Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Dale Carpenter has a post at Volokh responding to this article from MIchael Blankenhorn, which makes a relatively moderate argument against gay marriage. What’s interesting to me is how much ground the most literate and reasonable gay marriage opponents have ceded to our side. Carpenter writes:

The article is interesting in part because he eschews the argument made by Stanley Kurtz that data from Europe demonstrates a correlation between gay marriage and a decline in marriage and other social ills. From this (flawed) correlation data, Kurtz argues that gay marriage must have caused the problems. Says Blankenhorn: “Neither Kurtz nor anyone else can scientifically prove that allowing gay marriage causes the institution of marriage to get weaker.” He suggests “giving up the search for causation.” Maggie Gallagher, too, has avoided relying on Kurtz. Robert George of Princeton has seemed agnostic about Kurtz’s claims. Now Blankenhorn rejects the Kurtz thesis. It is becoming difficult to find even opponents of same-sex marriage who think Kurtz is right.


I think this is a very good thing, but it’s clear that we have two different groups of gay marriage opponents – those who make the kinds of ridiculous and unsupported arguments that Kurtz does, and those who try and come up with non-empirical arguments for their position. Blankenhorn tries to make a correlation argument that denies direct causation, which Carpenter deftly handles. For instance, Blankenhorn argues that acceptance of same-sex marriage correlates in other countries with acceptance of other attitudes that he regards as anti-marriage:

Blankenhorn has a new twist on some survey data, however, that he believes does undermine the “conservative case” for gay marriage. Blankenhorn writes that a 2002 survey of attitudes about families and marriage from 35 countries around the world shows that the presence of gay marriage or civil unions in a country correlates strongly with a series of beliefs that he describes as, roughly speaking, anti-marriage. For example, people in countries with gay marriage or civil unions are more likely to agree with statements like, “One parent can bring up a child as well as two parents together,” or “It is allright for a couple to live together without intending to get married.” Conversely, people in countries with no recognition of gay relationships are more likely to agree with statements like, “Married people are generally happier than unmarried people,” or “The main purpose of marriage these days is to have children.”

Carpenter replies, in part:

To say that these beliefs are “mutually reinforing,” as Blankenhorn does, is just another way of saying that one bears a causal relationship to the other. But as Blankenhorn correctly notes, “Correlation does not imply causation. The relation between two correlated phenomena may be causal, or it may be random, or it may reflect some deeper cause producing both.”

Second, as Blankenhorn’s analogy to teen smoking and drinking reveals, his conclusion that SSM is a bad thing is embedded in his argument. Yes, teens who smoke are more likely to drink and both produce individual and social ills. But we know they produce social ills not because these activities are correlated, but because there is a demonstrated and distinctive harm that each produces. Smoking causes cancer. Drinking causes drunk driving. Similarly, having children out-of-wedlock demonstrably increases risks to them; SSM may or may not produce social ills, but this conclusion is not reached by noting a correlation with practices that do cause harm.

Think of it this way: Suppose I could show that people who attend church regularly are more apt to hold very traditionalist views about the role of women (e.g., that a woman should be a homemaker, not a professional, and should defer to her husband’s authority) or are more likely to be racist (e.g., they oppose interracial dating or marriage), and in fact, suppose the survey data further showed that the more often people attend church the more likely they are to harbor racist and sexist beliefs. Would I have shown that attending church is a bad thing?

Bringing this back to marriage, I’d bet that there was a correlation in 1900 between support for ending the marital rape exemption, support for equalizing women’s role within marriage, granting women the right to vote, and support for ending marriage altogether. This correlation, if it existed, would tell us nothing about whether ending the marital rape exemption or promoting women’s equality or enfranchising women were good ideas.

Quite right, Dale.

Comments

  1. #1 Gretchen
    March 28, 2007

    marriage and other social ills

    Hee.

    But seriously– how can people say that they believe a single person can raise a child just as well as two people? Do they mean that it’s possible for a single person to do so? Because I would certainly agree with that. But the question implies that it is true, all things being equal– which seems bizarre to me.

  2. #2 Shawn Smith
    March 28, 2007

    Gretchen,

    Perhaps it’s a result of a large social support structure that you find more so in European countries than you do in the U.S. If parents could be sure that they will have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food in their bellies, I could see where that would allow a lot of people to think they can raise a kid just fine on their own, thank you very much.

  3. #3 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    Gretchen,

    I suspect it’s mainly because they’re reluctant to give an answer that might be interpreted as stigmatizing single parents. God forbid we should do that.

  4. #4 Stuart Coleman
    March 28, 2007

    I have yet to figure out how marriage is currently a strong institution, given that more than half end in divorce. It seems to me that we’ve done a pretty damn good job making marriage meaningless without gay marriage. If people want to save the institution of marriage, they’ve got a lot of work cut out for themselves, and stopping gay marriage won’t help, it’ll probably hurt their cause.

