Is It A Privilege To Have Two Parents?

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.

22 thoughts on “Is It A Privilege To Have Two Parents?

  1. Jake

    Having been raised by a lone and disabled parent, I considered peers with two parents as advantaged, not privileged.

      1. SHG Post author

        We don’t know whether Jake was a victim of choice or circumstance, and it would appear Jake doesn’t want to claim victimhood status, which means from his perspective, he must be normal and all the two-parent kids get a special benefit that he was denied.

        1. Jake

          When you’re a kid growing up in poverty all you really know is you’re hungry all the time and have to wear clothes and shoes with holes in them and extra curricular activities like sports are ‘too expensive’. From that perspective, to a kid, yeah it seems like the other kids have certain advantages. What a kid doesn’t know then is how those advantages or disadvantages, depending on your perspective, will impact the rest of your life. But they do.

          And to the kid, what difference does it make whether it was choice or circumstance, or both? It’s all a big game of probabilities. Some people are fortunate, some people are not.

          Instead of talking about how to help kids in unfortunate circumstances, we spend time arguing semantics or running outrage bait up the flagpole. America!

          1. SHG Post author

            Promoting parental responsibility would be one of those things that be of significant help to kids. And instead, it’s denigrated as privilege. America!

            1. Jake

              Well, as I said, I disagree that it’s a privilege to have two parents. And, by all means, promote away. Knowing what a nice guy you really are behind this screen I shan’t assume you aren’t also doing all sorts of other things that are meaningful on a timetable that matters to hungry kids.

  2. Elpey P.

    Swapping out “privilege” for “benefit” is instructive. “Benefit” is functionally equivalent in terms of describing increased positive outcomes, and still implies a lack of universality, but what is lost is the rhetorical demonization. Instead of something to replicate, it becomes something problematic.

    This difference in emphasis is why “privilege” prevails, and why we get academic articles arguing that policies supporting a beneficial mechanism are a “structural barrier.” It is not about lifting up those without it, but systemically dismantling that which could improve their fortunes in order to reduce someone else’s – i.e., the troll’s version of “equity.”

    Thus white supremacy has been evolving in the mainstream from “whiteness is those things that lead to better outcomes, and this is good” to “whiteness is those things that lead to better outcomes, and this is bad.” And not only is the former mode not gone yet, it’s fueled by the latter (because normal people want better outcomes). Arguing that these positive factors should not be read as “whiteness” – that to do so is literal racism, by *any* definition – is like arguing cosmology with a creation scientist. Their worldview is hemmed in by it, and if they question it their peers would excommunicate them.

    Of course class privilege allows the practitioners of this new white supremacy to be insulated from the effects, because when you flood the whole town the folks on the highest hills with the most fortified houses still stay dry and safe. And if they make more money when the lowlands are flooded they do even better. For those who remain committed even when their neighborhoods are underwater, complex systems and incentives and human nature allow lots of room for deniability narratives. War is peace, ignorance is knowledge, racism is social justice.

  3. Miles

    By using the word “privilege,” it tars the individual with an undeserved benefit for which he must repent to society. Imagine, a child has to apologize for having parents lest the parent who failed their child by walking away feel bad about his choice. What a fucked up view of the world.

    1. SHG Post author

      The word is a by-product of the slavish devotion to ideology, that would rather sacrifice the lives of children than admit that any marginalized person bears responsibility for his or her choices. It’s untenable, and it harms the very people they pretend to care about, but there is no way to maintain the narrative without sacrificing someone or something.

  4. B. McLeod

    The “village to raise a child” shtick is oozing into everything these days. Now even here in the flats, the media and school officials regularly make public pitches about the duty of the schools to feed and raise the kids from all these dysfunctional, cocked-up “families.” Now, during the summer months when school is not in session, the school systems operate publicly funded meal programs anyway. The basic assumption is that despite AFDC and the subsidies provided via the strung-out, worthless parents’ EBT cards, the schools must continue to feed the kids to prevent their starvation, as the general food assistance provided to the parents is squandered to obtain booze, drugs and cigarettes. The basic concept of parental responsibility has been simply discarded, and it falls to “the village” to fill in.

