-income women lost a culture that told them the truth about what was best for their children.”

What can be done about this burgeoning crisis? As with all serious problems the first step is to acknowledge it exists. This problem needs to be discussed, not swept under the rug. We need more Bill Cosby’s.

The next step is to search out the root cause. Does poverty lead to children living without their fathers or do children living without their fathers lead to poverty? Liberals (Harden, Myerson, Clinton, Obama) need to start telling the truth.

Finally, the educational system and social institutions, the media and government need to work hard to deprogram the lower income groups from their destructive practices. Bearing children out of marriage needs to be regarded as a tragedy, as it was before 1960. The Murphy Brown example should be held in contempt. Men fathering children, but not being their fathers, must be stigmatized, as it was before 1960. Family values make a difference.

This all brings me back to my most serious criticism of the report from the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. (“Critiques of the Education Report,” 3/5/07). You can’t be serious about reforming education when you completely ignore the most critical issue, the breakup of the nuclear family, particularly among the poor. As Kay Hymowitz succinctly put it: “Marriage may not be a panacea. But it is a sine qua non.”

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13 Comments:

Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

It's cultural, moral decay, plain and simple. Muslim countries are as poor as it gets, yet marriage is number one priority. I don't know when it happened here in America, but at some point it stopped being shameful for young women to have babies out of wedlock. And from there, it became a norm and, thus, created role models for the younger children. It's a cycle that only we can break by providing role models for the benefits of being married.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

One other point - you should read a book called Affluenza. Written about our disease of affluence in America, the author makes an interesting point about the affects of our marketing/consumer-based culture - we have commoditized ourselves. Why should we expect people who are always chasing the new "thing" (whatever it may be), whether it's the new play station that is so much better, or the 2007 car that makes the 2006 so yesterday, or our computer and its software that is outdated by the time we pay off the credit card bill.

I know people who cannot bring themselves to settle down because they are never confident that there isn't something better out there. Those same people are also those who lease a new car every 2-3 years, always must have the latest gadget, the newest, biggest home and, generally, are never happy with what they have. You see it everyday. People don't even keep their homes for very long; they use it to get something out of it quickly and then move on. Why should we be surprised that such people would behave differently with respect to marriage?

It's not liberal or conservative. It's what happens when life becomes revolved around consuming; when people become commoditized.

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another good report, Bill and surprise--here's another set of data and comments:

* I just read a brief report in the March Atlantic correlating education and divorce . Some good news: the 10 year divorce rate for women with a 4-year college degree or more fell from 29% during 1975-79 to 16.5% during '90-'94, yippee! Sounds like we actually need more graduates of 4-yr. colleges... The 10 year divorce rate over the same periods for those with no high school diploma rose from 39% to 46%, while those with a high school diploma or some college remained approximately flat at around 35%. The report concludes that "Economic disadvantages can make divorce more likely, and divorce in turn creates further personal and financial difficulties for parents and children alike, which threatens to perpetuate inequality across generations." Sounds logical.

* The "who needs marriage" problem is not limited to the U.S. I think it's a worldwide phenomenon that stems from a number of bad social developments and also from some nominally good developments; I'd guess that women's rights obtained during the 1960s might be the largest single factor.

* It aint just a poor black phenomenon; I recall reading about "the end of marriage" in Scandinavia, which probably has one of the lowest rates of "poor people". The majority of children in Sweden and Norway are born out of wedlock. 60% of 1st born children in Denmark have unmarried parents. However I didn't check the percentage of single parents in these countries, but I think it's more case of living together unmarried than living apart. Incidentally, there's one more negative you can chalk up about Europe--the unmarried phenomenon is spreading across Europe.

* What to do about the U.S.? Your answer, or one of your answers was "liberals need to start telling the truth." Hmmm. How about liberals and conservatives and everywhere in between oughta formulate plans and programs for better education and to sell the fact that it's much healthier for society in general and a hell of a lot healthier for children to have two parents living in the house.

Here's my recommendation:
* It's a great role for churches at all levels from the most poor to the bestest and the richest to sing out the value to the entire country for pluses to marriage and negatives for divorce, and education emphasis and improvements across the board. The president liberal or conservative is the no.1 bully pulpit and he/she oughta be working this problem.

