June 26, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The evidence against single-parent families continues to build. It’s not as if we didn’t know its pernicious effects. We do. We have for close to 50 years at least. In the meantime, we’ve seen the decline of African-American culture coming in lockstep with the break-up of the black family. And in what must rank as perhaps the single most destructive trend in American history, white America followed suit.
As I’ve said many times, one of the worst deficits occasioned by the decline in dual-parent families has come in education. By now everyone is aware that boys have fallen behind girls, essentially from the start and, by the time they reach college age, the difference in male and female college enrollment is 14 percentage points. Although I suspect it’s starting to change, it’s still true that a college education tends to be a prerequisite for more than subsistence earnings. So young men who don’t graduate from college tend to find themselves in for a life of low pay, improbable advancement, low savings and a difficult retirement.
This article by Mona Charen hits some of the high spots (National Review, 6/24/16). A piece I’ll post tomorrow fleshes out her thesis. Charen’s is aptly entitled “Labor Force Participation is Declining Because the Family has Declined.” She’s right. And she’s equally right to condemn the Obama Administration’s boilerplate response, which is to say, no effective response at all.
The president’s economists are identifying the worrying trends in non-work among lesser-educated men. These findings follow other scholarly work such as that by Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case, who published a paper last fall showing that death rates among white, middle-aged Americans with high-school educations have increased over the past 15 years, while the death rates for other ethnic groups have declined. Alcohol and drug poisoning lead the causes…
What the CEA does not grapple with is the fact that while men’s employment and wages have been declining, women’s have been increasing. Women’s labor-force-participation rates have declined since 2001, but not nearly as much as men’s. As David Autor and Melanie Wasserman of MIT have shown, women at every level of education except high-school dropouts have seen their wages rise since 1979. But men in every category except college graduates have lost ground.
So, men’s wages are declining on average while women’s are increasing. That of course is due in part to the fact that women’s started out lower than men’s. Also, the increase in labor force participation by women that’s been occurring for decades inevitably depressed men’s wages. But that doesn’t explain the decreased participation in the labor force by men.
It’s likely that the decline in brawny jobs due to automation has hurt men more than women. But these trends have been very long term and don’t explain why men have not been as adept as women in adjusting to changes in the jobs landscape. It also does not explain why women are outpacing men at every level of education from high-school graduation on up. This is new.
Well, not that new. Women bypassed men in college enrollment in the early 80s, so that trend at least is over 30 years old. I mention this to illustrate how loath is this society to notice, much less come to grips with, problems when they primarily affect men.
That said, what does explain men’s declining participation rate in the labor force and declining educational achievement?
In Wayward Sons, Autor and Wasserman, unlike the president’s CEA, have looked beyond the usual explanations (de-unionization, globalization, automation, immigration) for what ails American men and examined the biggest change of the past 50 years — family life. While growing up in single-parent homes handicaps both girls and boys, it’s more devastating for boys. They lag in school, are less ambitious, and are less likely to be gainfully employed when they reach adulthood. A significant number also commit crimes and wind up in prison.
Why is growing up with a single parent more problematical for boys than girls? It’s a thorny issue, but some researchers have suggested that single mothers are more likely to pay less attention to their sons than their daughters. That includes reading to their children at early ages, a behavior that’s strongly associated with academic achievement later on. Of course the overwhelming majority of single parents are mothers.
And here’s the kicker:
With more young men failing to thrive, the pool of marriageable men for young women to consider thus becomes smaller, and the pattern of women raising children without fathers is repeated in a pernicious spiral.
And that, my friends, is how the breakdown of the family, so enthusiastically promoted by laws, courts, the news media and popular culture, produces the breakdown of productive society. We marginalize our men at our peril. “He who troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” That’s exactly what we’re doing, and the fact that the political system is happy to ignore the problem bodes ill for its solution any time soon.
Unsurprisingly, the CEA offers Democratic boilerplate: infrastructure-spending projects, expanding paid family leave, increasing the minimum wage, and reforming the criminal-justice system.
Those may or may not be worthwhile projects, but they’ll do nothing to address the core problem. Infrastructure spending projects don’t benefit men who aren’t looking for work any more than increasing the minimum wage would. Expanding family leave doesn’t touch fathers who don’t have jobs. That response, as Charen implies, is yet another dodge by the Obama Administration. It’s as much as to say, “We’re not going to do anything to bolster families and therefore men and boys. Period.”
Charen knows better:
There is no silver bullet for a problem as complex as the fading fortunes of men. But every proposal should start with the question: Will this discourage or encourage family formation and stability? That clearly is key for men’s well being — which in turn affects women, and the next generation.
It’s not a “silver bullet,” but shared parenting is the closest thing to one. It would strike at the heart of so many of our most pernicious national problems. But for almost eight years, President Obama has seen fit to offer platitudes and male-bashing in lieu of real strategies for fixing the American family. To my mind, that is surely his greatest failure as president.
Meanwhile, Charen’s question “will this discourage or encourage family formation and stability?” is an excellent one. It applies to divorce law, child support law, alimony law, adoption law and a host of other rules, regulations and practices that currently discourage marriage and encourage divorce. When will a president listen and make Charen’s question a centerpiece of public policy?
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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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