  5. #5 Jim51
    March 28, 2007

    The biggest problem that I see in Blankenhorn’s argument is that he assumes his result. He lays out the following six statements:

    1. Married people are generally happier than unmarried people.
    2. People who want children ought to get married.
    3. One parent can bring up a child as well as two parents together.
    4. It is all right for a couple to live together without intending to get married.
    5. Divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems.
    6. The main purpose of marriage these days is to have children.

    And then he proceeds to the following leap:

    “Let’s stipulate that for statements one, two, and six, an “agree” answer indicates support for traditional marriage as an authoritative institution. Similarly, for statements three, four, and five, let’s stipulate that agreement indicates a lack of support, or less support, for traditional marriage.”

    Without being willing to simply stipulate to the above assumptions his conclusions do not follow. I think his stipulations are rediculous and his entire conclusion set is built upon them.
    At least one statement is an item upon which evidence can be brought to bear, e.g. #3.
    Another statement is purely a moralistic value judgement, e.g. #4.
    Another statement really requires more information, e.g. #5. What does “can’t seem” mean here and how do we evaluate “best solution?”

    One should not simply make assumptions and then build an extended argument upon them. One must show that the assumptions are valid.

    To make this more personal:
    My wife and I lived together for 10 years before we got married. We are as happy now as we were then. How should we evaluate statement #1?
    We have no children. How should we respond to statement #6?
    My value judgement on statement #4 should be obvious enough.
    My opinion is that I would generally disagree with statement #3. Being a single parent can be very difficult. I have friends in that situation. This, however, does not imply that 2 parent families always do a good job of raising kids, nor that single parents don’t sometimes do a great job.
    I support gay marriage. Where does that leave me on his stipulated scale?

  6. #6 DuWayne
    March 28, 2007

    Gretchen -

    Given a survey that asked if single parents can raise a child as well as a married couple, I would probably say yes. Especialy if it didn’t also ask if it is possible for a single parent to do as good a job as married parents. I mean, single parents can do just as well (soemtimes better) as married couples. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is far from ideal, but to say that they can’t, implies it isn’t possible – which is far from the truth. Besides, while it is true that in this country, single parents rarely make that cut, in other countries, it is probably a lot different.

    Many Europian countries have a srtonger welfare state, which makes it easier. Also, it is far more common in many Europian countries, for extended family to be heavily involved – i.e. grandparents babysit while the parent works. Also more common is extended families living together – baseline, many kids start out with grandparents, aunts & uncles and/or other family at home. Lacking one parent, isn’t nearly the hardship, with more of the family taking up the slack.

    Jason -

    As one who has spent a lot of time as a single parent – a damn decent one at that, go screw.

  7. #7 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    DuWayne,

    Screw yourself.

  8. #8 Gretchen
    March 28, 2007

    Shawn and DuWayne,

    I take your point, but I just figured that an extra pair of hands and an extra income– regardless of who they come from– would be helpful in a way that government services (though doubtless very useful) couldn’t really be. And you’re right that other people can and often do help out who aren’t parents. I think it’s optimal to have two parents (adopted, natural, step, whatever) involved in the entirety of a child’s upbringing, but even in situations where that doesn’t happen, children can turn out fine.

  9. #9 Troublesome Frog
    March 28, 2007

    While we’re digging up random correlations to support our positions, why don’t we plot “mean income” against “percentage of people who approve of gay marriage” from region to region. Huzzah! Gay marriage will make us all rich!

  10. #10 Dave L
    March 28, 2007

    …as stigmatizing single parents. God forbid we should do that.

    I agree with this surprisingly, but that’s because I’m reading it literally and not with the sarcasm that I suspect is contained in your ‘God forbid’ sentence. Care to elucidate a little? Keeping the sarcasm, is it God forbid people give honest opinions despite any notions of political correctness or how people may interpret it, or God forbid that single parents be stigmatized? I agree literally with the latter; do you?

  11. #11 Robert
    March 28, 2007

    Jason: as a child of a single parent who did a damn good job raising me I can attest that there is enough stigma on single parents as it is. What more do you want? Should the job be harder? For a country such as ours that is so obsessed with morality and children having two parents and being supported, you would think we would have more support structures in place to help out struggling families and single parents. No, as usual it just comes down to acting superior, not actually being helpful.

    So yes, screw off.

  12. #12 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    Dave L,

    I think it’s healthy for our society to attach some social stigma towards single parenthood. It’s much better for children, parents and society in general for children to be raised by two parents rather than one. Obviously, there are exceptions, but in general single parenthood is not a good thing and should be discouraged.

