‘The Two-Parent Privilege’ Review: Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

From The Wall Street Journal:

For families with young children, morning routines can resemble an assembly line: Make breakfast. Remind the kids to brush their teeth. Negotiate which snacks to include in their backpacks. Remind them again to brush their teeth. Look for shoes. Head out the door. Head back in the door to get the stray backpacks.

In our household, when one parent is out of town, the process seems to intensify and can feel like the “I Love Lucy” episode in which Lucy takes a job wrapping chocolates. Quickly overwhelmed by the speed of the conveyor belt, she starts shoving chocolates anywhere they’ll fit, and concludes, “I think we’re fighting a losing game.”

Over the past 50 years, the number of one-parent households in America have dramatically increased. In 2019, 57% of U.S. children lived with two parents, down from 80% in 1980. Is the rise of single-parent households an emblem of empowerment or a sign of dwindling support for children?

Discussions of parenting can be fraught, dominated by feelings over facts, and too often tinged with judgment rather than support. The problem is, in part, that there has been limited accessible evidence on the causal effect of household logistics on children’s outcomes.

Enter “The Two-Parent Privilege: How Americans Stopped Getting Married and Started Falling Behind,” Melissa Kearney’s clear-eyed look at the economic impact of having a second parent at home. Ms. Kearney is an economist at the University of Maryland; her topics of research range from the social impact of the MTV show “16 and Pregnant” to the recent Covid baby bust. As she notes, “discomfort and hesitancy have stifled public conversation on a critically important topic that has sweeping implications not just for the well-being of American children and families but for the country’s well-being.”

Ms. Kearney’s objective is two-fold: first, to offer a data-driven overview of the rise and impact of single parenting; second, to propose strategies to enable more kids to live in stable households.

When it comes to the economic well-being of children, she argues, having two parents really is better than one—on average. Consider the conclusion of a 2004 paper, “Is Making Divorce Easier Bad for Children? The Long-Run Implications of Unilateral Divorce,” by the economist Jonathan Gruber. “As a result of the increased incidence of parental divorce,” Ms. Kearney tells us, “children wound up having lower levels of education, lower levels of income, and more marital churn themselves (both more marriages and more separations), as compared to similarly situated children who did not live in places where unilateral divorce laws were in effect.” Moreover, Ms. Kearney notes that children living with a stepparent also tend to have worse behavioral outcomes than those whose birth parents remained married.

While divorce is common, the spike in the number of single-parent households is mainly driven by an increase in the share of mothers who have never married—particularly among those who are less educated. In 2019, 60% of children whose mothers had a high-school degree (but less than a four-year college degree) lived with both parents, “a huge drop from the 83% who did in 1980” and low relative to the roughly 84% of children of college-educated mothers who lived with both parents in 2019. The author also notes significant gaps in family structure according to race: In 2019, 38% of black children lived with married parents, compared with 77% of white children and 88% of Asian children.

What is driving these changes? Among other factors, Ms. Kearney refers to the lack of “marriageable men,” pointing to a 2019 paper by the economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson, “When Work Disappears: Manufacturing Decline and the Falling Marriage Market Value of Young Men.” The paper analyzes the effect of drops in income for less-educated men, driven by increased international competition in manufacturing, and finds, Ms. Kearney tells us, that “the trade-induced reduction in men’s relative earnings led to lower levels of marriage and a higher share of unmarried mothers. It also led to an increase in the share of children living in single-mother households with below-poverty levels of income.” Reintroducing economic opportunities (for instance, through fracking booms) doesn’t seem to reverse this trend—suggesting an interplay between economic shocks and evolving social norms.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

12 thoughts on “‘The Two-Parent Privilege’ Review: Where Have All the Good Men Gone?”

    • That video popped into my feed the other day and I have discovered a whole new genre of music called “bardcore.” I had no idea that was a thing, but it’s fun. So is “von Blingen’s” version of “Jolene.”

      • Ditto.
        The animations are hysterical.
        One of the best examples of fair use around. 😉

        Now I’m getting a lot of them. Different channels, all interresting/amusing.

        Not sure why it sent it my way. I was looking into PENTATONIX recently after showing their awesome HALLELUJAH to my sister and that reminded me of the Medieval Baebes which made me revisit their GREENSLEEVES and that might have triggered their ‘bot. (Reminds me: I need to see what Hayley Westenra has been up to.)

        As to the OP every time I hear the same plaint all that comes to mind is snark.
        Lots of beating around the bushes to avoid saying the obvious.

        • I think mine was triggered when I clicked on thumbnail for a cover of “Queen of Kings,” in my feed. I was curious about the pirate lass. Which led me to the original singer, Alessandra from a Eurovision contest. The rabbit hole evolves from there.

          • Good one.
            I rabbit holed to the original.
            The song and the singer are good, more than the video, which is just okay. Kinda 80’s.
            Good to see a modern singer that isn’t trying to sound like a little girl.

  1. Point of order regarding why mail-order brides are a thing: In America, men outnumber women between the ages of 20-44. Furthermore, a higher percentage of women than men are married within that age range. Even without feminism, mail-order brides would still be a multimillion dollar industry.

  2. One wonders if the analysis in Ms Kearney’s book distinguishes among “children of single-parent families with no history of abuse,” “children of two-parent families with no history of abuse,” and “children in family units with a history of abuse.” Because the OP surely doesn’t.

    I infer that the set of children from a single-parent families that escaped from an abuser will statistically-more-probably be “better off” under the criteria used in Ms Kearney’s book to measure “better off” than will the set of children from two-parent families that included an abuser. <sarcasm> Not that as an observant kid, or a commanding officer, or as a lawyer I’ve ever had the opportunity to observe statistically-significant samples of each. Oh, wait… </sarcasm> Instead, the OP’s presentation/discussion implies that it’s better for kids to remain in an abusive family unit so long as that gives them two parents. I sincerely hope that’s not what Ms Kearney’s book actually says — because it sounds far, far too much like the zeitgeist prior to the mid-1980s in the Real World and, well, up to now in MurdochWorld.

    • Oh, the whole thing is bound to be littered more holes than a block of swiss cheese.
      It by an economist.
      That right there makes it suspect.
      Odds are it won’t even consider the cultural aspects, the religious aspects, or as you pointed out the nuances behind single parenthood.
      (Or being economists, still being wedded to the quaint “three social classes myth”.)

      Check out the video; at least in those times the “good men” were out fighting in the crusades, not looking for a “good woman”.

      Economics has its uses; social analysis ain’t one of them.

        • Not in all areas.
          And in this matter, what’s the value in saying things are bad and getting worse?
          A whole book for that?
          Now, a book analyzing why and how it’s come to this and offering sugestions, that would be useful. That’s not in the OP and presumably not in the book.
          Water is wet, yes. Now tell me something everybody doesn’t already know.

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