March 17, 2015


Yes, Culture Helped Kill the Two-Parent Family. And Liberals Shouldn't Be Afraid to Admit It. (Jordan Weissmann, 3/16/15, Slate)

[I] think more liberals need to get comfortable acknowledging that, even if it doesn't explain the whole story, culture probably has played a role in the changes that have rocked domestic life for so much of the country.

Putnam makes this point early in Our Kids: Of the values-versus-economics debate, he says simply that, "The most reasonable view is that both are important." How come? For one, we can look back to the Great Depression as an historical counterpoint to the trends we've witnessed in recent decades. With mass unemployment, the marriage rate tumbled during the 1930s, "showing the perennial importance of economic stability in the marriage calculus." At the same, however, the birth rate also fell, and unwed childbearing remained rare. "In that era, men and women postponed procreation as well as matrimony," Putnam writes. " 'No marriage license, no kids' was the cultural norm. Unlike today, desperately poor, jobless men in the 1930s did not have kids outside of marriage whom they then largely ignored."

Sociologist Andrew Cherlin makes a similar point in Labor's Love Lost, his recent exploration of "the rise and fall of the working class family in America." It is virtually impossible to disentangle the many social and economic changes that may have led to the rise of single-motherhood, the Johns Hopkins professor argues. The pill, the sexual revolution, and the advent of no-fault divorce were followed shortly by declining manufacturing employment, and no amount of econometric modeling is going to realistically apportion blame to one cause or the other. But historical comparisons suggest it all played a role. The first Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for instance, was another time of economic upheaval and economic polarization, when old crafts jobs were being displaced by industrialization. And just like today, there was a fairly large gap in marriage rates between working-class and white-collar men. Yet out-of-wedlock childbirth was unusual up and down the class ladder. Likewise, Cherlin notes that the Depression didn't cause single-parenthood to spike, even as male breadwinners lost their livelihoods and marriage slumped.

The 1970s, and their aftermath, were different. As steady, union-wage jobs along the assembly lines became scarce, traditional family life began to fray among the working class--so that, now, "three-fourths of young mothers who have no bachelor's degree have had at least one child outside of marriage." The difference was culture. The country lost its hang-ups about premarital sex, and it slowly became normal to raise a kid outside of marriage. Where accidental pregnancies had once regularly led to shotgun weddings, it became more common for couples to simply move in together (or keep living together, for that matter). Were those relationships as stable as marriages, nobody would be worried about it today. But unfortunately, co-habiting couples with children tend to break up, and the kids suffer for it.

"Had norms not changed, the growth of childbearing outside of marriage that we have recently seen among today's unmarried low-educated and moderately educated young adults would not have occurred, even given the rise in income inequality," Cherlin writes. 

...we just foisted this one on the poor. Suckers...
Posted by at March 17, 2015 5:48 PM

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