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Academic Bias, Recent News, U.S. Politics

For Richer or Poorer

As the lack of opportunity in America becomes less of an issue of race and more of perpetual class separation, liberal reporters and academics continue to propose the same recycled, progressive policies which have little hope of solving the marriage problem but will undoubtedly bloat federal and state governments.

For example, in a New York Times article printed this summer, Jason DeParle cast the growing trend of lower-class single mothers as one of class conflict. “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,” wrote DeParle. He cited Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin as saying that “It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged.”

Inequalities of opportunity in America recently prompted academic Lane Kenworthy to boldly write for Foreign Affairs  that “The United States has lost its historical distinction as the land of opportunity.” He instead compares America’s “intergenerational mobility” to that of France and Italy.

“So how did the United States get here?” asks the University of Arizona professor.  “…On the right, a standard proposal is to strengthen families. On the left, a recent favorite is to reduce income inequality. And everyone supports improving education.”

“Long concentrated among minorities, motherhood outside marriage now varies by class about as much as it does by race,” reported DeParle this summer.“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,” he writes (emphasis added).

Kenworthy suggests a series of government interventions to enhance “intergenerational mobility” and close the opportunity gap, including,

    • increasing the Child Tax Credit, with Canada as an example;
    • convincing less-educated women to delay childbirth;
    • federal and state interventions to promote parenting by “paying for home visits by nurses or counselors and providing free or low-cost parenting classes;”
    • a “universal system of affordable, educational child care and preschool;”
    • the federal government making college more affordable;
    • the Federal Reserve allowing wages to rise somewhat;
    • increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for able-bodied adults without children (ABAWDs); and
    • direct affirmative action for those with disadvantaged family background, rather than by race.

This last suggestion was recently promoted by The Century Foundation as an alternative to affirmative action in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Kenworthy would like to extend it to public hiring as well. “Half a century ago, the federal government mandated the use of affirmative action in public agencies and in firms with which it contracted,” writes Kenworthy. “It could do the same now in order to address the nation’s new opportunity gap.”

Most strikingly, although Kenworthy stares at the heart of the issue–marriage–he concludes that, as with the Brookings Institution, a “success sequence” could serve as a worthy replacement: “first education, then a stable job, then marriage, and then children.”

“Fewer children in the United States grow up with both biological parents than in any other affluent country for which data are available,” writes Kenworthy.

“To remedy this, some, such as Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, co-directors of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers, favor efforts to promote marriage.” Kenworthy disagrees: “But research by the sociologists Kathryn Edin, Sara McLanahan, and Paula England and others suggests that this strategy is misplaced.”

“Since women today need less from marriage and expect more from it than they used to, those who are better educated and better off tend to take more time to get established in their jobs and find good partners, which enhances the likelihood of a lasting marriage (or cohabitation),” he writes. The idea of a lasting cohabitation is a misnomer, according to research by Mike McManus, co-chair of Marriage Savers and co-author of Living Together: Myths, Risks, and Answers. “Actually, couples who cohabit are in a trial divorce because there’s a 90% chance they’re either gonna break up before there’s a wedding or afterward in divorce,” he argued at a Family Research Council event.

“Among poorer and less-educated women, who see little prospect of a fulfilling and lucrative career, having a child in their teens or early 20s remains common,” continues Kenworthy. He continues,

“These women are less likely to stay with a partner: they have had less time to mature personally and to find a person with whom they are compatible, their partners are more likely to have weak financial prospects and a preference for traditional gender roles, and the presence of a child heightens financial and interpersonal tensions. Given all this, convincing more young low-income couples who get pregnant to marry is unlikely to produce many lasting relationships.”

A simple solution, then, might be to discourage sexual intimacy before marriage to avoid having children out of wedlock, especially if having a child reduces the chances of marriage afterward.

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