      1. B. McLeod

        I think the conduct has passed the “enabling” point. The parents should not be allowed to recuse themselves.

  5. Moose

    There was a recent study (2021? 2022?) that followed every High School freshman in several selected New York school districts over 10 years. The dependent variables were whether: 1. The student graduated High School, 2. The student was accepted to college, 3. The student graduated college.

    If I remember correctly, the independent variables with strong (and significant) positive correlation with these outcomes were family affluence (at least middle class), a parent with a college degree, and (most importantly) whether there was a mother & father present at home for the entire time period.

    Race was not significant in and of itself.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    The extreme left calling an intact family unit a “privilege” to be dismantled is about as surprising as getting wet when it rains. Collectivist ideology is inimical to families and religions because they believe all loyalty should be to the state and party. Loyalty to any group or movement outside the party is treason.

  7. rxc

    Two other issues to consider. In many families, with single parents or with two (or more) parents, and multiple parents, it is not at all unusual to have a distribution of “success” among the children. Some turn out very well, while others don’t. I offer the current First Family as example 1, and the Kennedy family as example 2. There are many others. Race and ethnicity and money are what people in the computer modeling field call separate effects. They are only one of a number of different phenomena that affect the results. Some are more important than others, and even it you hold everything else the same, children coming out of the same family often end up very differently. And they interact with one another (“intersect”) in many, often shifting, unpredictable ways. This is why I tend to dismiss the concept that “black children are more likely to end up poor” or “rich children are more likely to end up being CEOs”. These are simplistic one-dimensional analyses. Even if you group the phenomena together (poor, black, no educational background), you find that there is a distribution of outcomes,

    Just looking at one label doesn’t tell you very much about how individuals will end up. A lot of medicine has ended up in the same unfathomable pit, with treatments based on statistics that only benefit the organizations that are paying the bills.

  8. Rengit

    With your asterisked caveat in mind, the real “privilege” is how much a parent cares about their child. Some care enormously enough to make significant sacrifices of time, money, romance (like staying in unhappy marriages), friendships, living situations, etc. Some care just enough to do the bare minimum of being physically present. Some fathers care so little that they won’t even spare the time to see their baby or the mother after knocking her up, then skipping town and avoiding child support. I don’t think it’s a positive development to turn degrees of parental care and love for their children into a matter of privilege.

  9. F. Lee Billy

    One parent is better than none. Two are better than one, irregardless of sex. We grew up in a household which consisted of one Mom and two attentive grandparents (call it three adults). Not perfect, but not two shabby either, if you catch my drift?

    We did not make the presidency or CEO, but on balance, we have few regrets. Actually, we’re in the CatBird seat, better off than 99%. Honestly, or my name is not F. Lee Billy !

  10. Grum

    To answer the original question, I don’t think that it is. Back in the day, both my parents were from, effectively, one-parent families, since both their mothers has been widowed when they were young. They both left education when they were 15, but back in the 40’s and 50’s, there were many opportunities for smart young people and they both thrived.
    They were married 57 years until my Dad died, but other than being great parents (which I am enormously appreciative of) there were still many opportunities for smart young people when I grew up, and all but one of my generation were able to get (at least) Batchelor’s degrees, and find something useful to do with them.

    I don’t think that privilege was quite the problem, rather that the modern world has, somehow, decided to remove those opportunities for later generations.
    Which sucks.

  11. Ken Mackenzie

    The privilege/advantage quibble over words brings to mind a scene from Cambridge Spies.

    “Hey Burgess, you filthy commie, don’t you just despise all this privilege?”

    Burgess surveys the lawns, punts and dreaming spires and replies.

    “No. I want this for everyone.”

    Privilege in that sense is not something to be torn down, attacked, or resented.

    It should be made available to as many as possible.

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