Ignoring an Inequality Culprit: Single-Parent Families
Intellectuals fretting about income disparity are oddly silent regarding the decline of the two-parent family.
Suppose a scientific conference on cancer prevention never addressed smoking, on the grounds that in a free society you can't change private behavior, and anyway, maybe the statistical relationships between smoking and cancer are really caused by some other third variable. Wouldn't some suspect that the scientists who raised these claims were driven by something—ideology, tobacco money—other than science?
Yet in the current discussions about increased inequality, few researchers, fewer reporters, and no one in the executive branch of government directly addresses what seems to be the strongest statistical correlate of inequality in the United States: the rise of single-parent families during the past half century.
Why isn't this matter at the center of policy discussions? There are at least three reasons. First, much of politics is less about what you are for than who you are against…. And intellectual and cultural elites lean to the left. So, quite simply, very few professors or journalists, and fewer still who want foundation grants, want to be seen as siding with social conservatives, even if the evidence leads that way.
Second, family breakup has hit minority communities the hardest. So even bringing up the issue risks being charged with racism, a potential career-killer.
Finally, there is no quick fix. Welfare reform beginning in the mid-1990s offered only modest marriage incentives and has been insufficient to change entrenched cultural practices. The change must come from long-term societal transformation on this subject, led by political, educational and entertainment elites, similar to the decades-long movements against racism, sexism—and smoking.
But the first step is to acknowledge the problem.