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December 20, 2019 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

Dr. Brad Wilcox is not happy (IFStudies, 12/12/19).  And I’m with him all the way.

On December 9, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Dr. Cristina Cross entitled “The Myth of the Two-Parent Home,” that sought to convince readers that growing up without a father isn’t as important a detriment for black kids as for whites.  Of course the idea that fatherlessness is a problem for kids is far from a “myth.”  Indeed, it’s one of the most persistent findings in all of the literature of social science.

Even Cross admitted that fatherlessness is an important problem to all fatherless children, but still tried to downplay its importance in educational attainment.  I wrote about her piece here.  Now it’s Wilcox’s turn.  He doesn’t mince words.

For those who doubt that family structure denialism is a thing on the Left, one need only open the pages of The New York Times this week for yet another effort “to minimize or deny the importance of marriage and family structure.”…

[O]ne need only look at the literature to see that the article amounts to a particularly egregious exercise in cherry-picking, drawing on only two studies to make the argument about family structure and black children. In fact, Cross completely passes over a finding from her own study that showed the link between family structure and college enrollment was not lower for African-Americans.

Was that what it took to get the Times to publish her piece?

Wilcox doesn’t just destroy Cross’ claims, though.  He makes sure that his readers get accurate information that he packages into three categories.

First, for black children, particularly boys, family structure is vital to their well-being.

[MIT economist David Autor, et al] find that disadvantaged boys today are more likely to struggle behaviorally in school (in terms of absences and suspensions) than girls, in part, because boys are more likely to grow up in an unmarried home, which ends up having a disparately negative impact. What’s more: they show that this story applies just as much to black boys as other boys. Autor summed up the work this way: “Boys particularly seem to benefit more from being in a married household or committed household—with the time, attention and income that brings.” 

Second, family structure and wealth have a lot to do with each other, exactly as I pointed out.  When Penn State sociologist John Iceland studied gaps between the races in income and affluence, lo and behold, family structure turned out to be the major factor.

“[T]he effect of family structure grew in importance and became the most significant factor among blacks—not only for poverty, but also for affluence, explaining about a third of the disparity in poverty and affluence in 2015” between blacks and whites. It turns out, then, that the “resources” that are supposed to matter more in accounting for racial inequality among children than family structure per se are themselves often linked to the stability and structure of family life.   

Finally, it turns out that having fathers present in the home not only improves the lives of their own kids, but other kids in the neighborhood.

[A]ccording to new research by Harvard economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues, one of the strongest predictors of a big racial gap in adult income between black and white men traces back to the absence of black fathers in the neighborhood where they grew up.

By contrast, black boys who grew up in neighborhoods with lots of black fathers (and, the study finds, married adults) are much more likely to earn about as much money as white men when they grow up. This study suggests, then, that family structure matters not just for individual households but for whole neighborhoods. 

“That is a pathbreaking finding,” William Julius Wilson, a Harvard sociologist, told The Times. “They’re talking about the presence of fathers in a given census tract.” In other words, more black fathers in the village translates into less racial economic inequality for black men.

It simply boggles the mind.  From the Left, including the Times, we hear a pretty steady stream of invective against income and wealth inequality.  Those are certainly issues that need addressing by the country with the largest per capita and overall GDP in the world.  But wouldn’t you think that, if income and wealth inequality were truly important to the NYT editorial board, they’d be harping on perhaps the most important aspect of those inequalities – fatherless homes?  Wouldn’t they be doing everything they could to reform laws, policies and attitudes that militate against children’s well-being by marginalizing fathers in their lives?  Wouldn’t they notice that a whopping 33% of single-mother households live below the federal poverty line?

And yet, at every turn, they do the opposite.  Cross’ piece is less egregious than many published by the Times, but it’s certainly cut from the same cloth.  It’s as if they’d rather carp about a problem than solve it.  It’s as if they don’t care nearly as much about black children as they do about their own talking points about racism and sexism.  It’s as if they don’t want people to take the well-being of their kids into their own hands by marrying and staying married rather than relying on public spending to take on a problem it has no ability to solve.

But that couldn’t possibly be right.  Could it?

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