blog (and sorry to send you down a rabbit hole, since there are some intense and worthwhile links in his post as well):
…Here I think Kenworthy combines a dose of useful skepticism about efforts to promote marriage via social pressure alone with a dose of unwarranted optimism about the current trajectory of working-class childbearing. He’s clearly right to note that while marriage can dramatically improve the socioeconomic prospects for parents and children alike, this only holds if the man is actually bringing something to the table, and isn’t just a drain on his wife’s financial and emotional resources. (Anyone interested in pondering the latter problem should combine repeated viewings of “Teen Mom” with this depressing Jonathan Rauch article.) Sometimes the institution of marriage stabilizes feckless men, and helps them become real fathers and providers, but sometimes it doesn’t — and the material foundation available to the couple can make all the difference. This is why social conservatism without some kind of economic agenda focused on working class interests is at best woefully incomplete: To encourage a virtuous interaction between family stability and economic opportunity, policymakers have to work both halves of the circle.
But if just encouraging expectant couples to tie to the knot is an insufficient response to the downscale social crisis, putting too much faith in the “progress” offered by delayed childbearing also seems like a mistake. As Kenworthy allows, less-educated women are already waiting longer and longer to have children — and yet to date, the decline in teen births hasn’t led to a decline in the out-of-wedlock birth rate rate (quite the opposite), or made the “marriage” part of the education-job-marriage-children path any easier to follow. Delayed childbearing does seem to have reduced the working class birthrate overall, or at least increased the rate of childlessness among women without a college education. But that fertility drop hasn’t delivered more family stability to the downscale women who do have kids, or to the children themselves.
Now there’s a case to be made, I suppose, that this combination — higher out-of-wedlock births in downscale communities, but fewer children overall — is just the best American society can do. The two-parent family isn’t coming back, this argument might run, the working class male can’t hack it in the new economy, so better to just encourage working class women to have fewer children so that their work-life balance is easier to manage and the children that they do have aren’t competing for scarce maternal resources with too many brothers and sisters. We just need to live with the marital landscape as it is, accept that fatherless households and male shiftlessness (decadence …?) will be the norm in working class America for the foreseeable future, and try to mitigate the negative consequences for the kids born into unstable homes by hoping that fewer of them are born at all.