  13. #13 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    Robert,

    Screw yourself.

  14. #14 Dave L
    March 28, 2007

    I think it’s healthy for our society to attach some social stigma towards single parenthood.

    I disagree; we have too much stigma attachment in our society, which is divisive and unhealthy, as it is and far too little understanding, especially about something like this where there is such a large range of parenting competency encompassed by the term ‘single parents’. Although you use the weasel words, ‘in general’, I don’t think there is much of an ‘in general’; the exceptions are so numerous that I think you’re attaching this stigma to a very stereotypical image of a single parent. I’d argue that it’s better to have one decent single parent than to have one good parent and one bad for instance.

    The stigma, if any, should be on bad parents period; whether they’re single or not is irrelevant.

  15. #15 windy
    March 28, 2007

    But we know they produce social ills not because these activities are correlated, but because there is a demonstrated and distinctive harm that each produces. Smoking causes cancer. Drinking causes drunk driving. Similarly, having children out-of-wedlock demonstrably increases risks to them…

    Is having children out-of-wedlock really producing much of those social ills? The very same people who drove drunk or got lung cancer would have been better off without drinking and smoking. Is it clear that the children of unmarried parents would be much better off if that same couple had been married at the time of birth? Or is it more that out-of-wedlock births are correlated with single parenthood (obviously) and class?

  16. #16 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    Dave L,

    The “in general” description is perfectly valid. The exceptions are just that–exceptions. In general, children do much better when raised by two parents rather than one. It’s just an empirical fact. If we care about the welfare of children in our society, we should discourage single parenthood.

  17. #17 DuWayne
    March 28, 2007

    Jason -

    Stigmatization does not make it a damned bit easier to be a single parent. No, single parenting is not the ideal, nor should it be considered such. It is harder on the parents, it is hard not to make it hard on the kids. But stigmatizing single parents, just alienates them. It makes it harder to give the children involved any kind of sane life. Because the stigmas assholes like you want to put on the single parents, get slapped right onto the kids, who did nothing to be the kids of single parents. It also makes it harder for single parents to simply parent. It sucks when most people just make obnoxious assumptions as to why one is a single parent. They either assume that your some over-sexed nut or you simply didn’t try hard enough. They also assume that the best thing for you to do is to find a replacement – instead of focusing on making the best of the situation and doing the best for your child.

    But then sanctimonious assholes like you just know better. You know all there is to know about parenting and the ideal situations. I’m sure in your world, all it takes is two parents and every child turns out perfect.

    I have a suggestion, if you actually care about kids. Stigmatize being a shitty parent, regardless of the make-up of the family. Support good parenting. Support parenting education, even that focused on helping us vile single parents become better parents. But God forbid you do something that requires dismounting from your high horse.

  18. #18 doctorgoo
    March 28, 2007

    If we care about the welfare of children in our society, we should discourage single parenthood.

    First of all, Jason, just because a child has only one parent doesn’t mean that he only has a single care-giver.

    And second of all, only a sanctimonious son-of-a-bitch like yourself would consider the solution to be to “discourage single parenthood”. The real solution is to HELP them.

    Do you know any single parents? Help them out, however much you can. Volunteer to babysit occasionally. Help the kids do their homework. Just don’t be such a total asshole all the time. For you, this might be difficult…

  19. #19 gwangung
    March 28, 2007

    Jason, stop trolling and stop being an idiot.

    You’re getting what you deserve for personally insulting another poster, so stop interfering and start contributing.

  20. #20 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    DuWayne,

    But stigmatizing single parents, just alienates them.

    I strongly doubt that. Stigmatizing single parenthood is likely to discourage it, and vice versa. Discouraging it is a good thing, because children tend to do better when raised by two parents rather than one. Of course, some people become single parents through no fault of their own, and we should certainly distinguish those cases from single-parenthood-by-choice where possible, but that doesn’t alter the fact that single parenthood in general is a social ill and should be discouraged.

    Support good parenting.

    I do. That’s why I think two-parent parenting should be encouraged and single-parent parenting should be discouraged.

  21. #21 THobbes
    March 28, 2007

    Since the 19th century, our government has tried to stigmatize the use, distribution, production, and sale of illegal drugs. We know how well that’s worked. If the demand is high enough, or if the problem is hard to correct, then the stigma approach probably won’t work.

    There has also long been a stigma against out-of-wedlock, teen pregnancy. While it is still not thought to be positive today, it no longer elicits the kind of social banishment that was once commonplace (i.e., sending pregnant teens to “visit their aunt”). Yet the rate of teen pregnancy is now generally lower than in the 1950′s and 1960′s–it defies simple correlation, which is almost a rule for complex social phenomena. I suspect that the same applies to single parenthood. Naive hypotheses and naive solutions alike fail in the face of a complex situation.

