The New York Times has two related articles profiling the increasing trend of single parenthood in the industrial town of Lorain, Ohio which serves as an example of Charles Murray’s “Fishtown”. The articles indicate that Murray’s book is serving its intended purpose:
Still, the issue [single motherhood] received little attention until the publication last month of “Coming Apart,” a book by Charles Murray, a longtime critic of children born outside of wedlock.
Murray carries on the legacy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan whose warnings of the “tangle of pathology” within the black community has increased across all races and among the lower classes. The Times touches on all aspects of this development – cultural, technological, and economic:
The forces rearranging the family are as diverse as globalization and the pill. Liberal analysts argue that shrinking paychecks have thinned the ranks of marriageable men, while conservatives often say that the sexual revolution reduced the incentive to wed and that safety net programs discourage marriage.
Meanwhile, children happen. (emphasis mine)
The articles’ authors interviewed several dozen of these “Fishtowners” including one Amber Strader:
Amber Strader, 27, was in an on-and-off relationship with a clerk at Sears a few years ago when she found herself pregnant. A former nursing student who now tends bar, Ms. Strader said her boyfriend was so dependent that she had to buy his cigarettes. Marrying him never entered her mind. “It was like living with another kid,” she said.
When a second child, with a new boyfriend, followed three years later – her birth control failed, she said – her boyfriend, a part-time house painter, was reluctant to wed.
Today, neither of Ms. Strader’s pregnancies left her thinking she should marry to avoid stigma. Like other women interviewed here, she described her children as largely unplanned, a byproduct of uncommitted relationships. (emphasis mine)
I’m torn between interpreting single motherhood as immaculate conception or comparing it to drunk driving. Just as it would be improper to excuse people for driving while drunk, it is improper to ignore the negative consequences of normalized single motherhood. Despite the existence of alcohol, bars, streets, and cars, drunk driving doesn’t just “happen” in a vacuum. Nor are post hoc rationalizations developed to prevent judgment of the behavior. Though plenty of people do still drink and drive, nobody displays pride in such behavior and nobody is hushed for discussing the scourge as such.
Likewise, the existence of horny men and women is not an excuse for single motherhood. Births happen, but that they happen doesn’t mean that we have to adopt a defeatist attitude towards the happening. If we’ve come to understand the drawbacks to drunk driving – and if we’ve adopted laws to curtail it – perhaps we need to have a similar conversation about single motherhood without the stigma against victim blaming.
And which is a bigger burden to society? When you consider that children raised by one parent are more likely to commit crime or have lower income and worse education outcomes or create even more illegitimate children, the calculus seems to suggest that single motherhood is the greater scourge. Oh, and on the topic of drunken driving, being raised by one parent has been found to lead to a greater likelihood of drunk driving in adulthood.
So much is being obscured in this debate. Yes, it seems true that men are increasingly being crowded out and alienated in the transition from a manufacturing to a service-based economy. In general, men are struggling to adapt to this structural change. While men’s incomes and jobs are on the decline, women are more self-sufficient. But as David Brooks pointed out, just because manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back doesn’t mean that dropping out of high school is a good idea. Likewise, just because men aren’t able to get good jobs doesn’t mean that couples should create children with very low ROI. Murray – with Herrnstein – wrote in The Bell Curve:
All of the problems that these children experience will become worse rather than better as they grow older, for the labor market they will confront a few decades down the road is going to be much harder for them to come with than the labor market is now. (italics theirs)
If it is so horrible to be a poor Fishtowner with limited job prospects, then why should we perpetuate the cycle? Why should we not start regulating the streets with the parental equivalent of DUI check-points?
So we have women who are, as we know, gate-keepers. They determine (in 99.9% of the cases) when sex occurs and, thus, whether conception occurs. They know, as indicated in the NYT articles, that they wouldn’t want to raise children with these men, yet they continue to have sex with them without being cautious enough about the outcomes. They are creating another generation of children who start behind the curve.
Norms should adjust accordingly, but they are being prevented from fully adapting because of the welfare state and the widespread cultural fear against victim blaming. People who are perceived as victims are inoculated against judgment which merely perpetuates the cycle. In a better culture, perhaps marriage rates decline, but safe sex practices and caution would increase at a similar rate. Instead we have a decline in marriage (for cultural or economic reasons) but an increase in risk. But that risk is absorbed by the society – either by the society or by taxpayers.
Either they are able to earn the income to provide for themselves and their child(ren), or the government steps in to help them. But the government only provides money; it does not provide guidance, discipline, morality, or ethics. It is a sugar daddy when what children need cannot be bought.