Hymowitz avoids framing the matter at hand as one of intelligence. That is purely my definition of what it at stake. She (I'm presuming "Kay" is a "she") opens with:
She continues with a look at the conventional wisdoms in play to explain what seems somewhat obvious to many of us but then things begin to get interesting:
For a while it looked like Hurricane Katrina would accomplish what the NAACP never could: reviving civil rights liberalism as a major force in American politics. There it was for the whole world to see: the United States was two nations, one rich, one poor and largely black, one driving away in the family SUV to sleep in the snug guest rooms of suburban friends and relatives, the other sunk in the fetid misery of the Superdome. Newsweek, echoing Michael Harrington’s 1962 landmark book that ignited the War on Poverty, titled its Katrina coverage “The Other America” and warned the nation not to return to the “old evasions, hypocrisies, and not-so-benign neglect” of the “problems of poverty, race, and class.”
Though that liberalism revival only lasted for about five minutes, the post-Katrina insight was correct. There are millions of poor Americans, living not just in down-on-your-luck hardship but in entrenched, multigenerational poverty. There is growing inequality between the haves and the have-nots. And there are reasons to worry whether the American dream is within the reach of all.
But what two-America talk doesn’t get is just how much these ominous trends are entangled with the collapse of the nuclear family. While Americans have been squabbling about gay marriage, they have managed to miss the real marriage-and-social-justice issue, one that affects far more people and threatens to undermine the American project. We are now a nation of separate and unequal families not only living separate and unequal lives but, more worrisome, destined for separate and unequal futures.
That picture turns out to be as equivocal as an Escher lithograph, however. As the massive social upheaval following the 1960s—what Francis Fukuyama has termed “the Great Disruption”—has settled into the new normal, social scientists are finding out that when it comes to the family, America really has become two nations. The old-fashioned married-couple-with-children model is doing quite well among college-educated women. It is primarily among lower-income women with only a high school education that it is in poor health.Hymowitz goes on to present the data that recent studies are publishing. She takes us from 1960 to today, exploring how increases in children born to, and raised by, single mothers of three different educational levels (college degree and above, HS grad and some college, and HS dropouts) all rose to similar relative degrees until:
But around 1980, the family-forming habits of college grads and uneducated women went their separate ways. For the next decade the proportion of college-educated moms filing for divorce stopped increasing, and by 1990 it actually starting going down. This was not the case for the least educated mothers, who continued on a divorce spree for another ten years. It was only in 1990 that their increase in divorce also started to slow and by 2000 to decline, though it was too late to close the considerable gap between them and their more privileged sisters.
Far more dramatic were the divergent trends in what was still known at the time as illegitimacy. Yes, out-of-wedlock childbearing among women with college diplomas tripled, but because their numbers started at Virtually Nonexistent in 1960 (a fraction of 1 percent), they only moved up to Minuscule in 1980 (a little under 3 percent of mothers in the top third of education distribution) to end up at a Rare 4 percent.
Things were radically different for mothers in the lower two educational levels. They decided that marriage and children were two entirely unconnected life experiences. That decline in their divorce rate after 1990? Well, it turns out the reason for it wasn’t that these women had thought better of putting their children through a parental breakup, as many of their more educated sisters had; it was that they weren’t getting married in the first place. Throughout the 1980s and nineties, the out-of-wedlock birthrate soared to about 15 percent among mothers with less than a high school education and 10 percent of those with a high school diploma or with some college.
She goes on to explore some of the CWs and assumptions that are prevalent regarding the causes for this divergence and explores the numbers. You may not have seen the numbers but you've heard the CWs and assumptions.
Hymowitz then begins to close in on her target:
When Americans began their family revolution four decades ago, they didn’t tend to talk very much about its effect on children. That oversight now haunts the country, as it becomes increasingly clear that the Marriage Gap results in a yawning social divide. If you want to discuss why childhood poverty numbers have remained stubbornly high through the years that the nation was aggressively trying to lower them, begin with the Marriage Gap.Again we get some stats and CW about marriage, economic wellbeing, and children. But the target is in her crosshairs and she isn't about to let it get away:
All this makes depressing sense, but when you think about it, the Marriage Gap itself presents a puzzle. Why would women working for a pittance at the supermarket cash registers decide to have children without getting married, while women writing briefs at Debevoise & Plimpton, who could easily afford to go it alone, insist on finding husbands before they start families?More stats, CWs, assumptions... but the sights are steadying, the breathing becoming quiet and controlled, the trigger finger sensitized... Some attention to surrounding details is paid, range safety examined, positions of CWs and assumptions fixed and noted... rules of engagement reviewed...
Educated, middle-class mothers tend to be dedicated to what I have called The Mission, the careful nurturing of their children’s cognitive, emotional, and social development, which, if all goes according to plan, will lead to the honor roll and a spot on the high school debate team, which will in turn lead to a good college, then perhaps a graduate or professional degree, which will all lead eventually to a fulfilling career, a big house in a posh suburb, and a sense of meaningful accomplishment.Time is not an issue... the target is not a fast moving one... review... review... rules of engagement... be sure of a righteous kill... no stone unturned...
Scan the surroundings one more time... Those CWs and assumptions and expert opinions are everywhere...
To repeat the question: Why do educated women marry before they have children? Because, like high-status women since status began, they are preparing their offspring to carry on their way of life. Marriage radically increases their chances of doing that.
This all points to a deeply worrying conclusion: the Marriage Gap—and the inequality to which it is tied—is self-perpetuating. A low-income single mother, unprepared to carry out The Mission, is more likely to raise children who will become low-income single parents, who will pass that legacy on to their children, and so on down the line. Married parents are more likely to be visiting their married children and their grandchildren in their comfortable suburban homes, and those married children will in turn be sending their offspring off to good colleges, superior jobs, and wedding parties. Instead of an opportunity-rich country for all, the Marriage Gap threatens us with a rigid caste society.
So what is it about the nuclear family that makes it work so well for children decades after Americans have declared it optional?
But this theory finally doesn’t explain all that much. If two parents are what make a difference, then why, when a divorced mother remarries, do her children’s outcomes resemble those of children from single-parent homes more than they do those from intact families? Why do they have, on average, lower school grades, more behavior problems, and lower levels of psychological well-being—even when a stepparent improves their economic standard of living?...
You could posit that children in stepfamilies may well have suffered through their parents’ divorce or have had a difficult spell in a single-parent home...
Others take an alternative approach to the question of why children growing up with their own two married parents do better than children growing up without their fathers. It’s not marriage that makes the difference for kids, they argue; it’s the kind of people who marry...
The problem with this theory is that it merely tiptoes up to the obvious. There is something fundamentally different about low-income single mothers and their educated married sisters. But a key part of that difference is that educated women still believe in marriage as an institution for raising children. What is missing in all the ocean of research related to the Marriage Gap is any recognition that this assumption is itself an invaluable piece of cultural and psychological capital—and not just because it makes it more likely that children will grow up with a dad in the house. As society’s bulwark social institution, traditional marriage—that is, childbearing within marriage—orders social life in ways that we only dimly understand.
All that remains is to dress the kill. Ms. Hymowitz does that for us. Nice shot, Kay.