    I also have not heard in this discussion on single parents (which, for the record, overwhelmingly means single mothers) what the presence of a second parent is supposed to do. Is the presence of any parental figure enough? Does this person have to be a good parent, or is the second income sufficient? What, exactly, is the second parent supposed to do?

  22. #22 Fitz
    March 28, 2007

    “Do you know any single parents? Help them out, however much you can. Volunteer to babysit occasionally. Help the kids do their homework. Just don’t be such a total asshole all the time. For you, this might be difficult…”

    We have found the solution!

  23. #23 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    doctorgoo,

    First of all, Jason, just because a child has only one parent doesn’t mean that he only has a single care-giver.

    A “care-giver” is not likely to be an effective substitute for a missing parent.

    And second of all, only a sanctimonious son-of-a-bitch like yourself

    These ad hominems are getting really tedious. Back at ya: you’re an asshole.

  24. #24 doctorgoo
    March 28, 2007

    Jason, you’re an idiot. But I never once said you’re wrong because you’re an idiot, I say you’re wrong AND an idiot. Therefore, it’s not an ad hominem.

    And anyway… you ARE an idiot, and an asshole for no apparent reason, too. These two facts are not in dispute.

    How many people on scienceblogs need to point out your trollish behavior before you start behaving yourself (or at least, just keep quiet)?

  25. #25 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    Since the 19th century, our government has tried to stigmatize the use, distribution, production, and sale of illegal drugs. We know how well that’s worked.

    I’d say it’s worked pretty well. Do you think we should not only legalize the production, distribution, sale and use of all currently-illegal drugs, but also work to remove all stigma from those activities too?

    There has also long been a stigma against out-of-wedlock, teen pregnancy. While it is still not thought to be positive today, it no longer elicits the kind of social banishment that was once commonplace (i.e., sending pregnant teens to “visit their aunt”). Yet the rate of teen pregnancy is now generally lower than in the 1950′s and 1960′s–it defies simple correlation, which is almost a rule for complex social phenomena. I suspect that the same applies to single parenthood. Naive hypotheses and naive solutions alike fail in the face of a complex situation.

    Yes, of course it’s complex. Teen pregnancy rates, for example, are probably affected by numerous factors, of which social stigma is only one. Other important influences probably include the availability of contraception and the rate of marriage among teens. That obviously doesn’t mean stigma is not a significant or useful way of inhibiting teen pregnancy–or single parenthood, or any other undesirable form of behavior.

  26. #26 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    Jason, you’re an idiot.

    doctorgoo, you’re a moron.

  27. #27 THobbes
    March 28, 2007

    Of course, some people become single parents through no fault of their own, and we should certainly distinguish those cases from single-parenthood-by-choice where possible

    Why? You claimed that if we care about the welfare of children in our society, we should stigmatize single parenting, period. You also dismissed the idea that the group “single parents” is too diverse as to not warrant a single descriptor. No discussion of circumstances was included, and it doesn’t seem that, by your criteria, any such leeway should be given to single parents. Single parents should be criticized and stigmatized because their presence is a social ill.

    If that appears unforgiving and unreasonable, perhaps you should consider exactly what you have endorsed here.

    Also, would you source your claim that “children do much better when raised by two parents rather than one”? You do claim that it’s empirically determined.

  28. #28 kehrsam
    March 28, 2007

    You know, there were three or four of Jason’s posts earlier in the week where we were in perfect agreement… I’m feeling much better now. :-)

    The problem with your analysis, Jason, is that we live in the real world. There is no doubt that the statistics you quote are correct: On average, the children of single parents have worse “outcomes” than those of two-parent families, and this remains true even if one controls for income. However:

    1. It is not clear that the families involved consider the “outcomes” to be inferior, at least if you are trying to distinguish the “Single parent by choice” cohort. They seem perfectly happy raising another generation of “dysfunctional” people just like themselves.

    2. You are making a major assumption, which is that the social stigma associated with being a single parent (usually mother) has any deterrent effect on the behavior. If it does not (and aside from a fairly narrow section of the middle class these days, it does not seem to deter anybody from shacking up and/or getting pregnant) then all the stigma accomplishes is name-calling and extra shame for people who already have plenty of problems.

    I run a program through my church to assist divorced persons in their recovery, so suppose we were to assume the same logic. Since statistics show that first marriages produce far better outcomes for families (not just the children), we would be better off stigmatizing divorce, or better, banning it altogether, right? It’s not as simple as Dan Quayle made it sound (and mind you, I’m a Democrat who liked Dan Quayle). Peace to all.

  29. #29 doctorgoo
    March 28, 2007

    doctorgoo, you’re a moron.

    No no, Jason, I’m rubber… … Ahhh, just forget it.

