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November 17, 2006

Leave "Leave It To Beaver" To Beaver

To momentarily take a breath from the election's aftermath and zoom back to the long view, there's some interesting research out of the Brookings-Princeton project "The Future of Children" on the impact of culture on poverty transmission.

In short, conservatives have two ideas on poverty. The first is that people should work. That was achieved in the 1996 welfare reform. The second is that they should get married. Post-welfare reform, that's been their focus. Nothing, they claim, is nearly so critical as marriage. So Charles Murray now preaches the gospel of Leave It To Beaver. The approach is a particularly elegant form of pandering: It denies the need for government action, reifies the Christian obsession with marriage, and insinuates that the poverty of poor blacks can be blamed on their insufficiently virtuous family structures. In other words, it's their fault.

Problem is, the evidence doesn't support the claims. There's plenty of data proving a correlation between marriage rates and better situations for children, but precious little proving it an effective bulwark against intergenerational poverty. Poverty isn't primarily intergenerational. Poor kids don't generally grow up into poor adults. And poor adults don't generally start as poor kids. It's a problem epidemiologists often face: When evaluating a condition's spread, a small group at high-risk may not be nearly so important as a large group at small risk. And that's the case here.

According to the National Education Longitudinal Study, eight-graders living apart from their biological fathers have an expected poverty rate of 16.6%. Those in an intact family have an expected family rate of 9.9 percent. Problem is, that latter group is almost three times as large as the former one. As such, a deeply generous estimate -- one that assumes all fathers are, so to speak, equal, and single-parent families aren't that way for a damn good reason -- suggests that eliminating single-parent families would lower poverty by a mere 16%. As such, marriage promotion, while a possible part of an eventual war on poverty, is totally insufficient. It's just not enough. The authors conclude that "to reduce poverty among future generations, there may be no substitute for a system of social insurance and income transfers." No, there probably isn't.

In a future post, I'll go through some of the study's other conclusions, including a troublesome one for liberals -- that economic integration achieved by moving poor families to richer areas does not, in fact, substantially improve outcomes for children. It's all depressing stuff. A behavior or environmental silver bullet would be nice, but such clean solutions have impacts commensurate with their simplicity.

November 17, 2006 in Inequality, Social Mobility | Permalink

Comments

As such, marriage promotion, while a possible part of an eventual war on poverty, is totally insufficient. It's just not enough.

I agree. However, the correlaton does suggest that we should promote marriage in the interests of fighting poverty. If the larger group (married 9.9%) trended toward single status (16%), poverty would be overwhleming.

In this argument, there is no pragmatic reason not to promote marriage.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2006 12:30:20 PM

Fred forgets or ignores that half of all marriages end in divorce, which surely is harder on a young person (as well as the adults) than being raised in a single-adult-provider situation. So let's weigh the effects of broken homes through divorce (or violent, divisive, but intact marriages) against other alternatives.

And, since gays/lesbians can't marry, but do become quite suitable parents for children (the evidence on this is on the overwhelming end of the acceptably/overwhelmingly positive spectrum), apparently marriage isn't a cure-all, or even (given the failed marriages) something that should be adopted as a public policy 'solution' without more evidence than simple assertion.

Poverty is not good for kids. Poverty is the lack of sufficient funds in the family unit to live a normal life, including sufficient nutrition and adequate space to live in.

Why not attack the problem directly - lack of money - instead of single-mindedly advocating an indirect solution?

Ideology without a factual underpinning is dangerous - to kids and to society.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Nov 17, 2006 12:51:42 PM

such clean solutions have impacts commensurate with their simplicity

I don't know. A guaranteed minimum income sounds pretty simple and pretty effective to me.

Posted by: Christopher M | Nov 17, 2006 1:53:54 PM

"economic integration achieved by moving poor families to richer areas does not, in fact, substantially improve outcomes for children."

However, there's probably some positive effects on the rich families. Exposure to poor people might help build a political consensus for actions that tend to help them, or at any rate certainly won't hurt people. (see Publius' comments on this here and

Posted by: Dan Miller | Nov 17, 2006 1:55:43 PM

Jimmy in Portland ignores the fact that most of those who divorce also remarry.

