Oct 16, 2023 – The Two-Parent Privilege
‘The Two-Parent Privilege’
A Leftist’s Encounter with the Facts of Child Well-being
For well over a decade, I’ve argued that family breakdown is the single greatest social problem we in the U.S. face. By “family breakdown,” I generally mean the removal/absence of fathers from children’s lives. We accomplish that in an astonishing variety of ways – divorce courts, child support laws, alimony laws, adoption laws, the absence of fathers’ right to even know their child exists, the failure to do genetic testing of children at birth, the practices of child welfare agencies, domestic violence laws, resources and propaganda, our refusal to educate judges in what benefits children, false claims about the danger of fathers to children and, of course, the virulent misandry of pop culture.
For many decades now, we’ve known the value of raising children in two-parent households. And yet our public policies and discourse on fathers are woefully at odds with those known facts. It is therefore impossible to deny that fatherlessness/single motherhood is a matter of public policy. We know it’s wrong, we know it’s destructive, but we do it anyway.
The long, poison-dipped fingers of fatherlessness/single-parenthood, reach into all corners of society and, one way or another, we all pay. Kids with a single-parent upbringing do worse on average than do children brought up by two biological parents. A range of personal and social deficits – poverty, involvement in crime, drugs and alcohol, lower rates of education and employment, lower earnings, greater mental/emotional health issues, etc. are strongly associated with single-parent rearing. Into the bargain, fathers’ loss of time with their children is associated with worse paternal mental health. Plus, single mothers saddled with all or most of the childcare duties earn less, save less and are far more likely to live in poverty than any other group. Having produced all that social and personal dysfunction, vast public funds and human resources must be thrown at the problem of kids who’ve grown up without one parent or the other.
It’s a kind of evil genius; what else in society is so utterly at odds with stability, health and basic good sense? What has such far-reaching negative consequences? There’s nothing, including “wokeism.” The attack on the family was the thin edge of the woke wedge way back in the 60s. It was woke – utterly dishonest, ideology-driven and embraced by power elites – before woke was a thing.
And, like other more recent woke narratives, the anti-father/pro-single mother campaign got its first major boost from fake science, most powerfully in the 1973 book, “Beyond the Best Interests of the Child,” by Goldstein, Solnit and Freud (with an assist from student researcher, Hillary Rodham!). Its thesis was that children don’t need two parents post-divorce. The only important thing for the child was that his/her custodial parent (almost invariably Mom) remain autonomous, meaning that Dad’s contact with the child should be entirely controlled by her. The book quickly became the bible of the “single mothers by choice” movement and family court judges everywhere. As late as the late 90s, it was the single most-cited source by state courts of appeals in family law cases.
The only problem was that it was complete bunk. Canadian economist Paul Millar entirely destroyed the book in 2009, including this:
The assumption made by the authors is that the distress caused by any interference in the custodial parent’s autonomy will be visited upon the child in the form of loyalty conflicts. This framework.. is not supported by empirical social science evidence…. Thus, the major tenet of Goldstein, Solnit and Freud’s thesis – one that has been adopted wholeheartedly by many jurists, including the Supreme Court of Canada – is not only unsupported by evidence, but, worse, appears to promote harmful outcomes for children through the legal support given the destruction of one of the important parental relationships for the child.
Most remarkably, that thesis was well-known to be wrong, or at least highly dubious, when it was written. Eight years previously, Daniel Patrick Moynahan had raised the alarm about fatherlessness in the black community, an assessment that was based on a significant body of previous research. Goldstein, et al ignored all of that and produced, out of whole cloth, their theory that in practice meant the marginalization of fathers, i.e., precisely the song extremist feminists were singing. By 1979, the three authors produced a second book abjuring much of their previous one, but by then it was too late. The anti-father crusade was too far underway to be slowed by mere facts or the authors’ belated mea culpa.
Since then, there has been a welter of publications re-emphasizing the value to children of fathers and a two-parent upbringing. Journalist Jason Riley recalled 10 of them and barely scratched the surface. Find me a social scientist who claims that a single-parent upbringing is generally as good for a child as a two-parent one. I dare you.
Which brings me to the most recent book extolling the many virtues of dual parenthood, “The Two-Parent Privilege,” by economist Melissa Kearney. It’s mostly confined to the many economic deficits of single-parent households, but still,
“As a result of the increased incidence of parental divorce,” Ms. Kearney tells us, “children wound up having lower levels of education, lower levels of income, and more marital churn themselves (both more marriages and more separations)…
Yes, we know. Little of Kearney’s book is news. It’s just the latest in a long line of works stating and restating what has long been obvious. The problem is not the state of our knowledge, but the state of public policy, i.e., all the things we consciously do to keep parents (mostly fathers) out of children’s lives. Until we make major reforms to policy, all the information about family structure and child well-being will continue to just sit on the shelf collecting dust.
Now apparently, no assessment of single parenting by an academic could exist without a swipe at men. Kearney is johnny on the spot, bewailing a lack of “marriageable men.”
It’s true that neoliberal “free trade” policies knocked the props from under blue-collar manufacturing jobs, rendering five million men hors de combat and, for Kearney, that’s the end of the story. But what if we demanded that women set aside their hypergamy and do what men have done for all of history – marry down? What if we demanded that women use the inexpensive and highly effective methods of birth control to avoid pregnancy outside of marriage? Kearney asks neither question, preferring to give women’s behavior a pass.
So, even as Kearney admits that single-parenting is generally bad for kids, she fails to suggest simple, straightforward things that every woman can do to prevent it. That raises the question, “how vigorously does she really oppose single motherhood?” Or are we exactly where we’ve been for the past six decades – unwilling to admit that women bear some, or even most, of the responsibility for this part of societal dysfunction, or demand change?
Needless to say, there’s a reason for that unwillingness; to admit the truth would mean questioning the very ideology that brought us here in the first place. Kearney admits as much:
Ms. Kearney said that writing the book felt like taking “a big risk” professionally because her peers tend to avoid addressing the role of family structure in discussions of social inequality and look down on those who do.
Of course it’s a big risk; it directly contradicts core tenets of extremist feminism and woke ideology. Ergo, what is possibly our most serious problem barely gets a hearing and zero policy reforms, because the academics and progressives on whom we’ve conferred such unwarranted authority “look down on” a huge body of knowledge about which they likely know nothing.
Have I mentioned that we are a nation and culture in decline? Yes, I believe I have.
Stay tuned to upcoming ESP Thoughts of the Day for more insightful excerpts from Prof. Nielsen’s book.
Gene C. Colman comments further