* And lastly, only because I love to twist your tail, whaddya say we save a trillion dollars and bring the troops outa Iraq which is now a dead-end Shia nation any way you look at it--and use the money to take appropriate best care for the 60,000 or more U.S. soldiers that apparently will be mentally-challenged from the experience for many years.

Burt

12:55 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Burt,
Thanks for the feedback.

Yes, good news for college graduates. But we must not confuse cause/effect. A college degree does not reduce out-of-wedlock births. Rather, those with the discipline to avoid unwanted pregnancies are more likely to go to college.

Furthermore it is backwards to maintain that "Economic disadvantages can make divorce more likely" (note the can...it's an old journalist's trick). Poor values make both out-of-wedlock births and divorce more likely.

The key to improved economic prosperity is to get married, stay married and work. Liberals have the hardest time blaming the individual, to the point of turning cause and effect on its head.

You are right about Europe. Babies living with single mothers is just one more symptom of Europe's sickness. The society says it is OK and the welfare state makes it easy to do.

In America the problem is most serious in the black communities (70% is a tragedy) but is spread throughout the "lower class." I blame liberals because they let it happen without calling a spade a spade (Hillary's "It takes a Village") and some profited from it (Jesse Jackson). When Bill Cosby speaks out he is vilified.

Conversely, it is a fundamental plank in the conservative domestic agenda. Bush has been preaching marriage as the path to prosperity since 2000 and he even passed legislation to promote it. Faith based groups, encouraged by Bush, have been preaching the sermon in the black Baptist churches and in the Evangelical rural churches.

Marriage, along with home ownership, are the most important things poor people can do to raise themselves up.(The ownership rate is at a record high, approaching 70%.)

This is a problem that cannot be fixed by money, only exacerbated. Democrats want to give a mother more money every time she has another baby, especially if she can't afford the baby. Thus welfare mothers have babies for the money and their bum husbands steal the welfare checks. (Read "Uncle Sam's Plantation")

The president is doing his part. The churches are doing theirs. Congress is largely MIA and the media are on the other side with Jesse Jackson.

We all need to shout the truth!!

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so RIGHT ON as usual. I really admire Bill Cosby. As for as those certain liars telling the truth>>>>Don't hold your breath...It is so sad

Rose

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill,
You correlate discipline to avoid pregnancies with being more likely to go to college. I think instead it may very well have something to do with our Intelligence subject--those that are brighter are (1) more likely to go to college and(2) are more likely to recognize and control the senses because they can better appreciate the big picture. IQ is hugely important. Also the culture of expectations (college and no unwanted children) relates to SES.

You may be wrong about Europe and single mothers-single in terms of marriage was given as facts, but as I pointed out there may be a higher rate of man and woman--father and mother--living with each other, married or unmarried. No facts there.

Burt

11:55 AM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Burt,
I reject IQ as a major determinant in out-of-wedlock birth rates. Before 1960, "far less than 1% of high school graduate women had children without being married, while the rate among high school dropouts hit barely 1%."

Something dramatic happened in the last 47 years and it was not decreasing IQs. It was societal moral decay causing the breakup of the nuclear family, predominately among the black and poor. Society used to impose moral values and harsh penalties for those who violated the code, particularly when it came to raising children.

Europe is a marvelous experiment: Do away with all norms and see what happens. Some of the most rational Europeans are finally seeing the folly of their ways and trying to reverse the trend. Unfortunately, once a society has been infantilized, it is darn hard for them to achieve adulthood.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Craig DeLuz said...

Bill,

This is a great piece!

This phenomenon is proof positive that the moral choices we make have real world consequences. Liberals and conservatives at least agree that there is a causal effect between one’s circumstances and the choices one makes.

Liberals argue that our choices are the result of our circumstances. Conservatives argue that our circumstances are the result of our choices.

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill,
I concur that our "civilized " world has seen dramatic changes in the last half century--- not just in the US, not tied to any particular bill or Bill, not tied to any one advance in technology, nor to the widespread availability of drugs, nor to... nor to...

It's an acceleratingly different world. Agreed, it didn't take a high IQ in 1900 or 1950 to do the expected things. Given the completely different and much more unstable social situation in our era, IQ/brightness is clearly now a bigger help to help navigate through life.

