The Great Single-Mother Revolution

5 Jun

Notes from an excellent op-ed piece by Kay Hymowitz in City Journal.  See the full piece at:  http://www.city-journal.org/2012/22_2_family-breakdown.html   [Bolding is mine.]

” . . . . you can’t grasp what’s happening at the lower end of the income scale without talking about family breakdown. In fact, the single-mother revolution, as I’ll call it, takes us a long way toward understanding the socioeconomic problems on everyone’s mind these days: poverty, inequality, and the inability of those at the bottom to move up. . . .

“Defenders of the single-mother revolution often describe it as empowering for women, who can now free themselves from unhappy unions and live independent lives. That’s one way to look at it. Another is that it has been an economic catastrophe for those women. Poverty remains relatively rare among married couples with children; the U.S. Census puts only 8.8 percent of them in that category, up from 6.7 percent since the start of the Great Recession. But over 40 percent of single-mother families are poor, up from 37 percent before the downturn. In the bottom quintile of earnings, most households are single people, many of them elderly. But of the two-fifths of bottom-quintile households that are families, 83 percent are headed by single mothers. The Brookings Institute’s Isabel Sawhill calculates that virtually all the increase in child poverty in the United States since the 1970s would vanish if parents still married at 1970 rates. . . .

“Women and their children weren’t the only ones to suffer the economic consequences of the single-mother revolution; low-earning men have lost ground, too. Knowing that women are now expected to be able to raise children on their own, unskilled men lose much of the incentive to work, especially at the sometimes disagreeable jobs that tend to be the ones they can get. . . .

“. . . . the Pew Economic Mobility Project reports, 42 percent of American children whose parents had earnings in the bottom quintile end up there as adults, a significantly higher percentage of immobility than one finds in Canada and much of Europe. . . .  

“On the other side of the tracks, parents in the upper income quintiles were able to accommodate both their child-rearing and marital habits to the new economic realities. College-educated mothers were never full participants in the single-mother revolution. Though many are reluctant to say it aloud, they still tend to see children and marriage as a package deal. They’re almost always married before they have children, and their divorce rate has been falling since the 1980s. Not only do college-educated mothers themselves make more money than their less educated counterparts; they generally have a joint bank account, too. . . .

 “So the single-mother revolution has left us with the following reality. At the top of the social order is a positive feedback loop, with kids raised in stable, high-investment, and relatively affluent homes going to college, finding similar mates, and raising their own children in stable, high-investment, and relatively affluent homes. At the bottom is a negative feedback loop, with kids raised by single mothers in unstable, low-investment homes finding themselves unable to adapt to today’s economy and going on to create more unstable, single-mother homes.

Not only do we have more poverty, inequality, and immobility; we have the makings of a caste society, with an inherited elite and an entrenched proletariat. That’s not an America that anyone finds very attractive.

“Kay S. Hymowitz is a contributing editor of City Journal, the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of Marriage and Caste in America.”

There is all kinds of greater detail in the original article.  I thought this gave a good flavor.

Further thoughts?

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