    I’ll stop feeding the troll now…

  30. #30 THobbes
    March 28, 2007

    That obviously doesn’t mean stigma is not a significant or useful way of inhibiting teen pregnancy–or single parenthood, or any other undesirable form of behavior.

    I don’t see you asking for what would be the most effective response to the problem of single parenthood. You simply assumed that it would work. The onus is on you (more generally, to someone who argues your position) to prove that single parenting is a serious social problem, and that stigmatizing it will work.

    I’d say it’s worked pretty well. Do you think we should not only legalize the production, distribution, sale and use of all currently-illegal drugs, but also work to remove all stigma from those activities too?

    So you’re going to try to tar me as some kind of pro-drug wacko? For the record, that reasoning clearly does not follow from what I wrote in the comment above (simply because I don’t think that stigmatizing drugs has proven effective does not mean that I automatically support the legalization of all drug-related activities). Nor do you appear particularly connected to reality, in this case (do you know how much money was made by the sale of illegal drugs last year in the United States)? You really are an idiot, and you’re not making your case.

  31. #31 DuWayne
    March 28, 2007

    Jason -

    There is a huge difference between discouraging and stigmatizing. I know very few single parents who would do anything but discourage others from becoming single parents. Given the oppertunity, they (and I) are happy to actively discourage it. Stigmatizing on the other hand is simply a tool of alienation. Alienating the single parent and their child/ren. No matter how you try to justify it or pretty it up, that’s what it does.

    If you really care, take doctorgoo’s suggestion and help them. Mentor a child of a single parent. Be a role model for them. Help them with their homework. Teach them about the world around them. Love them. I imagine that if single parents (such as myself and other’s I have networked with) can manage it, you can too.

    There is also no need to differentiate between those (like myself) who didn’t intend on being single parents and those who did. Their kids didn’t decide to be the kid of a misguided soul, who wanted to try to raise them alone. As all of us have to deal with those kids, it behooves us to give them every advantage we can – to do what we can to make sure they have a reasonable upbringing.

    I am amazed. I honestly didn’t think I could find you to be more of an asshole than I already knew you to be. Yet here you are, proving just how wrong I was.

  32. #32 THobbes
    March 28, 2007

    I’ll stop feeding the troll now…

    I’m done, too.

  33. #33 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    Thobbes,

    Why?

    Because in those cases the single parent is not culpable for the situation.

    You claimed that if we care about the welfare of children in our society, we should stigmatize single parenting, period.

    Yes. And?

    You also dismissed the idea that the group “single parents” is too diverse as to not warrant a single descriptor.

    I don’t know what “warrant a single descriptor” is supposed to mean. The term “single parent” itself is obviously a “single descriptor.” Are you against that term?

    I said that in general single parenthood is not a good thing and should be discouraged and stigmatized.

    No discussion of circumstances was included, and it doesn’t seem that, by your criteria, any such leeway should be given to single parents. Single parents should be criticized and stigmatized because their presence is a social ill.

    Single parenthood should be discouraged and stigmatized. In general, it is much better for a child to have two parents rather than one.

    If that appears unforgiving and unreasonable,

    I didn’t say anything about “forgiveness,” and in cases in which the person is a single parent through no fault of his own there would be no wrongdoing to forgive, anyway. I have no idea why you think discouraging and stigmatizing single parenthood is “unreasonable.”

  34. #34 CPT_Doom
    March 28, 2007

    Even if there is data that shows, in general, children of two-parent families do better than children of single parents, you still cannot base social policy on that, for three really important reasons:

    1) There have always been single parents (whether through widowhood, divorce and out-of-wedlock birth), there are single parents now, and there always will be single parents. That is simply how the human race is, and no society in the history of human civilization has ever successfully regulated its’ inhabitants’ sexual habits to any significant degree. Social policy cannot simply focus on the alleged ideal, but must be created to support the reality. And it certainly cheaper, from an aggregate perspective, for the government to support single-parent families, than to take all those kids into custody to place them in “appropriate” homes.

    2. The correlation between two-parent families and childhood success tells you nothing about the likely outcome for any specific child of a single parent. Even though in general single parents have more struggles and more children with social problems, there are also clearly single parents who have successfully raised families – sometimes large numbers of children (see The Color of Water for an example of a single white mother of 12 interracial children in Harlem in the 60s – how’s that for a challenge?). Therefore we cannot know that any one child of a single parent will do well or poorly in life, anymore than we can guarantee that every child in a two-parent family will have a childhood free of physical abuse. For instance, I highly doubt Katie Couric’s children are suffering for being in a single parent household. And I would guess that controlling for income and age of parents at birth would eliminate a lot of the difference between the children of single and two-parent families.

