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Weekly Digest: Facing Reality on Single Parenthood
The mother of all income redistribution programs
Welcome to my weekly digest for September 29, 2023, with the best articles from around the web and a roundup of my recent writings and appearances.
Facing Reality on Single Parenthood
The Atlantic has an article out called “Is Single Parenthood the Problem?.” Unfortunately for the author’s politics, the answer is Yes. The piece takes a look at some of the grim findings from the new book The Two-Parent Privilege, much of which I’ve posted in the past. But it ends with this whopper.
The real elephant in the room, I think, is that the United States doesn’t want to contemplate, let alone create, a policy infrastructure that supports single parenthood. It doesn’t want to make sure that kids thrive with a single earner in the home. It won’t do this even though it seems obvious that a large share of children are going to grow up with one parent going forward, and even though we aren’t realistically going to increase the marriage rate among lower-income Americans. We don’t want to build a society where children are seen as a collective gift and a collective responsibility. It’s not single parenthood that’s failing these kids. We all are.
How, precisely, are we supposed to create this “policy infrastructure”? Undoubtedly her prescription would involve unbelievably massive amounts of income redistribution. This is explicitly what Rebecca Traister calls for in a New York magazine piece critical of pro-marriage rhetoric and policy.
In addition to being regressive, telling people to get married — as both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations did through billion-dollar marriage-education programs — doesn’t even work. But the kinds of benefits that can be legislated and would help to address the crises of contentment and inequality — expanding social safety nets, strengthening labor laws, changing our tax code, overhauling housing policies, making education affordable, passing paid leave and child care, reimagining the criminal-justice system, restoring reproductive autonomy — all of that … it’s a daunting prescription. And, of course, it’s completely at odds with the conservative agenda, which is to revert this country’s power structure to what it was before the upheavals of the mid-20th century.
The idea seems to be that not only should people have unlimited autonomy and social approval to choose single parenthood, but that they are entitled to have everybody else underwrite their decision.
The United States has the highest percentage of kids living in single parent homes in the entire world. Economist Raj Chetty found that the top correlate of low socio-economic upward mobility in neighborhoods is the share of single parent households. Yes, there’s no doubt a lot of people are in single parent households and we have to do what we can to help those kids. But anyone who is not willing to take real steps to reduce this going forward is simply not serious about solving our social dysfunctions.
Relatedly, Richard Reeves has argued for redefining fatherhood to separate it from marriage. Leah Libresco Sargeant took issue with this, writing that “Father” Is Not a Part-Time Job. Reeves penned his own response to that.
Again, there are already so many children who don’t have their father at home that some type of reconceptualizing the role for them is necessary to deal with the situation we find ourselves in. At the same time, these things have a tendency to undermine the normal and better case. We need to make sure that going forward we are reducing the share of single parent households.
Best of the Web
The American Conservative: In Wisconsin, a Fresh Bipartisan Assault on Marriage - Apparently Wisconsin is considering legislation that allows any marriage less than one year in length and without children to be legally annulled.
The Worthy House: A review of Peachy Keenan’s Domestic Extremist: A Practical Guide to Winning the Culture War - Note that the title is a play on words, with domestic referring to the household realm.
Financial Times: Are we destined for a zero-sum future?
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New Content and Media Mentions
I was quoted in a Time magazine piece about why women don’t propose to men.
Jake Meador also had another long post at Mere Orthodoxy engaging on the topic of what renewed mainline Protestantism for the 21st century might look like. There’s more good thoughts in this installment.
My podcast this week was with very special guest Sen. Marco Rubio.
Ordinarily transcripts are for paid subscribers only, but for this special interview, anyone can read it.
New this week:
Patterns of Evangelical Rhetoric (paid only) - An example of an evangelical variation on the motte-and-bailey tactic.
The End of Moral Standards - Why affairs and other such indiscretions no longer much matter even in GOP-land.
American Reformer has started a series publishing Revolutionary War era sermons, along with an introduction. This week is one from Jonathan Todd on civil rulers as ministers of God for the good of men.
Someone tweeted this video of a man climbing out of an eighth story window in order to rescue a three year old girl hanging from the ledge above. This incident occurred last year in Kazakhstan. The girl had been left home alone and climbed out of the window.
Cover image credit: M2545/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0