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U.S. Politics

Marital Have-Nots?

In a recent article published in the New York Times, reporter Jason DeParle casts the fact that more lower-class mothers are having children out of wedlock as a product of class conflict. He posits a theory of marital “scarcity” in which the upper classes have greater access to marriage than the poorer classes.

DeParle paints a bleak picture, writing that “College-educated Americans like the Faulkners are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay.” He reports that “Less-educated women like Ms. [Jessica] Schairer, who left college without finishing her degree, are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.”

He continues, “Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality.”

“Long concentrated among minorities, motherhood outside marriage now varies by class about as much as it does by race,” he reports.“Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent,” writes DeParle (emphasis added).

DeParle cites Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, as saying that “It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged.” Cherlin is the author of the textbook Public and Private Families: An Introduction, 6th Edition, which, according to the description, looks at “the familiar private family” as well as “broader societal issues such as the care of the elderly, the increase in divorce, and childbearing outside of marriage.”

Some feminists–especially from hard-left circles– perceive the nuclear family as a form of oppression rather than of stability. Jen Roesch, a columnist at the Socialist Worker, took umbrage at the pro-family message which she argues is inherent to DeParle’s article and description of the Faulkner and Schairer families.

“As long as our society is organized around the existence of the nuclear family, no matter how mythical that ideal has become, those who live outside it will be punished,” Roesch writes in her Socialist Worker response to DeParle, entitled “The Single Mother Myth” (emphasis added). “In our society, the entire cost of raising the next generation of workers is pushed onto the private family.” (Roesch conceives of this expense as, at least partially, a government responsibility, and presents a variety of initiatives designed to relieve this private burden.)

“… Women’s unpaid labor in the home–in the U.S. alone–represents more than $1.4 trillion each year, according to the estimate of United Nations researchers in 1995,” she writes. Roesch argues that “THE TIMES article is part of an entire genre that blames societal ills on the effects of the women’s liberation movement.” She continues,

“The New York Times wants us to believe that what women need are a whole lot more Kevins. What we really need is a new and energized women’s liberation movement that can fight for real changes in women’s lives. We can start by rejecting the moralistic scapegoating that blames women for our personal choices and putting the focus instead on a society that has failed us.”

Ironically, feminism and women’s liberation are not mentioned once in this New York Times article. Rather, the marriage disparity issue is covered as class conflict. “Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes,” insists DeParle (emphasis added).

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