  35. #35 DuWayne
    March 28, 2007

    In the interest of clarity, I should note that I can no longer be considered a single parent. My son’s mom and I have both mad signifigant changes in the two years we have been apart and have been living together since February. This has not removed me from the single parent support group I have been (all to slowly) building at my church, nor has it driven me from the larger network of single parents in Portland, of which I am a part.

    Rather than stigmatizing, as Jason suggests, I think the answer is to help. Just a few hours a week, makes a huge difference in a childs life. As many may assume, the largest need is for men to step up and care for a child who may have few or no men in their lives. Simply giving them a phone call every few days and spending a few hours, every week or so, goes a long way toward preventing them from seeking support through more nefarious offerings, such as gangs or other hoodlums.

    The most important key is to care. If you don’t actually care, don’t bother – they can tell. And the biggest thing these kids need, is love – lots of it.

  36. #36 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    DuWayne,

    There is a huge difference between discouraging and stigmatizing.

    I’m not sure how you think it’s possible to discourage something without also implying that it’s a bad thing. If it’s not a bad thing, why discourage it? The stronger the discouragement, the greater the implication of badness. If you discourage someone from becoming a single parent you are necessarily implying that single parenthood is a bad thing.

    There is also no need to differentiate between those (like myself) who didn’t intend on being single parents and those who did.

    I didn’t. I differentiated between those who become single parents through no fault of their own and those who do not.

    Their kids didn’t decide to be the kid of a misguided soul, who wanted to try to raise them alone.

    The kids of lazy bums, alcoholics, drug addicts, thiefs, adulterers, etc. don’t decide to be kids of their parents, either. Obviously, no child chooses his parents. That doesn’t mean we should not discourage and stigmatize bad behavior on the part of those parents.

  37. #37 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    kehrsam,

    1. It is not clear that the families involved consider the “outcomes” to be inferior, at least if you are trying to distinguish the “Single parent by choice” cohort. They seem perfectly happy raising another generation of “dysfunctional” people just like themselves.

    So what? There are probably lots of parents who don’t think a daily beating is bad for their child either. We are obviously not required to defer to the judgment of single parents themselves, about either their own particular family or single-parenting in general, in deciding whether single-parenting in general is a bad thing or in deciding how we should treat it in our society.

    2. You are making a major assumption, which is that the social stigma associated with being a single parent (usually mother) has any deterrent effect on the behavior.

    I think it’s a pretty reasonable assumption. Why would you expect choices about having children to be immune to influence by social stigma?

    If it does not (and aside from a fairly narrow section of the middle class these days, it does not seem to deter anybody from shacking up and/or getting pregnant) then all the stigma accomplishes is name-calling and extra shame for people who already have plenty of problems.

    Now you’re making your own assumption about the effect of stigma.

    I run a program through my church to assist divorced persons in their recovery, so suppose we were to assume the same logic. Since statistics show that first marriages produce far better outcomes for families (not just the children), we would be better off stigmatizing divorce, or better, banning it altogether, right?

    Divorce is, and I think should be, subject to some social stigma, at least when the marriage involves minor children. I don’t think divorce should be banned.

  38. #38 DuWayne
    March 28, 2007

    Jason -

    In the interest of my language not deteriorating further, I am done with this conversation. You obviously think single parents should be pariha, so be it. Obviously no one here is going to change your mind. You obviously could give two shits about the kids who have to deal with the stigma you wish to attach them, through their parents.

    For all of us who have been or are, single parents, struggling to raise our children – in the face of scum sucking assholes like you, Fuck Off. And for the kids you also wish to marginalize, Fuck Off. You are certainly not worth the energy I am spending, getting more and more pissed at you, with every moronic comment you make.

  39. #39 Dave L
    March 28, 2007

    The exceptions are just that–exceptions.

    If you mean by ‘in general’, one parent staying at home with the child and the other working but still being present for family dinner every night, than yea, that beats the single crackhead anyday. Is a single parent who cares for their child full time better or worse than two full-time working parents, one of whom travels? I doubt if you know, and there are tons of different scenarios lik this which are not ‘exceptions’ as they apply to large numbers of couples. You have asserted but certainly not shown that a caregiver is not just as good or better than a parent, especially a poor or mostly absent one. The issue is just too complex, as you acknowledged, to justify this ‘stigma’ crap.

  40. #40 Jason
    March 28, 2007

    So you’re going to try to tar me as some kind of pro-drug wacko?

    No, I’m asking you a question. In reference to the government’s attempts to stigmatize the sale, distribution and use of illegal drugs, you said “We know how well that’s worked.” I assume that statement was sarcastic, which implies you think stigmatizing illegal drugs has been a failure. Do you? If so, do you therefore think we should stop trying to stigmatize them? If stigmatizing illegal drugs “doesn’t work,” which is what you seem to be implying, why continue the stigma?

