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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

August 11, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

One of the chief opponents of equalizing outcomes in family courts is the press, as usual largely ignorant of and incurious about the pertinent facts. I often criticize news outlets like the New York Times due to its consistent anti-father bias and general unawareness of easy-to-come-by information.

But what we also see, albeit less often, is a similar sort of blindness on the part of the more conservative news media. Liberal publications long ago swallowed their own brand of Kool-Aid. It’s weird stuff, and you’d think they’d have figured out long ago that what they’re saying makes absolutely no sense, but they’ve been repeating the same tired and largely unfounded tropes for so long, I’m afraid they’re a lost cause.

All understand that the liberal side of the news media is feminist to the core. Now, what that should mean is that they enthusiastically embrace greater parental rights for fathers and above all, equalized parenting time. After all, when we do that we give mothers a great and deserved gift — the time and energy in which to more fully pursue careers, earn more, advance more, save more and in general be more self-reliant. Supposedly, all those are longtime feminist goals, but against everything that’s sensible, feminists and their organizations have always doggedly opposed even slight increases in fathers’ time with their kids.

Plus, equal parenting is, well, equal, and there was a time when liberals pretended to support gender equality.

The only conclusion to draw is that, for those feminists and their liberal allies, their misandry outweighs their commitment to the well-being of women. The simple truth is that equal-parenting advocates and feminists are the most natural of allies, but the feminists are having none of it. I told you it was weird.

So what about the right side of the aisle? They’re supposedly the “family values” crowd, so you’d think they’d support fathers’ being more involved in their children’s lives. How often have we heard conservative politicians inveigh against fathers who abandon their children, don’t pay their child support, have casual sex and then disappear? Clearly then conservatives must be the natural ones to carry the banner of equal parenting. What could be more family-friendly than involved fathers? Given that children do so much better with two involved parents than just one, and given all the benefits to everyone conferred by equal parenting post-divorce, equal parenting bills are a natural fit for conservatives, right? And when we consider that, with the improvements in child well-being brought about by equal parenting, huge amounts of government money would be saved and government intrusion into family life by the likes of CPS would be minimized, surely conservatives are rushing to support equal parenting.

Nope. Instead of doing what makes sense for the welfare of the country and what’s fits with their respective political ideologies, both liberals and conservatives perversely find common ground in their opposition to equal parenting legislation.

So it’s no surprise that the conservative American Enterprise Institute should run this article that, for the most part is as incurious about its chosen topic as the usual fish wrap offered up by the New York Times (AEI, 8/5/14).

The article is an interview about single-motherhood and poverty. It’s a good topic, so it’s too bad both the interviewer and the interviewee, Aparna Mathur, managed to utterly miss some of the most important aspects of it. The article, a reprint from a website called MadameNoire, doesn’t beat around the bush. The first question is “So why are single mothers more likely to be poor?”

Now, there are some obvious and important answers to that question. For example, single mothers are more likely to be poor because they’re single. Two adults can earn more money than one, which goes a long way toward explaining the high poverty rate for mothers without partners. But Mathur ignores that obvious but important point. One way for women to avoid poverty, perhaps the best way, is to not have children if the prospective father doesn’t look like a good bet.

Of course women can’t always look at a man and know who he is or will be to anything like a certainty. Hey, people can surprise you. But the facts are that, in an age of contraception that’s unparalleled in its effectiveness and cheapness, women are choosing to have children out of wedlock. Some 41% of kids are born outside of marriage, and there’s essentially no reason why women should allow that to happen. The inescapable conclusion is that they see marriage as optional and, in fact, that’s what numerous surveys of their attitudes about children and marriage demonstrate.

Of course, single motherhood doesn’t come about solely by non-marital childbearing; many single mothers were once married. But 70% of divorces are filed by mothers, so if it’s not the decision to have kids without a husband, it’s the decision to remove the father through divorce. Either way, the result is often the same — no father, no father’s income and seriously straitened circumstances for Mom.

