Carol Platt Liebau: "Marriage and Caste"

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Marriage and Caste"

Kay Hymowitz has an invaluable article in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. At the nub of the piece is this conclusion:

[T]he Marriage Gap [women at lower income and educational levels are more likely to bear children out of wedlock than more educated women with more resources] —and the [social and economic] inequality to which it is tied—is self-perpetuating. A low-income single mother, unprepared to carry out The Mission [of rearing children educated and nurtured to take a place in the middle class or above], is more likely to raise children who will become low-income single parents, who will pass that legacy on to their children, and so on down the line.

The piece has a fascinating explication of why's and wherefore's -- it's a must-read. The big question, though, is how to reverse this trend of childbearing before marriage.

And the answer is through socialization. It's amazing that in an era when birth control is omnipresent, out of wedlock births are higher than ever. But the answer is attributable to the fact that it's no longer socially disgraceful to bear children without benefit of marriage. And that's because we live in an age where there's really only one big sin: "Judging."

And it's too bad. Our reluctance to exercise judgment about those who "choose" a lifestyle of unwed motherhood doesn't just hurt the unwed mothers -- it also hurts their children, who didn't choose to grow up without fathers. If our culture collectively can decide that smoking is wrong, and obesity is an undesirable condition, can't we decide that premarital sex (or premarital sex without birth control) is also wrong, and unwed motherhood an undesirable condition?

As Kay Hymowitz points out, educated and middle-class (or higher) women largely wed before bearing children. It's the women least equipped to raise children on their own who are most likely to be doing so. And that's why I dislike "celebrities" like Katie Holmes and Madonna and Angelina Jolie "choosing" to become pregnant before marriage. It glamorizes a lifestyle that is deeply and truly pernicious to the well-being of other children -- whose mothers don't have large disposable incomes and retinues of servants -- who become caught in a sad cycle.

No one is suggesting a return to the days when single mothers were ostracised and personally demeaned. But a cultural consensus that celebrating out of wedlock births is wrong would be a fine first step. And social attitudes can be changed -- it was just about 15 years ago that Dan Quayle was ridiculed for asserting the centrality of fathers to a child's optimal development . . . which is today's conventional wisdom.


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