Liberal Professor Says Single Parenthood Crippling Boys and Men

It’s not the entire answer, but it certainly is an interesting point of view. And what is extraordinary is that it comes from the left and appears in the New York Times.

The decline of two-parent households may be a significant reason for the divergent fortunes of male workers, whose earnings generally declined in recent decades, and female workers, whose earnings generally increased, a prominent labor economist argues in a new survey of existing research.

David H. Autor, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that the difference between men and women, at least in part, may have roots in childhood.

Only 63 percent of children lived in a household with two parents in 2010, down from 82 percent in 1970. The single parents raising the rest of those children are predominantly female. And there is growing evidence that sons raised by single mothers “appear to fare particularly poorly,” Professor Autor wrote in an analysis for Third Way, a center-left policy research organization.

In this telling, the economic struggles of male workers are both a cause and an effect of the breakdown of traditional households. Men who are less successful are less attractive as partners, so some women are choosing to raise children by themselves, in turn often producing sons who are less successful and attractive as partners.

“A vicious cycle may ensue,” wrote Professor Autor and his co-author, Melanie Wasserman, a graduate student, “with the poor economic prospects of less educated males creating differentially large disadvantages for their sons, thus potentially reinforcing the development of the gender gap in the next generation.”

The conclusion is obvious but ordinarily taboo. But Freakonomics has made it safer for liberals to explore the economic and social intersections of formerly taboo topics like this.

I imagine that there are plenty of furious responses to this out there, but it’s an obvious point. Children do need a rounded household of parents of different genders and they also need a role model of their own gender.

The frenzied search for role models in the last two generations has been the unspoken result of the dissolution of the two-parent family.

That doesn’t mean that mothers are to blame. The collapse of the family is the result of economic policies and social mores, not the actions of men or women in general.

And this has obvious implications for the construct of gay marriage as well. An unbalanced family is an unhealthy environment for a child. Artificially creating such environments is selfish and unfair to children.

Professor Autor said in an interview that he was intrigued by evidence suggesting the consequences were larger for boys than girls, including one study finding that single mothers spent an hour less per week with their sons than with their daughters. Another study of households where the father had less education, or was absent entirely, found the female children were 10 to 14 percent more likely to complete college. A third study of single-parent homes found boys were less likely than girls to enroll in college.

“It’s very clear that kids from single-parent households fare worse in terms of years of education,” he said. “The gender difference, the idea that boys do even worse again, is less clear cut. We’re pointing this out as an important hypothesis that needs further exploration. But there’s intriguing evidence in that direction.”

Professor Autor’s own explanation builds on existing research showing that income inequality has soared, stretching the gap between rich and poor, and that a smaller share of Americans are making the climb. The children of lower-income parents are ever more likely to become, in turn, the parents of lower-income children.

Moreover, a growing share of lower-income children are raised by their mother but not their father, and research shows that those children are at a particular disadvantage.

Obviously race is also a factor in these numbers, though Autor avoids discussing it.

For all Americans, it has become much harder to make a living without a college degree, for intertwined reasons including foreign competition, advancements in technology and the decline of unions. Over the same period, the earnings of college graduates have increased. Women have responded exactly as economists would have predicted, by going to college in record numbers. Men, mysteriously, have not.

Among people who were 35 years old in 2010, for example, women were 17 percent more likely to have attended college, and 23 percent more likely to hold an undergraduate degree.

“I think the greatest, most astonishing fact that I am aware of in social science right now is that women have been able to hear the labor market screaming out ‘You need more education’ and have been able to respond to that, and men have not,” said Michael Greenstone, an M.I.T. economics professor who was not involved in Professor Autor’s work. “And it’s very, very scary for economists because people should be responding to price signals. And men are not. It’s a fact in need of an explanation.”

1. College isn’t quite the surefire solution to employment that these people imply. It’s not. Unemployment has hit college grads hard and much of the marketplace’s demand for college degrees is just an attempt to compensate for the unqualified high school graduate and the employer’s market caused by the recession.

2. The education system is friendlier to women than it is to men and more geared toward their skillset than the male skillset. That is becoming truer than ever with the arrival of the zero tolerance campus.

3. Working class men still lean more toward working with their hands.

4. It doesn’t matter who has more degrees, but who works more steadily and whose skills can survive an economic recession. A degree is worthless, as plenty of job-seekers are finding out. A skillset that enables you to work outside the traditional corporate economy is worth its weight in gold. Sometimes literally.

“If Democrats have as their goal being the party of the middle class, they have to come to the realization that they’re not going to be able to get there solely through their standard explanations,” said Mr. Cowan, a veteran of the Clinton administration. “We need to ask, ‘How can we get these fathers back involved in their children’s lives?’ ”

But some experts cautioned that Professor Autor’s theory did not necessarily imply that such children would benefit from the presence of their fathers.

“Single-parent families tend to emerge in places where the men already are a mess,” said Christopher Jencks, a professor of social policy at Harvard University. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Suppose the available men were getting married to the available women? Would that be an improvement?’ ”

Instead of making marriage more attractive, he said, it might be better for society to help make men more attractive.

