At the end of a meandering piece on single mothers in the Daily Beast, Amanda Marcotte writes:
There’s no reason to believe that simply putting a ring on it will make the real issues that women face—economic instability, lack of child care, lack of health care—any less pressing. Couples who are currently raising children together without being married, who register as “single mothers” in the data, aren’t going to suddenly get better jobs because they get married.
Actually, they are. Married men make more money than single men and divorced men. I can think of two big reasons why:
- Partnership with his wife allows specialization of tasks and increased efficiency. He spends less time shopping and cooking and more time at work.
- Responsibility is motivating. Nothing focuses a man’s creative energies like a wife and child depending on him to provide.
At any rate, who advocates simply “putting a ring on it”? There’s more to marriage than a ring and a certificate. It’s about trust and commitment.
All this focus on single motherhood distracts from the real issues that are creating problems for children, especially the children who live in the economic circumstances that produce more women labeled “single” regardless of their actual living situation on surveys. More than having a legally recognized husband the moment they give birth, women need health care, child care, equal pay, and a society that pays workers a decent wage instead of constantly shifting more wealth to the top 1 percent. If they have all these things, the rate of marriage at birth will probably go up as a result, but make no mistake, that too will be a symptom and not the cause of a more just society.
Classic utopianism. Improve the social safety net and everything will be hunky-dory. But in which one of these areas—healthcare, childcare, women’s wages, and wages in general—has there not been improvement in the last 50 years? None. The only decline we have seen in that time has been in marriage.
These stated “needs” are merely materialist expressions of angst at the state of our broken souls, of our broken marriage culture. A majority of us get by on incomes that fall short of what we imagine is necessary to lead comfortable lives. Yet we get by. How? Our greatest want, the desire for family, friendship, and community, isn’t satisfied by more take-home pay. It’s satisfied by the love and company of others, sharing whatever it is we have, whether prosperity or hardship.
If marriage provides a little more material security, that is a bonus. What it really does is ensure the consuming tasks of childrearing and child support don’t fall on the mother, burdened by her sex to be the presumed primary caregiver.
When Marcotte cites Jennifer Silva’s observation that nine of ten college-educated women wait until marriage to have children, as opposed to six of ten high school-educated women, she attributes the disparity to marriage being an institution biased towards the well-off. This flies in the face of high marriage rates across all classes in the past, as documented by Charles Murray in Coming Apart. All classes have seen a decline in marriage rates since the ’60s, but the middle and lower classes have suffered the largest declines.
If class was not determinative of marriage rates in the past, why is class determinative now? That is the question Silva and her acolytes like Marcotte don’t ask. If they did, they would discover the culprit is liberal policy prescriptions, which discourage marriage. Here are three examples how:
- The explosion of the entitlement state coincides with the implosion of the marriage rate. In 1960, Nicholas Eberstadt notes, less than a third of federal spending was on entitlements. Today, entitlements represent two-thirds of the budget. Why should a man or woman seek lifelong partnership in the other sex when the state stands ready to provide? Some men and women nobly reject the bargain, but it’s a tempting option good people are better off not having.
- Workplace regulations, environmental laws, Obamacare, and a host of other big government social engineering projects have priced many men out of the labor market and/or reduced hours and wages, crippling their ability to be the providers their nature compels them to be.
- The sexual constitution has been ripped apart by unfettered access to contraceptives and abortion. Women are less discriminating in their choice of sexual partners, deluded by the myth of consequence-free sex. Men, freed from women’s expectations, pursue their boyhood fantasies of immediate gratification well into adulthood, putting off marriage.
There is no “war on single mothers” in stating the obvious preference for children to be raised in a marriage of both their parents. That arrangement is better for men, better for women, and better for children. Single mothers make the most of a hard situation, and many of them are heroes. But let’s not pretend they want the same for their own daughters.