And, since gays/lesbians can't marry, but do become quite suitable parents for children (the evidence on this is on the overwhelming end of the acceptably/overwhelmingly positive spectrum)

Depends on how you define suitable parents. The big issue is that children learn that the homosexual is somehow a normal and desirable standard. If it wewre so acceptable/overwhelmingly positive there wouldn't be the stiff resistance against homo adoption.

What's most interesting of all in Jimmy's response is the expected rail against marriage. I believe it, like Christianity, blocks much of the radical left's social agenda and for *that* reason, people like Jimmy will go out of their way, in every post, to find some reason why marriage is teh evil.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2006 2:38:04 PM

The big issue is that children learn that the homosexual is somehow a normal and desirable standard.

That's a good thing.

If it wewre so acceptable/overwhelmingly positive there wouldn't be the stiff resistance against homo adoption.

You're confusing unfounded prejudice with what's desirable. Really, Fred, the analogies to race prejudice are much stronger than you think.

I agree with you that promoting marriage can be a good thing, but the means are tricky. Not sure they're effective. Maybe some effective means can be discovered.

Posted by: Sanpete | Nov 17, 2006 3:02:05 PM

That's a good thing.

Why is that a good thing?

Perhaps there are some other behavioral anomalies that you would like to champion at the risk of experimenting on the culture?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2006 3:18:13 PM

Fred, why are you so sure the behavioral anomaly is not discriminating against people for whom they love.

Posted by: BillCross | Nov 17, 2006 3:46:22 PM

Is it me or does this seem like The Header With The Most Unfortunate Implications?

Posted by: weboy | Nov 17, 2006 4:25:17 PM

Fred, why are you so sure the behavioral anomaly is not discriminating against people for whom they love.

You may be right! And all of those other groups that I didn't think qualified for marriage such as brother and sister or mother and son.....I must be discriminating also against those people in love....

Love conquers all, doesn't it?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2006 4:45:43 PM

Why is that a good thing?

Perhaps there are some other behavioral anomalies that you would like to champion at the risk of experimenting on the culture?

It's a good thing because this is an area in which we'll all be better off with more acceptance and tolerance. That doesn't mean that everything should be tolerated. But some things, including different sexual orientation and race, should be.

Your comment about incestuous marriage seems to imply you don't see the crucial disanalogy between prohibiting it and discriminating against gays. Maybe not. I hope not.

Posted by: Sanpete | Nov 17, 2006 5:04:33 PM

Yes, this is the time when we ask Freddie-boy for any evidence of harm in society caused by homosexuals raising children or evidence of any connection between the ability to be a parent and sexuality...then we listen to the cricket sounds instead of an argument. No, no...first we will get to here how any of us who don't agree with adult men marrying 12-year-old boys are bigoted.

Posted by: JMack | Nov 17, 2006 5:36:44 PM

I would ask JMack if someone shooting up heroin across town directly affects him and his children. The obvious answer is "no". Same with prostitution. However, most understand that these behaviors have negative indirect effects upon society in general.

AND most people also understand that to mainstream sexual deviants and hold them up as role models also has negative indirect effects.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2006 6:02:30 PM

Shooting heroin or prostituting oneself is harmful to the shooter or prostitute. How is engaging in homosexual sex harmful to anyone?

How are homosexuals deviant? Give a concrete answer.

Posted by: j | Nov 17, 2006 6:13:39 PM

AND most people also understand that to mainstream sexual deviants and hold them up as role models also has negative indirect effects.

The evidence shows that they understand this incorrectly, Fred. Evidence matters; it trumps prejusdice. The evidence for harm from drug use, on the other hand, is quite well established.

Posted by: Sanpete | Nov 17, 2006 6:27:11 PM

Shooting heroin or prostituting oneself is harmful to the shooter or prostitute.

It's a free country and if it didn't harm society as a whole, no one would really care.

How are homosexuals deviant? Give a concrete answer.

You don't know the definition of deviant? Go to a math class or google "outlier".

The evidence shows that they understand this incorrectly, Fred.

Har-har-dee-har-har!!!!

This is the argument that really slays me! The whole world is *stupid* and only Sanpete and the few other radical liberals are correct. How elitist can you get?!!
Here's my position:
I don't have to like you or like what you do to afford you freedom to do as you please. That's the beauty of this country. You can be just as queer as you please .....dance around in fairy wings and women's undewear and a dildoe up your ass for all I care.