Both men largely miss the point. Single parent families emerge where the people are a mess. They’re not the product of a gender, because men and women don’t exist in isolation from each other. That is the obvious point of Autor’s analysis. Trying to argue that men or women are the problem makes no sense when continuity and society is built on the interactions of men and women.

The real question to be asked here is whether as a society we now

1. Economically favor marriage

2. Culturally favor marriage

3. Socially favor marriage

And the answer is that increasingly we do not. What we favor is permanent immaturity and government dependency. The way that men behave and the way that women behave are outgrowths of this phenomenon.

  • kate5778b

    Better late than never, William Dalrymple covers this in his excellent book 'Our culture, what's left of it'.

  • http://twitter.com/quark1912 @quark1912

    I fault "no fault" divorce.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "I fault "no fault" divorce."

      There are roots that go far deeper. I blame those who put Darwin on a pedestal. He's the antidote to Biblical morality. Philosophers have used Darwin's theory to openly attack Biblical morality since then.

      • Micha Elyi

        Don't let fools distract you with Darwin's theory. Throughout the ages, immoralists have glommed onto one thing or another to wave about as an excuse for their wishes to indulge in foul behavior. In the end the immoralists only find misery, despair, and death. "Biblical morality" isn't proven because the Bible says so; but because the facts of nature and nature's God are such that it is the only just, and merciful morality that long experience has proven fit for human beings. The authors of the Bible simply reported what is so.

    • Micha Elyi

      I fault "no fault" divorce.
      quark1919

      I fault unilateral divorce, a poison slipped into so-called "no fault" divorce.

  • objectivefactsmatter

    “I think the greatest, most astonishing fact that I am aware of in social science right now is that women have been able to hear the labor market screaming out ‘You need more education’ and have been able to respond to that, and men have not,” said Michael Greenstone, an M.I.T. economics professor who was not involved in Professor Autor’s work. “And it’s very, very scary for economists because people should be responding to price signals. And men are not. It’s a fact in need of an explanation.”

    That's because "capitalism" is a current within society, not a coherent culture in and of itself.

    • Michael Gersh

      I see that men ARE responding to price signals. No-fault divorce and forced child support have killed the traditional marital paradigm, wherein men were signalled that hard work and achievement would allow them to qualify for a mate who would accept his protection in return for sexual access and fidelity. Now that making babies with a wife can so easily become paying for the offspring with no mate, men correctly read the signals and enjoy their freedom.

      Meanwhile, the welfare state has assured women that, if their career falters (or was never there in the first place) the state will provide for her children – so why marry? Or stay married? The price signals are there for all to see – the benefit of marriage now favors neither fathers nor mothers. Marriage is for free people who need to be self reliant. Now that the state has removed a substantial part of the economic benefit of marriage, and religion is less important, who needs to marry anymore? Except for the affluent, of course.

      • objectivefactsmatter

        "I see that men ARE responding to price signals. No-fault divorce and forced child support have killed the traditional marital paradigm, wherein men were signalled that hard work and achievement would allow them to qualify for a mate who would accept his protection in return for sexual access and fidelity. Now that making babies with a wife can so easily become paying for the offspring with no mate, men correctly read the signals and enjoy their freedom. "

        My point is that it's not solely about price signals and one's financial interests (assuming we're talking about subjects who understand what is in their own best financial interests). Men are getting a lot mixed signals from all quarters.

  • objectivefactsmatter

    "Instead of making marriage more attractive, he said, it might be better for society to help make men more attractive."

    Here we go…

  • Lady_Dr

    And sadly men married down, while women marry up. So what happens to the women at the top of the social scale? those women who have professions and degrees. They don't marry, but they do as the saying goes "mess around" resulting in their single motherhood, which is now socially acceptable. Use to putting lipstick on a pig (like when they claimed a date night but spent it alone studying in the library), they get pregnant and decide that they will claim that they choose to be single mothers. I don't believe a word of it.

    I'm sure we all know a lot of really terrific single women who would prefer to marry but they have few choices, don't want to marry someone who makes less or is less educated – and some of them also want to be mothers. Thanks liberals – you screw up society on this front as well.

    • Mary Sue

      some men marry up but it is not common. But the bigger issue is the idea that "I don't need a ring on my finger/piece of paper/whatever binding contract, all we need is love" attitude.

      And then they even drop that.

    • figment newton

      those crying that they can't find a suitable mate maybe don't realize that since R v. W has decreased the gene pool by 55 million people.

      • fizziks

        But wouldn't those 55 million presumably be equal numbers of males and females? So it wouldn't matter to any given single individual today, their odds would be the same.

        • Mary Sue

          yeah, except you don't know *who* you're aborting personality-wise. Perhaps a person unborn that lost their life MIGHT have been "the one"…

        • Daniel Greenfield

          Sex selective abortions.

