Marcotte: Single Motherhood OK, Not Mothers’ Fault

July 29th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Is it possible for a person to be able to write but not read?  I doubt it, but must confess that this nonsense by Amanda Marcotte raises the issue (Slate, 7/24/12).  Hers is the third in Slate’s series spawned by a New York Times article on the hazards of single motherhood.

You remember Amanda Marcotte.  She’s the ubiquitous opiner who, long after it was clear that no sex – much less forced sex – had occurred in the case of the three Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape, claimed that the men had “held down” their accuser “and f**ked her.”  
 Principled observers doubted the rape claim from Day Two when the men announced that no sex had occurred and allowed police unfettered access to the premises to gather whatever evidence they desired.  Four months after her libel, the Attorney General of North Carolina took the unprecedented step of finding the three factually innocent of any and all wrongdoing, to Marcotte’s deafening silence.  With that fealty to intellectual honesty in mind, we can now deal with Marcotte’s decidedly tepid embrace of single motherhood.

Unlike Katie Roiphe, whose failed attempt at the same was tactfully but authoritatively destroyed by Brad Wilcox, Marcotte claims, in a blizzard of made-up statistics, unsupported assertions, non sequiturs and straw-man arguments, that single mothers “do not necessarily choose to be single.”  True enough; some fathers die, some go to prison, etc.  Usually none of that is Mom’s fault, but she’s single nevertheless.  But how many mothers fall into those categories and how many fall into the ones Marcotte carefully avoids discussing – divorce and single-mother childbearing?

The answer is that 70% of divorces are filed by women and they do so because they know they’ll get custody of the kids.  So in fact a lot of those mothers – the ones without a paramour waiting to marry them – decide precisely to be single mothers.  What about the 42% of children born to single mothers?  That’s about 1.7 million children per year in the United States.  Now, about half of those have co-habiting fathers, so, though unmarried, they’re not exactly single, but that’s still a hefty number of kids who are either born without a father close at hand or have a father taken from them by the tyranny of the family court system.

And yes, those are choices made by mothers.  Some of those choices are defensible, some marriages truly are insupportable and sometimes even the pill fails, but Marcotte would like us to believe that, in some way, women have single motherhood foisted on them by…”outrageous fortune,” I assume, and of course by men.  But whatever her actual claims, which aren’t at all clear, for Marcotte, single motherhood must be someone’s fault other than single mothers themselves.

Marcotte’s article is so strange and so nutty that it’s paradoxically hard to criticize.  How best to convey the secondary-school triviality of it?  Let’s begin with her naked assertions.

Most women who have children have partners they intend to stay with.

A lot of the time, much-wanted relationships fall apart.

But in a substantial number of cases, the men just quit their families.

That’s why only 41 percent of custodial parents receive child support.

Sixty-two percent of mothers parenting without a man in the house have been married, and most of the rest probably thought that marriage or a long-term commitment was in the cards.

Now, that’s not all of them, but I mention those five because they’re consecutive.  Five unsupported claims in a row may be a record.  Marcotte offers nothing at all to back them up and indeed, one of them is just flat wrong.  Actually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 50.6% of custodial parents have a child support order, but the factual wrongness of her claim actually obscures its full inaccuracy.  After all, men are far more likely to be ordered to pay child support than are women.  The Census Bureau tells us that 55% of non-custodial fathers versus only 30% of non-custodial mothers pay child support and that fathers pay a larger percentage of what they owe than do mothers.  But Marcotte knows none of that which again urges that question about writing and reading.

Then there’s her claim that “in a substantial number of cases, the men just quit their families.”  Really?  Marcotte gives no facts to back up the claim and a remarkable amount of solid social science casts considerable doubt on it, but again, she’ have to have read articles from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being data, Sanford Braver’s “Divorced Dads,” much of Kathryn Edin’s work, reports from Child Trends, Brinig and Allen’s study of divorce, and countless others.  It’s impossible to conclude that Marcotte reads at all, otherwise she’d know that fathers of all income levels, racial and ethnic categories, religions, etc., overwhelmingly desire continuing relationships with their kids.  That’s why fathers don’t tend to file for divorce and mothers do; fathers know they’ll lose their children and mothers know they won’t.  Divorced fathers are far more likely to remain involved with their children and pay their child support if mothers don’t stand in the way, so many of those who lose contact were shoved aside by their ex-wives and the courts that abet their every move.

In the face of much social science that disproves her thesis, Marcotte opts for baseless assertion that agrees with little but a carefully constructed anti-father zeitgeist.

Marcotte eventually gets down to grappling with the fact that the poor have lower marriage rates than the more affluent and better educated.  According to her, that actually reflects the superiority of the poor’s commitment to marriage.  Yes, you read that right.

Wilcox assumes that marriage success is due to commitment to the value of marriage, and because blue state progressives with children break it off less frequently, they must just like marriage more. But a study at UCLA demonstrates he has it backwards: “Poor people hold more traditional values toward marriage and divorce than people with moderate and higher incomes,” that is to say, they’re more “marriage-minded”.

In the first place, Wilcox assumes no such thing.  What he does is what so many other observers have done; he simply states that the poor tend to not get married and, particularly when kids come along, that tends to keep them poor.  I’m perfectly willing to accept that, when asked their views on the subjects of marriage and children, the poor may tend to express more conservative ones than do the better off.  But whatever happens in the deep recesses of their hearts, it’s what they do that matters.  Children of single mothers don’t do as well as those of intact families because they’re children of single mothers, not because of how their mothers answer a survey.  But to Marcotte, the reverse is true; being a single mother means that you value marriage while being married means you don’t.

In his answer to Katie Roiphe, Brad Wilcox asked a question similar to one I had asked in my review of her article.

Surely a progressive like Roiphe should be concerned about all this, rather than dismissing the recent New York Times news story on the marriage divide in America as a “puritanical and alarmist rumination on the decline of the American family.” Since when is it puritanical and alarmist in progressive circles to raise the red flag about a major driver of social and economic inequality?

Given the fact that single mothers and their children are far more likely to live in poverty than are their married peers and their children, what’s a liberal/progressive doing plumping for single motherhood?  Since the children of single mothers are much more likely than the children of intact families to remain stuck on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder, why do “progressives” like Roiphe and Marcotte encourage women to have children without a man to help support and care for them?

Wilcox asked the question and Marcotte responded to his article, but tellingly, she failed to answer it.  Although it’s an obvious criticism of her and her article, Roiphe completely refused to address it.  By now, the reason should be clear – they can’t.  The simple fact is that the Left’s appropriate concern for the welfare of the poor and working classes is on a collision course with feminism’s disdain for fathers and marriage.  Fatherlessness and non-marital childbearing condemn many women and children to lives on the edge.  It’s time leftists made a choice.

But I don’t expect Amanda Marcotte to make the hard decisions required when two “isms” collide.  My guess is she doesn’t even know there’s an accident already in progress.  After all, to know that would take some reading.

Thanks to Glenn for the heads-up.

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