Blogs > Liberty and Power > L&S: Single-Parenting, Then and Now

Jul 10, 2005 10:59 pm

L&S: Single-Parenting, Then and Now

Steve Davies is our after dinner lecturer tonight, giving a wonderful talk on what he calls"The Age of Funk." This talk explores the way in which human life has never been better than it is right now and then compares that to the various chicken littles on both sides of the political spectrum who are constantly telling us how bad things are. It's really an extended riff on Easterbrook's The Progress Paradox.

He just made the huge point that many children prior to the 20th century were not raised by both parents - women frequently died in childbirth and men at work, leaving children to be raised by stepparents, especially stepmothers. The modern obsession with the problems of single parenthood or stepfamilies is hardly new. The mom-dad"traditional" family that we've invented in our nostalgia frequently didn't exist back then either. Yes, now it's due to divorce more often than death, but the breaking up of the marital dyad and the consquent adjustments to new parenting arrangements are hardly only post-war phenomena. It's always been the case that children have had to deal with changes in family form/structure.

It's worth asking whether it's worse for children of divorce today to have, potentially, 4 parents, ideally, interested in their welfare, two of whom are their biological parents, or worse historically, when there would be two parents, at most, only one of whom was biologically related. Is divorce worse than the death of a parent? Are two remarriages better than one? Interesting questions.

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Yvette Smith - 4/23/2006

The issues of single parenting gets quite intense when mother's are to blame for the economic strife that has invaded the family structure. Why, might I ask, isn't the single father approached with such distaste? Being a single parent I have grown immensly. I have four beautiful children, who unfortunately, have been mentally and emotionally abused by their father and his wife. I must add that although they are married I am no less economically than they are. My pennies have been hard earned while attending college and working. No this does not leave much time left, but that time is well spent with my children. I enjoy my independence and am giving my children the right to choose what happens in their lives, not to be dictated by others who think they should be married and have or not have children. I think that the generations have become escrew in how they think others should live. Or am I missing the point of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Although statistics show that poverty rates are higher for females than males, isn't it funny how male statistics have not been predominately followed. I wonder why that is? Is is because they are trying to take control of the issues, or is it because they lack the strength to raise chidlren alone? Don't get me wrong, I know men who do just that, and do it well, but who is actually blowing this out of proportion? I agree with one thing, from experience, all divorced families should work together and let the past be the past, but unfortunately that just doesn't happen. One or both sides just can't seem to let go!

Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

"The mom-dad "traditional" family that we've invented in our nostalgia frequently didn't exist back then either."

Well. I don't know. It seems to me fairly obvious from common sense and observation--not nostalgia--that it is nice and natural for a kid to have two parents--a mom and a dad. I suppose it could be provincialism to believe this, but it seems to me it is indeed the ideal. From what I have seen, married, normal parents with good relataionships with their children is the ideal situation for kids. Yes, people are resilient and there are many ways to rear children; but it seems to me that having a good father and a good mother who have a good relationship with each other and with their children is certainly ideal for the children. Is it really provincialism and nostalgia to think so?

Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

Well, this seems sensible. But those who merely advocate it seem to be attacked as "unrealistic" (whatever that means) nostalgic types. What is the relevance of the way it has been throughout human history? Why does it really matter that the average joe knows this? Isn't it more important that he has the right ideal in mind, or as his goal?

Roderick T. Long - 7/11/2005

> The greatest predictor today of
> whether a child will be in poverty
> and/or on welfare is whether that
> child is in a single parent, female-headed
> family

True, but that doesn't establish that the single-mom factor is causing the poverty/welfare factor; couldn't it be the other way around (especially since welfare programs often constitute an incentive for women to become and/or remain single mothers)?

Steven Horwitz - 7/11/2005

No argument David. And we also know that single-parent families generated by death of male spouse have better outcomes than single-parent female-headed households of divorce, and neither is as good as two-parent families. My point is not to be rosy-eyed about single-parenthood, but just to point out that it's not a recent phenomenon.

David Timothy Beito - 7/11/2005

Steve (as usual) makes a valid point....but I am skeptical about the contention that children in single-parent families are generally better off than families in the nineteenth century families in which the mother remarried after suffering the loss of the husband.

The greatest predictor today of whether a child will be in poverty and/or on welfare is whether that child is in a single parent, female-headed family. By contrast, childen in married families are much more likely to escape poverty. The statistical evidence is overwhelming on this point.

Based on that standard at least, the modern single-parent family is a disasterous failure, at least as a means of keeping children out of poverty.

Jason Kuznicki - 7/11/2005

The relevance to "all of human history" lies in that the religious right likes to point at the conjugal family having been just so for exactly this long. They then make a number of political claims based on that false assumption. (Perhaps they could make a better argument by saying something like what Mr. Kinsella suggests, but in general they do not.)

Additionally, I would like to stress that even the idea of companionate marriage is also relatively new. Until not very long ago, the man and the woman in a marriage could usually expect to have widely differing legal statuses. Often the woman had to forfeit many of her natural and/or civil rights on entering into the agreement. In many jurisdictions, she had to give up owning property, for example, when she entered marriage. She likewise lost control of her body in a fashion unequal to the loss that men endured, as marital rape was not considered a crime. There were many similar abuses.

It's interesting that while the religious right praises the traditional family, with its 5,000-year history, they never mention these things, which endured for so much of it.

Steven Horwitz - 7/10/2005

It's not nostalgia to think it's a good thing. It's nostalgia to think it's been the norm of human history. The conjugal nuclear family is a peculiarly post-war phenomenon. All other things equal, an intact family with two parents is the best thing for kids. But most of human history hasn't worked that way.