Don’t bore us with your puritanical facts

The New York Times is receiving pushback from its constituents for having the audacity to explain that changes in marriage patterns are playing a huge role in the growth of income inequality. I wrote about the Times’ excellent story here.

Katie Roiphe pushes back in a piece for Slate. She characterizes the piece as “another puritanical and alarmist rumination on the decline of the American family disguised as a straight-news story.” Presumably, Roiphe believes that income inequality is a legitimate story topic, but its causes aren’t, unless they conform to the feminist narrative.

Roiphe once was hailed, not entirely without justification, as a new kind of feminist intellectual, less narrow-mindedly strident than the 1960s cohort that included her mother, Anne Roiphe. But her attack on the Times’ story reflects the rigid self-delusional qualities of traditional feminism.

For example, Roiphe ridicules as hopelessly bourgeois idea that the children of single mothers suffer because their ability to participate in various activities – sports, extra-curricular, family trips – tends to be limited. “In the guise of writing a well-intentioned liberal piece—oh the poor single mothers! And their poor children!—the New York Times is recycling truly retrograde and ugly moral judgements,” Roiphe sniffs.

Roiphe concludes her piece with a quotation from the single mother who featured in the Times’ story:

Jessica Schairer, the single mother at the center of all this outrageous moralism, put it nicely: “If you are an involved parent, whether there is one of you or two of you, your kids are going to feel like they can do whatever it is they want to do, whether they come from a family with money or a family with not much money.”

That’s a nice sentiment. But, however the kids may “feel,” the evidence is that, as a group, children in single parent families will not be able to “do whatever it is they want to do” in life to the same degree as other children.

The recent study on mobility by Pew, which I discussed here, found, for example, that 54 percent of today’s young adults who grew up in an intact two-parent home in the top-third of household income have remained in the top-third as adults, compared with just 37 percent of today’s young adults who grew up in a wealthy (top-third) but divorced family. This means that even after one control for income, which tends to be lower in single parent families, children still fare better if their parents stay together. Moreover, according to University of Virginia social scientist W. Bradford Wilcox, other research suggests that the children of never-married single parents tend to do somewhat worse than the children of divorced single parents.

Wilcox, who was raised by a single mother, offers additional data that show the wrongheadedness of Roiphe’s sanguine defense of the retreat from marriage. But to ideological feminists, the evidence doesn’t matter and never has.

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