I only care about attempts to make legal changes to the age old definition of marriage to suit your problem at the expense of the rest of us.

Now, that wasn't so hard, now was it?


Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2006 9:29:13 PM

I only care about attempts to make legal changes to the age old definition of marriage to suit your problem at the expense of the rest of us.

Fred has never explained how the freedom to marry hurts "the rest of us". It doesn't hurt me at all. Unless of course, Fred is such a very very sad little man that it's intrinsic to his happiness that he knows that gay people don't have the same privileges he does. And that would just be pathological bigotry.

Oh, wait. Fred has repeatedly demonstrated that he's pathologically bigoted. Carry on then.

Posted by: paperwight | Nov 17, 2006 9:44:20 PM

The sad truth is no major political party has embraced queer marriage and that, in itself, shows just how radical and out of the mainstream those who champion it really are. Even the Democrats are not on board....nobody except for the wild-eyed radical left.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 17, 2006 10:19:28 PM

This is the argument that really slays me! The whole world is *stupid* and only Sanpete and the few other radical liberals are correct. How elitist can you get?!!

Your histrionics seem to have distracted you from the point. The science on this is clear enough, and is well accepted as the mainstream of science, not as radical fringe. You may not take science seriously, in which case you have a different problem.

You too easily ignore the fact that the same kinds of arguments you make were made and accepted by the majority of upright Americans in some states about miscegenation laws. You, Fred, would have been the one complaining about the elitism of relying on science to show those arguments were false.

Getting back to the point, the evidence is against you. Your choice is to examine the evidence as others have and learn, or to refuse and remain as you are. Learning from science isn't elitist in any way that will really hurt you.

Posted by: Sanpete | Nov 17, 2006 10:46:44 PM

If you're like me, you'll be surprised to learn the definition of reify. It's from rei, a declension of the Latin res.

Why 'reify' is then used commonly in the sense of 'exalt', I don't know, but I see that usage everywhere.

(Coincidentally, rei is also a Japanese term for a respectful bow.)

Posted by: apantomimehorse | Nov 18, 2006 6:49:33 AM

The Bush malAdministration's promoting marriage between two people in poverty as about as dumb as promoting a merger between two bankrupt airlines.

Posted by: raj | Nov 18, 2006 10:26:23 AM

The thing everybody ignores when they talk about single moms and poverty is that if the fathers of their children were such winners, mom would be married to them.

Gay marriage, plural marriage, non-sexual child rearing partnerships, civil unions, "incestuous" marriages, and all the rest are all just fluffy red herrings, because when the conservatives say "marriage," they mean "mom and dad are married." This is regardless of how big an ass dad is, how many affairs he has had, how much he drinks, how much he beats her, how many times he has vanished for days at a time, how little he works. A substitute man is ok, but only if the kids are willing to call him dad, and mom is willing to bear more children to him.

Posted by: ShortWoman | Nov 18, 2006 3:09:39 PM

Fred is right and wrong all at the same time homosexuality is not normal in the numeric sense but most homosexuals are quite normal in a personal sense.

They share a desire for security, affection, sex and love that heterosexuals do.

It is the implications of the word deviant that I find objectionable. Just because something does not happen often does not mean automatically that it is wrong.


Posted by: ellenbrenna | Nov 18, 2006 3:59:32 PM

There are millions and millions and millions of voters out there just like me. Just look at the last few elections and how many state constitutional amendments passed by referendum.

Here's a question for you. At what point do voters have a right to govern themselves....or do you wish to impose your elistist views upon them aganist their will?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Nov 18, 2006 7:26:37 PM

At what point do voters have a right to govern themselves....or do you wish to impose your elistist views upon them aganist their will?

If you accept the US Constitution, then the answer is obvious. Voters can govern themselves up to the point where they violate constitutional protections. You should know that by now, Fred. This isn't an elitist view. It's Government 101.

Instead of continuing to excuse your ignorance by complaints about elitism, why don't you actually check out the facts relevant to what you keep talking about? Again, science isn't so elitist that it will really hurt your down home ways.

Posted by: Sanpete | Nov 18, 2006 7:55:37 PM

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