  • Mary Sue

    Feminist idiocy comes to bite society in the butt.

  • RUI

    So what's next? Perhaps a government funded program to create institutionalized male-guilt (as if those were in short supply) and find some "scientific" way to blame this on capitalism and racism. Or greedy republicans.

    It's exhausting isn't it? To liberals, every social problem is like a "whodunnit" crime story and the suspects can only be drawn from 3 categories: the Butler, the Maid or the Cook. Or as they put it: capitalism, racism or right-wingers.

  • Marlene

    I hope the Professor is prepared for his life to become a bit uncomfortable at the least, and destroyed at worse by the feminists, single mothers, and those that stand up for people "with no voices". This is just the kind of study that these people cannot accept. It is based in reality, which doesn't work for them. They want the world to be as they wish. They want a baby, they don't care if they have a husband, they have few prospects and their biological clock is ticking, and they want what they want and they want it now. It is the not that different from the selfishness that we are witnessing among the gay community when it comes to children. This study does prove something that mothers of boys could tell you without a study. Boys are extremely sensitive, and develop slower than girls. Single moms are likely to feminize their boys (not necessarily on purpose) or create slackers by not challenging them enough. Boys need a father to prepare them for the cruel world, by teaching them how to navigate the landscape and how to interact with men.
    There is my "Lucy" like psychology….5 cents please.

    • Cat K

      Your "Lucy" is more realistic than many psychologists who typically dance to the tune of the left. Psychologists today have a lot of interest and sympathy for, for example, transgender people but little concern about the importance of the family, and fathers, to children.
      I wonder if this article will be attacked in a similar manner to a recent article showing a correlation between poor outcomes in adulthood of people who were raised by gay parents (previous generation, of course).

  • UCSPanther

    I hope the feminists like rough and violent trailer parks, ghettos and barrios where single motherhood, welfare dependency, substance abuse, welfare dependency and violence go hand-in-hand, because that is what they are going to get at this rate…

    • Mary Sue

      oh it's exactly what they want, because that's the scenario that turns out the most socialists/Democrats/Low Information Voters.

      • objectivefactsmatter

        "oh it's exactly what they want, because that's the scenario that turns out the most socialists/Democrats/Low Information Voters."

        As long as they have no part of it personally.

  • joe

    The government, women and schools demonize straight white males.

    Single mothers are promoted as brave,hard working and deserving of aid. The fact that their poor choice of male partners have put them in the situation is seldom mentioned. Reproducing with someone you pick up in a bar and know 2 months isn't a sign of good judgment .So how do they suddenly become wise,moral,good people deserving financial rewards from the government because they give birth?

    The government promotes and finances single motherhood through hundreds of entitlements and grants.A single father doesn't have access to the same programs .Courts favor mothers in custody cases going so far as to hold employment working hours against fathers.

    Boys growing up in an environment and society where they see fathers being constantly belittled ,minimized ,criticized ,blamed and penalized are going to grow up believing they are the same. They will feel disenfranchised ,unnecessary and irrelevant . Why would they exert the effort and invest the time in education and improving themselves when they don't see an abundant amount of successful ,happy males in their lives and in the country ?

    Name all the – single and married- men who are applauded for being successful,hard working ,good fathers and husbands,intelligent and moral American citizens in the MSM you see.

    • joe

      Ugh that should say "demonizes all straight men,with a recent emphasis on whites."

    • Marlene

      There was a Youtube video going around facebook that was an awesome dad sitting at one of those specially made table for quadruplets, where the babies are in the table in special baby seats. The dad was making funny noises and doing a funny thing with his head, and these babies (about 8 months old) were hysterical laughing. Now to the point, one of the comments was (I am paraphrasing) What a great dad, I wish more dad's were like that..something along those lines. So right out of the box the assumption is that most dad's are not. It was negative and telling.

    • EarlyBird

      Well said, Joe.

      Though you have one piece of the puzzle wrong: most out of wedlock births are not the product of one night stands at a bar as you describe.

      It's even worse: Most tend to be girls and young women whose female role models also were single mothers (like their own mothers), and who are surrounded by this kind of dysfunction. It tends to be high school girls getting knocked up by boyfriends, who go on to impregnate other girls and young women.

      If you read Myron Magnet's "The Dream and the Nightmare," you will see a wonderful illustration of how the well-meaning policies of the '60s helped create this permanent underclass. It'll get your blood up.

  • EarlyBird

    Excellent article from Greenfield.

    The damage that single parenthood does to both boys and girls is immense, and especially to boys. Boys who grow up without fathers show lower achievement in nearly every area, including education, sports, career, social relationships, romantic relationships and marriage, and experience generally less happy lives. The percentage of men in prison who never knew their fathers is astounding, something close to 50%. As the number of boys growing up without fathers, no wonder there are fewer college educated men.

    The increasing number of single parent househoulds is surely among the greatest crises in America. The good news is that is agreed by most everyone of every political stripe as a crisis. Of course the left will decide that the answer is another government program, but at least they admit the problem.