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What about the children?

March 20, 2015

Reading a book by Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin, a writer at Slate wants liberals to admit that changing mores are one cause for the decline of the two-parent family among the less well off. Quoting Cherlin:

Had norms not changed, the growth of childbearing outside of marriage that we have recently seen among today’s unmarried low-educated and moderately educated young adults would not have occurred, even given the rise in income inequality.

Jeff Spross will have little of it. He points out that the poor that conservatives love to berate are the ones holding fast to bourgeos values.

It seems to me both are missing an important point. Norms don’t work exclusive of social institutions. A hundred years past, a young unmarried woman who had a baby typically would not be allowed to keep it. Her family would put it into the hands of mother or older married sibling. Or state officials would put it into an orphanage. The young woman, having disgraced herself, oft would leave the community. If a shotgun marriage were arranged to the wanderer who had seduced her, for all anybody knew, it might be the husband’s second or third, him having taken a poor man’s divorce from previous spouses. Though they still would claim him as husband. Identity was more fluid when it could be changed with a rail trip. One wonders how much that perturbed social data? Behind all of this was the fact that poor children worked. So, yes, a teenage girl who has worked in the mill since age 12, who saw her cousin’s baby put into an orphanage up state and her cousin forced out of the community, is less likely to bear a child out of wedlock than a teenage girl today. Even if the one today voices exactly the same morality. Some conservatives seem to think the coercion and harshness of times past was a good thing. I’ll take modern America.

Update: After making the above post, I came across this article by Helaine Olen pressing a similar point. I’ve never read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn — but might now.

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