There is a significant correlation between a child having two parents, regardless of whether they are of different sexes or the same sex, and success. Likewise, there is a correlation between having one parent and a child living a future of poverty. Nicholas Kristof calls this the “privilege” liberals ignore.
We are often reluctant to acknowledge one of the significant drivers of child poverty — the widespread breakdown of family — for fear that to do so would be patronizing or racist. It’s an issue largely for working-class whites, Blacks and Hispanics, albeit most prevalent among African Americans. But just as you can’t have a serious conversation about poverty without discussing race, you also can’t engage unless you consider single-parent households. After all:
- Families headed by single mothers are five times as likely to live in poverty as married-couple families.
- Children in single-mother homes are less likely to graduate from high school or earn a college degree. They are more likely to become single parents themselves, perpetuating the cycle.
- Almost 30 percent of American children now live with a single parent or with no parent at all. One reason for the sensitivities is large racial disparities: Single parenting is less common in white and Asian households, but only 38 percent of Black children live with married parents.
One can argue the element of causation, whether poverty causes single-parent households or single-parent households cause poverty, or whether there is causation going both ways (as Kristof contends) but that’s his gig. In the reader comments to his column, a laundry list of excuses for poverty is proffered, from men refusing to accept their adult responsibility to marry and parent their child to the tax code to the inadequate minimum wage to support a working mother with neither education nor skills raising one or more children. Kristof too offers his “caveats.”
Let me interrupt this column with a shower of caveats. Many children raised in part by single moms do extraordinarily well; one was a two-term president in the 1990s and another served two terms until 2017. And I think the big driver for the rise in single-parent households is bad decisions by policymakers that led to mass incarceration and a collapse of earnings for working-class men.
But the bottom line is that two parents can earn more money than one, and better provide for their children. This is hardly a new observation.
That goes back to 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a prescient report about the decline of marriage among Black Americans. Moynihan, who himself had been raised mostly in poverty by a single mother, warned that family breakdown would exacerbate social problems, but he was denounced by liberals for racism and victim-blaming.
So in their zeal to help end childhood poverty, particularly the disproportionate effect on black children, what came of this?
A scholarly organization in the field published a call in 2021 to “dismantle family privilege” (such as championing two-parent families), which it warned was embedded in “white supremacist society.” And while 91 percent of college-educated conservatives agree that “children are better off if they have married parents,” only 30 percent of college-educated liberals agree, according to a report to be released next week by the Institute for Family Studies.
The buzzword “privilege” is what caught my eye. Obviously, the child gets no say in whether he or she has one or two (or more?) parents, but it’s one thing that all parents, with certain exceptions,* can give their child. Even divorced couples can still parent their children. So why do only 30% of college-educated progressives** believe this?
One stunning and depressing gauge of racial inequity in the United States: The study found that 62 percent of white children live in low-poverty areas with fathers present in most homes, while only 4 percent of Black children do.
To observe the obvious would be, in the progressive narrative, to blame the victim. It is a truism of the ideology that the marginalized are never to blame for their actions or inactions, their choices and the inevitable outcomes that follow. They would rather have black children living in poverty than recognize that two-parent families matter. And this same contortion to relieve “victims” of any possible responsibility is a constant in the progressive perspective.
But what if having two parents isn’t a “privilege” at all, but rather having only one parent is a detriment, a burden that children shoulder even though it’s not their fault? What if the narrative was not that the promotion of two-parent families was “white supremacy,” or impaired the inalienable right to live one’s “authentic” life without the responsibility of having to care for the children you inadvertently created and now cramp your style?
The breakdown of family primarily among low-income Americans may be uncomfortable to talk about, but it is part of the apparatus of inequality in the United States. It doesn’t help when we avert our eyes, ignore the data and deny the existence of two-parent privilege.
The problem isn’t that the breakdown of the family is “uncomfortable to talk about,” but that it’s in conflict with sacred cows, By characterizing it as a “privilege,” it can be mindlessly dismissed because privileges are bad, even if it’s merely a matter of making choices for the sake of a child rather than a perpetual adolescent.
But when you accept the premise that it’s not a privilege to have both of the people who contributed to a child’s existence similarly contribute to a child’s upbringing and welfare, but a responsibility, and the refusal to fulfill that responsibility when you can puts a burden on your child, the answer is clear and the victim isn’t blamed. The victim, you see, is the child, not the adult who walked away.
*Sometimes a parent dies. Sometimes a parent is wrongfully incarcerated. There are instances where an adult cannot parent his or her offspring. These are circumstances that fall beyond choices.
**Kristof uses the word “liberals,” which is commonly conflated with progressives. I refuse to give up the word liberal to those holding illiberal beliefs.