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The Iona Blog

How lone parenthood widens income inequality

Author: David Quinn
Date: 21st July 2012

'That was the sexual revolution for her. Men willing to sleep with her, but not willing to build a family'.

Even The New York Times is starting to cotton on to the fact that the high number of births that take place outside marriage is a problem.

Last week it ran a big feature examining how lone parenthood, which is already very common in the lowest income groups, is becoming increasingly common among middle income groups. It correctly observed that this development is serving to widen inequality between the various social classes in America.

There were some very choice and apposite quotes in the article. Here are some of the choicest:

'It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them staying privileged.' Andrew Cherlin, John 'Hopkins University.

'The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers. The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go'. Sara McLanahan, Princeton University.

'The people who need to stick together for economic reasons don’t, and the people who least need to stick together do.' Christopher Jencks, Harvard University.

'Having men in the house for a short time with ambiguous parenting roles can be really disruptive for children.' Mindy Scott, Child Trends.

Here is one of the most important findings cited by the article: Bruce Western of Harvard University “found that the growth in single parenthood in recent decades accounted for 15 percent to 25 percent of the widening income gaps...Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution found it to account for 21 percent. Robert Lerman of the Urban Institute found that single parenthood explained about 40 percent of inequality’s growth.”

Meanwhile, in this article commenting on The New York Times piece, Michael Brendan Dougherty, a young man raised by a single mother, reflects on the experience.

He describes the difficulty his mother had in finding a man who would commit to her, to him.

He observes: “That was the sexual revolution for her. Men willing to sleep with her, but not willing to build a family.”

That’s the sex revolution for lots and lots of women, and children, in America, in Ireland and in lots of other countries. For multiple reasons, all of which have ultimately to do with justice, the sex revolution badly needs to be reformed.

Meanwhile, here is a quite contrary view of The New York Times piece by Katie Roiphe.

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