Most Europeans see us Americans as infantile and themselves as adult. Depends upon the perspective. From my perspective in many ways the everyone-for-himself character of America can learn much from the "village" attitude that more typifies Europe. We aren't talking about ones and zeroes here, and GDP aint everything.

From my readings & discussions conservatives see the world very clearly and there's one right way; and liberals see the world as sufficiently complex that the quite-fuzzy world needs fuzzy (experimental) answers. Whether it's education that we've been discussing or any range of subjects, I see conservatives shouting against the wind while liberals are trying a variety of measures to cope. Neither are achieving much.

Everything will be much better when that Muslim fellow, Barack, is installed.

Burt

4:07 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Burt,
It is interesting to explore the boundaries of our ideologies. How liberal are you, how conservative am I? Allow me to pose a few questions.

1. Of the following, which is the most important cause of poverty in the US?
a) Bad behavior (out-of-wedlock children, avoiding work, drugs,...)
b) Intelligence
c) Discrimination

2. Of the following which will have the greatest impact on raising Americans out of poverty?
a) Campaign to teach values in schools, the government, media, social institutions,...
b) Increase social payments to mothers who have more out-of-wedlock children
c) More compassion for the poor

3. What percent of Americans should be allowed to pay negative income tax (i.e. to be paid to live here)
a) 10%
b) 20%
c) 40%

4. Overall, which is the best country for a middle class person to live in?
a) America
b) Britain
c) France

5. Repeat for poor people.

I'll be happy to answer your questions.

From my experience conservatives are as thoughtful as liberals. Conservatives tend to be more analytical and willing to debate the issues. (You are an exception.) Much of the fuzzy thinking that afflicts liberals arises from moral confusion. As an example, refer to the article "The New American Witch Hunt" in yesterday's LA Times. Conservatives say protect the children by keeping pedophiles in jail and under observation as long as possible. Liberals are concerned with demonizing sex offenders.

Europeans are largely confused. However, they have a few good ideas, such as Sweden's retirement policy -- more later.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very well written. You are correct. It is misguided “liberal” policies that have created the conditions that allow this phenomenal self-indulgence. You can have children without having to raise them, because the village will do it for you. The only problem is, there is no village!

The solution, if there is one, will have to do with being willing to treat people differently, i.e. discriminate, based on behavior. Married families should receive major incentives and single head-of-households should not. That will happen when Hell freezes over.

Dave

9:34 PM  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

03 15 07

Bill kudos to you and Kay Hymowitz (bad spelling...) for telling the truth! I reject that IQ bs too because according to some stats, Europeans are more eduated and smarter than us lowly Americans. I recall reading that in Denmark, Norway and Finland marriages were decreasing but liveins for long term with children were a common entity. Well look at the society with all their high taxes etc, is marriage a fiscal liability in such places?

Looking at the lower class in our society, well I have seen the poor people hooking up and rich people hooking up. Poor people cannot afford the discretions of the rich...So the poor gal may not have an Auntie Paula in Martha's vinyard to go when she gets knocked up and simply has to bear the burden publically. That has to affect the psyche of those living in such a community.

People are people that have urges and reproduce, but what bothers me is that the sexual urge is never explained in context; it is always politisized. The cultural wars between irresponsible libnazis who want 11 year old girls to get vaccinated for stds and the parents of said children are responsible for our societal confusion about marriage.

I am a happily married woman who is 30 years of age in America. It is sad that I am a minority now.

12:46 AM  
Blogger fetching jen said...

Bill, when the "little people" emulate the rich and famous, you get more slobs behaving badly, only now they don't have money and status.

As most people get their news from the television, what little actual news they get is peppered with lifestyles of the rich and famous, over and over. The little people think they are cool when they can do what the jet setters do: have babies without the benefit of marriage, adopt poor foreign-born orphans, change partners like they change their undergarments, spend money as if they print it themselves, use drugs, go clubing, hook-up, vote liberal (like the cool kids), drive SUV's like the gangsta-rappers or hybrids like the Hollywood crowd... I could go on.

The point is that without strong family, community, education and belief in a higher power, people honor false gods. And what better way to honor than to emulate the cool kids?

4:06 PM  

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