This piece originally appeared in the Daily Kos.
As if single parents didn’t have enough shame heaped on them, the New York Times decided to pile on. On Wednesday, columnist David Leonhardt wrote:
"People who follow the success sequence first receive at least a high school degree, then get a job, then get married and then have their first child. Doing so, the researchers argue, increases the odds that both the parents and their children will succeed — economically and socially, as well as in terms of health status and life satisfaction."
Got that? Parents who are unable to provide for their children or aren't married are doomed to raise hapless kids destined for poverty. Leonhardt is blaming family structure for poverty, as opposed to the lack of social programs. And to make that case, he points exclusively to suspect right-wing sources such as the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a shadowy “Institute for Families Studies.”
A key researcher of the anti-single parent study was W. Bradford Wilcox, whose greatest hits include arguing that women should marry in their 20s lest their eggs grow old. Also, previous intimate partners could be the culprit preventing them from marital bliss: “Adults who marry later in life are more likely to acquire a relationship history — e.g, multiple sexual partners — that can cloud their future marriage,” he wrote, creepily.
Interestingly, even Leonhardt had to admit that Wilcox's “research” falls short of actual evidence. “The evidence isn’t the final word on the subject, because it shows correlation rather than proving causality. It’s possible that some other force in these parents’ lives explains both their family structure and their poverty status.”
Nonetheless he quickly added: “But I think it’s likely that family structure is part of the problem.”
If Leonhardt was genuinely interested in the plight of single parents, he could have gotten in touch with any number of organizations out there who actually know single parents and advocate for them such as MomsRising, Make It Work, National Partnership for Women & Families, Family Values @ Work, Forward Together, and others too numerous to mention.
I used to work at MomsRising, which has many single mothers on its staff and its membership. Among my closest family and friends are single moms—and hold your hats!—single moms of color, the very people Leonhardt and Wilcox made clear are doomed to raise impoverished lawbreakers.
There is so much missing from their perspective and research starting with the fact that not all women want to marry men. Millions of LGBTQ moms co-parent children with other women or choose artificial insemination as a single mother.
It’s true that single parents, in particular mothers, face disproportionate poverty rates. But that has more to do with the fact that they live in the United States, which has zero safety net, including tuition-free college, guaranteed paid family leave, paid sick days, truly universal and free healthcare, and childcare. In Europe, which boasts such generous social programs, people aren’t getting married. Then again, they don’t need to for economic survival.
Finally, Leonhardt and Wilcox ignore the families and supportive communities that single parents create for themselves, which again, exposes their biases in favor of families headed by married hetereosexual parents. Many grandmothers and aunts provide free childcare, yet are not recognized or compensated by any public policies.
That’s what needs to change—not forcing twenty-somethings to the marriage altar.
Then again, someone from the American Enterprise Institute, which vehemently opposes all public programs, isn’t going to say that. Shame on Leonhardt and the New York Times for feeding this tripe.