February 12, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
He’s back. And singing the same tune as before, but… Do I read a somewhat chastened Brad Wilcox in his latest piece here (National Review, 2/9/17)? I think I do.
I try to like Wilcox because he has some sensible words to say about marriage and its benefits to men. The data he cites are accurate to the best of my knowledge and his message is sound as far as it goes. But in the recent past, I’ve had occasion to excoriate him for denigrating men while resolutely ignoring not only what they say and why they say it, but altogether pertinent facts as well.
And so it is in the linked-to piece. Once again Wilcox’s article is all about the benefits of marriage to men. He cites three areas in which married men on average do better than their unmarried peers – money, sex and physical and mental health. So, according to him, unmarried men should improve their prospects in life and, as his piece is entitled, “Put a Ring on It.”
He said much the same thing in a short video production for Prager University about which I and many others registered our firm opposition. I sent my piece to Wilcox and received a terse, but respectful reply. His latest effort includes what he calls “The Divorce Caveat” that I suspect is his nod to the barrage of disagreement and outrage his Prager U. piece attracted.
That said, it’s hard to conclude that Wilcox gets it yet. The deficiencies of his article are many and they all tend in the same direction – the criticism of men and the strategic elision of important facts.
His foil is someone he calls Six Pack Craig (for his abdominal muscles, not for his drinking habits.) Wilcox tells us that Craig said this about marriage:
“I would much rather buy a $75,000 condo by the beach in Florida working 10–20 hours a week with plenty of time and money to relax at the beach, sail, play golf and tennis as well as hang out with friends than marry a 30-year-old woman and take care of her into old age by working 50 hours a week at a job I don’t like.”
Now, Wilcox spends no time whatsoever actually heeding what Craig says. Yes, his words fairly shout “immaturity!” and few will be surprised to see Craig singing a different tune in certainly 10 years, and probably five. But nowhere does Wilcox ask himself what there is to attract a young man to “working 50 hours a week at a job I don’t like.” That in fact describes the lot of many, many American men and therefore can’t be fobbed off in a few words.
But that’s what Wilcox tries to do.
First, let’s consider money. Marriage has a transformative effect on men’s finances. After marrying, men typically work harder, smarter, and more successfully. They are less likely to be fired. And they make about $16,000 more than their single peers with otherwise similar backgrounds. In general, marriage seems to increase the earning power of men on the order of 10 to 24 percent.
This is what scholars call men’s “marriage premium.”
Now, it’s true that some of the fruit of a married man’s labors goes to his spouse and children. But by the time they reach retirement, men who get and stay married are in much better financial shape than their peers who divorced or never married. Partly because they earn more and save more and generally spend many years in a dual-income family, stably married men have much greater wealth than their unmarried peers. In fact, the typical 50-something married guy has three times the assets of his unmarried peer, about $167,000 to $49,000.
As far as I can see, there are several things wrong with that. Most obviously, how did the “unmarried peer” come to be unmarried? Did he never marry or did he marry and get divorced? When it comes to the accumulation of assets, the answer to that question makes an enormous difference. If he’s never married, then perhaps he simply earned and saved less than his married counterpart (more on that later). But if he’s divorced, it’s altogether likely that a lot of the difference in asset accumulation resulted from that divorce.
After all, 34% of American families with net assets over $100,000 have their home as their primary investment. And, particularly when there are children of the marriage, the wife gets the kids (82% of the time) and with the kids comes the house. So there goes our “unmarried peer’s” major asset. Then there’s child support and alimony that can drain a man’s income and his ability to save. How much of that difference in assets between married and unmarried men is accounted for by those three things – division of property, child support and alimony post-divorce?
Wilcox never pauses to ask that all-important question, much less answer it.
Assuming his figures to be accurate, they must include an enormous number of men who are divorced. Since large majorities of those men lose substantial sums to their ex-wives at the time of divorce and long after, much of the difference between the savings of married and unmarried men must be accounted for by the often catastrophic blow of divorce. Wilcox quotes the figures, but never lets on about some hard realities they conceal.
Just as obviously, he ignores the fact that, because single men don’t need as much to live on as do their married peers, they may make the rational decisions described by “Six Pack Craig,” i.e. working less, earning less and having more free time. (We call ourselves a nation of free people, but let a man actually act freely and just listen to the howls of outrage.) So the fact that they save less may not be important, because they need less on which to live.
Then there’s another population that Wilcox’s figures ignore – the very poor. Like it or not, men who are poor and/or have poor earnings prospects aren’t very likely to get married. That’s because women tend to marry “up” when they can. Surely Wilcox has heard the complaints of (particularly) black women who, when asked about their out-of-wedlock childbearing often respond that there aren’t any good men to marry. I’ve always considered that a dubious claim, but it’s often made and the fact remains that men’s marriageability remains significantly tied to their earning potential. So Wilcox’s pool of unmarried men necessarily includes a disproportionate share of the poor, bringing down the net assets of the group.
Again, in his paean to marriage, Wilcox mentions little of just why married men end up with more than do unmarried men.
Nor does he make much of the fact that married men are, well, married and unmarried men aren’t. After all, if men could in some way ensure that, once married, they’d stay that way, they probably would. But they can’t and Wilcox’s way of addressing that huge problem is to pretend that it’s under their control.
Men who do their best to hold down a stable job, don’t abuse drugs or alcohol, are sexually faithful, attend religious services regularly with their spouses, and, above all, make a regular effort to be emotionally engaged in their marriage are less likely to divorce. Men seeking to avoid divorce should keep these facts in mind.
That’s all very well, but we live in a no-fault divorce world. Anyone can divorce a spouse for any reason or no reason. And legion are the men who shout in the wind about how they tried to make their marriage work but that it simply wasn’t up to them. Indeed, as Harvard sociologist Alexandra Killewald found, simply getting laid off work or having one’s hours reduced can make Ms. Right decide the grass is greener elsewhere.
Wilcox wants men to believe that they have a great deal of control over whether they remain married. But there is much they don’t have control over, like all the public policies that encourage women to leave their marriages.
I’ll deal with that and Wilcox’s frank misandry next time.
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