Among many other reasonable and reasonably inexpensive solutions to the problem of single motherhood would be to educate children from a young age that two parents are necessary for having a child. If you’re not sure about whether you want a child, if you’re not sure if your partner does, if your circumstances may not support a child, don’t have a child. There are too many ways to prevent it to simply stumble into parenthood.

And girls should be taught that, just because your methods of contraception can be used or not without your partner’s knowledge doesn’t mean you’re entitled to dupe him into fatherhood. In one study of women in two Washington State community colleges, an astonishing 33% said they’d lied to their partner about being on the pill in order to become pregnant and rope him into fatherhood. A more recent British study found 41% of women saying they’d do the same thing. Manipulating a man into fatherhood when he may not be ready to take on the burden is a short route to single motherhood.

As important an omission in the interview is any mention of single fathers. Reading it, you’d be justified in concluding that there are none. But in fact, there’s a large pool of fathers caring for their children without Mom’s help and comparing them to similarly situated mothers would have suggested a lot about the problems faced by single mothers. But the Mathur wants readers to conclude that the simple facts of single parenthood make low earnings inevitable.

More than 80 percent of married mothers have jobs but only 60 percent of single-mothers have full-time jobs. One possible reason for this is that single moms have to raise their children alone and bear the costs of child care by themselves. As a result, they often choose jobs with non-standard schedules. These kinds of work schedules are associated with lower earnings and fewer promotions, since employers do not find it in their interest to invest in training these workers.

...Our analysis using data from the Current Population Survey shows that for [married and single] women without children, the difference in incomes in 2012 was a meager $857. However, for married and single mothers, the difference was $19,000 — which is pretty striking.

Notice that she’s happy to compare married and unmarried mothers, but not once does she compare unmarried mothers and unmarried fathers. When we do so, a lot of her preferred conclusions go out the door.

The United States Bureau of the Census tells us that the median earnings for single mothers with child custody is about $23,000, while that of single custodial fathers is over 50% higher at about $36,000. Both sets of parents face the same difficulties in, at the same time, working, earning and raising children. So why the astonishing difference in earnings?

It’s hard to pin down a single factor, but on the whole, women do less paid work than do men and when they do work, they tend to work at lower-paying jobs. Now, in the aggregate, those two factors make up about 18 — 20% of the wage gap between men and women. But there’s a 56% wage gap between single moms and single dads with custody of children. How to explain it?

If there are data that provide the explanation, I certainly don’t know about it, but one possibility has been suggested to me. It may be that comparing single custodial mothers to their male counterparts is a matter of apples to oranges. Might it be that, the very fact of those fathers having custody indicated that they are head and shoulders better parents than the mothers? And therefore might they also be better earners? That is, we know that family courts give custody to mothers more or less as a matter of course. So maybe the population of fathers with custody are uniquely well-qualified and therefore likely to be better earners.

It’s an interesting idea for investigation, and I hope someone does. But my counterpoint is that the opposite may explain paternal custody. It may be that, far from the fathers being uniquely well-qualified to have custody, the mothers may be particularly unqualified to do so. Might we see among those couples in which Dad ended up with the kids, a large percentage of mothers with drug or alcohol abuse problems, criminal records, child abuse or neglect findings, etc.? And might we also see fathers who are pretty much run of the mill? I’d say it’s as least as good a bet as the former theory.

What we know for a certainty is that single mothers aren’t poor because of a lack of child support. Non-custodial fathers are about twice as likely to be ordered to pay support as are non-custodial mothers and, even when the mothers are ordered to pay, the order is for a lower amount and they pay a smaller percentage of it. So the earnings gap between single mothers with custody and single fathers with custody is not explained in any way by child support differentials.

Do I have to say that none of this passed the lips of Aparna Mathur? No, by carefully avoiding any mention of — much less comparison to — single dads with custody, she manages to make the trials and tribulations of single parenthood appear to be something only mothers experience. In short, the AEI piece is one of special pleading on behalf of single mothers. I’d expect that of the New York Times, but apparently the liberal and conservative media agree — fathers needn’t merit a mention.

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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