Wednesday, March 20, 2013

No Dad, Big Problem (I)

Derek Thompson, writing in the Atlantic, is appalled by what’s happening to American families. He’s stung that “58% of first births in lower-middle-class households are now to unmarried women,” while “two in five of all births are to unwed mothers, an all-time high.” To Thompson, the big question is, “Why so few marriages?"

His answer:
  • marriage like any other contract [is] most likely to happen when the gains are big. So we should expect marriages among low-income Americans to decline if women perceive declining gains from hitching themselves to the men around them. 
  • Low-skill men have had a rough two generations. The evaporation of manufacturing work has gutted their main source of employment, while globalization has held down their wages. Marriage has declined the most among men whose wages have declined the most (see graph below--hit to enlarge). 
  • Thompson quotes from The Truly Disadvantaged author William Julius Wilson, who argues that "high rates of unemployment and incarceration mean. . .the local dating pool [is] populated by unmarriageable men--[so] women chose to live independently." 
  • Thomson also believes it’s much easier to raise a child and keep a home given modern household innovations, including cheap prepared foods, cheap clothes, machines to wash and dry, and to vacuum. Machines not only encourage women to seek work, but also make it easier for them to raise a child alone. 
In the end, this is bad news, suggests Thompson, meaning “women find themselves drifting ‘unintentionally’ into parenthood with men they have no intent of marrying,” thereby creating “another generation of problems.”

To Thompson, it’s pretty much economic determinism, a concept associated with Marxism. At least Thompson, however, sees family breakdown as a problem.

This blog, in contrast to Thompson, has repeatedly followed the lead of Charles Murray, whose book Coming Apart first and best documents family breakdown in the white working class since the 1960s.   Murray pins the breakdown on “Hollywood” values combined with government policies that encourage single (female) parent families, while lowering the importance of (male) employment.

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