Does Inequality in Family Court ‘Tear at the Psyche’ of Dads?

Like many in the fathers’ rights movement, I’ve often been impressed by people’s ability to stare directly at facts and not see them.  Intelligent, thoughtful people show the ability time and again to allow their pre-conceived notions to utterly obscure simple, factual information.

So we see certain people who would never admit to being anti-dad go to desperate lengths to avoid long-known facts like children doing better in intact families than anywhere else.  The fact that mothers do the vast majority of child abuse and neglect is similarly well-known and utterly anathema to certain people.

So it was with considerable interest that I read this pieceby Nicholas Kristof (New York Times, 1/2/11).  It’s all about equality and the theory, advanced by a couple of British researchers, that inequality is not just bad in itself, but carries with it a host of other ills as well.

Kristof observes that, in the United States, 1% of the population has a net worth exceeding that of the bottom 90%.  That’s stunning inequality and I, like numberless others, am troubled by it.  Not surprisingly, Kristof is one.

There”s growing evidence that the toll of our stunning inequality is not just economic but also is a melancholy of the soul. The upshot appears to be high rates of violent crime, high narcotics use, high teenage birthrates and even high rates of heart disease.

So British epidemiologists  Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett look at human and primate studies and conclude that greater equality in societies tends to correlate with fewer social ills.

“If you fail to avoid high inequality, you will need more prisons and more police,’ they assert. “You will have to deal with higher rates of mental illness, drug abuse and every other kind of problem.’

Fair enough.  I’m far from educated on the social science Wilkinson and Pickett refer to, so I can’t argue with what they say.  And generally speaking I agree with their brief for greater equality as a matter of principle.  So does Kristof. 

Or does he?

What jumps out at me and, I suspect, pretty much anyone who’s aware of even basic social issues regarding the sexes is that men hold the short end of the stick in many areas of life. 

Men die younger, commit suicide at three times the rate of women, have poorer health generally, make up only 42% of college enrollees, are far more likely to drop out of high school and be disciplined there.  In addition to suicide, men have higher rates of mental illness than do women.  Some 75% of the homeless are men and 55% of those without health insurance are men.  Men are about twice as likely as women to be the victim of violent crime.  Some 90% of prison inmates are men.

And that doesn’t even mention the radical inequalities visited upon men by family laws and family courts many of which frankly and openly shove men to the back of the bus.

Kristof notices none of that.  Indeed, the fact that men in this country do worse than women across a vast array of social criteria has never, as far as I can tell, rippled the surface of Kristof’s placid view of things.  Will he now go to bat for male equality in all the ways men are on the down side looking up?

I won’t hold my breath.  My guess is that Kristof hews closely to the line peddled by the World Economic Forum in its humorously entitled “Global Gender Gap Report.”  As I’ve remarked before, that publication neatly solves the problem of men on the bottom of many sexual inequalities by simply defining them as “equal.”  So in any area in which women are the lesser of the two, the GGGR takes notice.  But in areas in which men play second fiddle, the GGGR calls the sexes equal.  Simple.

But, given Kristof’s love of equality and his recognition that inequality can have pernicious effects far beyond the immediate fact, will he now join the fight for fathers’ rights?  It’s fair and it’s equal.  Equalized parental rights would be good for men, women and children all at once.  And, by more closely connecting men to their children, would result in reduced levels of all the types of antisocial behavior men indulge in, so society itself would benefit.

After all, what Wilkinson and Pickett say about inequality of wealth seems to apply pretty directly to inequality of parenting.  Kristof summarizes:

So why is inequality so harmful?  (Wilkinson and Picket’s book) “The Spirit Level’ suggests that inequality undermines social trust and community life, corroding societies as a whole. It also suggests that humans, as social beings, become stressed when they find themselves at the bottom of a hierarchy. 

Sounds like family court to me.  Remember Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen’s discovery that the overwhelming reason why women initiate divorce is that they know they’ll get the kids?  Their theory is that equalizing parents in custody cases would be the single most effective thing we could do to reduce divorce.

What about fathers’ feelings about family court in which they know to a virtual certainty that they’ll lose custody of their kids and that the courts won’t enforce their rights of visitation?  Does that “undermine social trust and (family) life?”  Does anyone doubt it?

Kristof ends,

So as we debate national policy in 2011… let’s push to reduce the stunning levels of inequality in America today.  These inequities seem profoundly unhealthy, for us and for our nation’s soul.

Stirring words with which I couldn’t agree more.  The question though is “does he?” 

Or does he look point-blank at the poor state of boys, men and fathers and see nothing?

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