  41. #41 kehrsam
    March 28, 2007

    Jason said:

    I think it’s a pretty reasonable assumption. Why would you expect choices about having children to be immune to influence by social stigma?

    I didn’t say the stigmas had no effect; it is helping to make millions of lives a little bit worse. My claim was it did not greatly effect the choices people make in becoming single parents; if not, there exists no reason for stigma. I’m one of those legal economists who think people act out of perceived self-interest rather than being controlled by social pressures. I see no evidence that stigmas accomplish anything except to stigmatize.

    Divorce is, and I think should be, subject to some social stigma, at least when the marriage involves minor children. I don’t think divorce should be banned.

    Why not? If the goal is to accomplish the social good, what should the opinion of the pawns involved matter? Or are we just stigmatizing people for shits and grins?

  42. #42 Ed Brayton
    March 28, 2007

    Okay, I’ve seen more than enough of this nonsense. Jason, please consider this your official invitation to go bother someone else. You’ve worn out your welcome here. From now on, I will simply be deleting your comments.

  43. #43 kehrsam
    March 28, 2007

    In general, two parents are much better than one. It amazes me that you continue to resist or quibble about this claim. I don’t think it’s particularly controversial among either liberals or conservatives.

    No one is resisting that fact. The disagreement srems from the fact that the policy you favor does not follow fronm your premise if the people involved are making conscious decisions.

  44. #44 kehrsam
    March 28, 2007

    Sorry about the typos. My father is asleep and I don’t want to turn on another light and wake him up.

  45. #45 DuWayne
    March 29, 2007

    Gretchen -

    The problem, really, is the wording of the question. This is a stellar example of a biased question. I work at a phone bank, doing surveys. We do consumer satisfaction surveys, mostly run through universities and we do political surveys. The difference is night and day. In the surveys developed by universities, the questions are formulated for minimum bias. It is really annoying, having to read some of them, because they go to great lengths, to get the persons actual opinion. Political surveys, on the other hand, are specificaly formulated for maximum bias.

    Like I said, saying no, to the question “can a single parent raise a child as well as two people?” implies that it isn’t possible to. Very few people would say that single parenting is the ideal, especialy single parents. But there are single parents out there who do far better than your average two parent households.

    A non-biased way of asking this would be “Everything else being equal, is a two parent household generaly preferable to a single parent household?” (sorry, it’s not perfect – but then I just read the questions, God knows I wish I was writing them sometimes – the authors of these surveys, are not big on puncuation – they don’t seem to think we need to breath while reading)

  46. #46 GH
    March 29, 2007

    Since statistics show that first marriages produce far better outcomes for families (not just the children),

    I have read a few studies that don’t support this assertion. It appears it’s not that first marriages that produce better outcomes in and of themselves. There isn’t any logic to suggest this marriage is better simply because it happened before the other. What does affect later marriages may be baggage carried over but this certainly isn’t true in many cases.

    And what outcomes for families are we using as a criteria?

    Divorce is, and I think should be, subject to some social stigma, at least when the marriage involves minor children.

    I don’t think there is much social stigma to it nor should there be. Some things simply don’t work out, often it is the best option for all involved.

    In my view I’ll side with the majority, a good parent 1 or 2 is better than 2 crappy parents or two parents who fight daily. Kids are a resilient bunch and it should be mentioned that despite all this single parenting, divorce, etc going on drug use is down, teen preg is down, many social ills are down. The sky is not falling and it’s hard to imagine people being less happy today than 150 years ago. But we are a strange species.

  47. #47 Gretchen
    March 29, 2007

    DuWayne said:

    There is a huge difference between discouraging and stigmatizing. I know very few single parents who would do anything but discourage others from becoming single parents. Given the oppertunity, they (and I) are happy to actively discourage it. Stigmatizing on the other hand is simply a tool of alienation. Alienating the single parent and their child/ren. No matter how you try to justify it or pretty it up, that’s what it does.

    I’d say that about sums it up.

    Now (please don’t get angry at me), is it possible that Jason didn’t comprehend this difference? His last post to you in particular makes me wonder.

    A non-biased way of asking this would be “Everything else being equal, is a two parent household generaly preferable to a single parent household?”

    Yes, that would’ve been a much better way of phrasing it. I don’t think anybody in their right mind would say that two parents are always better at raising a child than a single parent, or vice versa.

  48. #48 xebecs
    March 29, 2007

    Gretchen:

    But seriously– how can people say that they believe a single person can raise a child just as well as two people? Do they mean that it’s possible for a single person to do so?

    Me:

    But seriously– how can people say that they believe that two parents can raise a child just as well as an extended family? Do they mean that it’s possible for two parents to do so?

