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April 2, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Here’s yet another article to which policy makers should pay attention (Wall Street Journal, 3/27/18). It’s by Wendy Wang who’s the Director of Research at the Institute for Family Studies. Her theme is the “success sequence,” by which she means “education, a job, marriage and then kids,” explicitly in that order. She points out that in most of the Asian world, conducting one’s life any other way is an anathema.

Like many Asian parents, my mother stressed the importance of working hard and getting a good education before beginning a family.

Having a child outside marriage never crossed my mind. In the small city where I grew up, it isn’t done. Even today, less than 4% of births in China are out of wedlock, and the same is true in India, Japan and South Korea. For the vast majority of young adults in Asia, the path to success clearly runs through education, work and marriage—in that order. Families, schools, media and society at large all reinforce that message.

That last sentence is important. The success sequence can’t be legislated, it must be learned. To be learned, it must be taught – and taught and taught again. It must be part of the cultural Muzak. Everyone is better off if we follow Wang’s mother’s advice. Single-parent child-bearing is a bad idea, mostly for children but also for adults and society generally. The data on poverty alone should convince anyone.

Tracking a cohort of young adults from their teenage years to early adulthood in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox and I recently tested how well the three success sequence “steps” work among the millennial generation. We found that at ages 28 to 34, 53% of millennials who had failed to complete all three steps were poor. The poverty rate dropped to 31% among millennials who completed high school, 16% among those who had a diploma and a full-time job, and 3% for millennials who also put marriage before the baby carriage.

The millennial generation often seems fond of believing that they’re special, that the rules don’t apply to them. They’re wrong, as the above findings demonstrate. Just like everyone else, single parenthood tends strongly to result in poverty. Recall for example that one-third of single mothers live in poverty in the U.S. That’s over twice the overall rate. Having a child out of wedlock has long been considered by some to be “just another lifestyle choice,” but if that’s what it is, it’s a bad one. Single parenthood is hard, exhausting work, with little time to earn the family’s daily bread. Children who grow up in poverty tend to exhibit an array of social and personal dysfunctional behaviors and failings. Children who grow up without a father (or a mother) do as well.

And yet, what’s rightly scorned in the Asian world is defended in the U.S.

But the message isn’t much discussed on this side of the Pacific—and when it is, it’s controversial. Liberals often dismiss it as a right-wing notion. They shouldn’t. Following the success sequence is associated with a much lower chance of being poor and much better odds of realizing the American Dream.

Exactly. As I said not long ago in a post about the liberal Texas Tribune’s article sneering at impoverished fathers in child support court, there was a time when liberals in this country cared about the poor and thought it was a good idea to help them if possible. Apparently that pillar of liberalism has been knocked down and carted away. Nowadays, liberals seem incapable of admitting that, in Barbara Dafoe Whitehead’s timeless iteration, “Dan Quayle Was Right.” In no way can single motherhood be defended as a lifestyle choice as valid as any other. And yet, the very idea of challenging that twisted orthodoxy is met with the type of scorn only the ignorant can muster.

In regression models that predict the odds of being in poverty after controlling for a range of background factors—including intelligence, childhood family income, race and ethnicity—the probability of ending up poor was reduced by 60% for millennials who married before having children and by about 90% for millennials who followed all steps of the sequence compared with those who missed all three.

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Single parenthood emerges as a bad idea across all boundaries of intelligence, class, income, race and ethnicity. And yet policy makers, opinion makers, pop culture, schools and countless others who should know better, who should be leading us in the right direction, have utterly failed to point out what Wendy Wang’s mother and Asian culture generally know to be true – the success sequence is good for individuals and for society. Like it or not, that’s the truth.

At this point of course, it’s time for me to remind Wang that, for fathers particularly, the “marriage” part of the success sequence can look like a bad bet. Marriage is great as long as yours lasts, but if it doesn’t, men stand to lose so much that the prospect of marrying often doesn’t look worth the potential cost. We’ve so incentivized mothers to divorce that, unsurprisingly, many do. We offer them the custody of their children, sometimes hefty cash payments that can last for decades, at least half the family’s assets including the family home. Combine all that with no-fault divorce and it’s no surprise that 70% of divorces are filed by women and that over 40% of marriages end in court.

So yes, Wang is correct. Young adults should follow the success sequence and society should inculcate it from children’s earliest ages. But all that exhortation may be futile if we maintain a system of divorce and child custody that strongly urge the financial and psychological destruction of men and fathers. We have to make marriage less of a minefield for men in order for them to buy into the proposition that Wang so rightly makes.

 

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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:

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#marriage, #poverty, #singlemotherhood

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