    Funny we don’t see people crying out for the return of the extended family. Or for communal child care. Those are the real answers, in my opinion.

  49. #49 Will
    March 29, 2007

    So, if two parents can do a better job than one, would three parents be even better? Three incomes, three sets of hands etc. What about four? I think in the interest of children polygamy should be made legal.

  50. #50 Raging Bee
    March 29, 2007

    In general, children do much better when raised by two parents rather than one.

    (Where are the studies that prove this?)

    That depends on the parents. A good single parent is probably better for a kid than a good parent + an abusive, drug-addled or absent one. Which, in fact, explains why at least some people choose the single-parent route: the available alternatives were worse — not “in general,” but in the particular circumstances of their lives, which matter more TO THEM than our “in general” hypothesizing.

    It’s easy for non-responsible parties like us to pontificate about what’s best “in general.” But none of that matters to people who don’t have the options we pronounce best “in reality.” A single mom can’t just order a proper partner through the Internet because a preacher said that was best for her kid. And Jason’s statement quoted above is really no more helpful to anyone than saying “In general, children do much better when raised by rich parents rather than poorer ones.”

  51. #51 GH
    March 29, 2007

    I like Will’s point.

  52. #52 Alex
    March 29, 2007

    The problem, really, is the wording of the question.

    And we don’t really even know the wording of the question, since it was asked in many different countries and, presumably, in many different languages. Exact translation is impossible, and with a subjective question like this, it’s pretty easy to imagine that the shades of meaning could be quite different in different languages.

    Even in English, the statement, “One parent can bring up a child as well as two parents together,” could easily be interpreted as, “It is possible for one parent to bring up a child as well as two parents together.” This is a statement many people – even people who believe that two parents are preferable in the general case – would agree with. In English, the most common usage of “can” makes this interpretation unlikely, but what about in languages other than English? How do we know that most of the people agreeing with this statement weren’t agreeing with the “It is possible…” formulation?

  53. #53 Robert
    March 29, 2007

    Ah, Will! Thank you, that is an argument I will be using in the future. A perfect way to point out the absurdity.

  54. #54 DuWayne
    March 29, 2007

    Xebecs -

    I agree 200%. Regardless of whether there are one or two parents involved, cohabitating extended families can be very benificial for the children. Because of a job he took in Seattle, my dad is living with my brother and his family (we’re all from Michigan). I finaly got to visit, after he’d been there for a couple of months (I live in Portland). What this has done, not only for the kids, but my brother’s wife as well, has been great. My one year old nephew has developed a strong bond with his grandpa, my six year old nephew has had further behavioral improvements and my sister-in-law has someone to talk to, far earlier in the day, than my brother gets home from work. Hell, even my involvment has made a difference in my older nephews life, and I only see them once a month or so.

    Gretchen -

    I gave up on figuring out whether he really doesn’t understand things, or if he is just being willfully obtuse (not just in this thread, but many, many others. As he is quite capable of making fairly intelligent comments, I suspect the latter. His m.o. has been to obstinatly ignore any clarification, anyone offers him.

    While it is a better wording, I am not sure it would qualify as non-biased. Last time we had people from our main office in (ironicly, located in MI, where I am from) our office, they brought one of the authors of the survey (from UofM) we are currently working on, to meet with some of us, who actually do the survey. I got to have a rather long discussion with him about how they formulate non-biased questions, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. It doesn’t take much to bias a question.

    Raging Bee -

    From a statistical standpoint, (sorry, I can’t name any of the studies, I have seen over the years) two parent households, make far more likely that a child will do as well, or better, than their parents. They are far less likely to end up in jail, or to have serious substance abuse issues, than kids raised in single parent households. It is certainly a lot easier to raise kids in a two parent household (assuming that both parents are around), for both the kids and the parents.

    Will -

    That is a great point, thanks.

    Alex -

    And we don’t really even know the wording of the question, since it was asked in many different countries and, presumably, in many different languages. Exact translation is impossible, and with a subjective question like this, it’s pretty easy to imagine that the shades of meaning could be quite different in different languages.

    I think your dead on. I doubt that it was a single question, translated in many languages, or even one poll. If it was, my geuss would be it was a “is it possible” formulation, which Blankenhorn, chose to translate in a bias fashion.

  55. #55 Troublesome Frog
    March 29, 2007

    Because in those cases the single parent is not culpable for the situation.

    And here we see the transition from “It’s good for society” to “Punish the bad folks and damn the practical results.” It’s very similar to the abortion debate. It’s all about the kids until it later becomes clear that it’s all about punishing the bad women for their behavior. Not true in all cases, but surprisingly frequent.

  56. #56 Ted
    March 29, 2007

    Additional discussion on single parenting with smatterings of statistics over at EconomistsView. Just FYI –

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