The time people invest in their children — reading to them, etc., but not including diaper changing time, etc. — shows a growth gap between those with more education and those less. In the 1970s, mothers with only a high school education were investing slightly more time with their kids. Now the number of minutes for both is going up. But the growth has been "much, much faster" among college educated moms. When you add in the dads, the gap grows even larger — it's up to an hour a day of more quality time with their parents.
Moreover, the gap in parent time with children is even greater the younger the child. That is, higher-income, more highly educated parents devote the most extra time with their children during the years when parental involvement is thought to make the greatest difference.
It would be a mistake to think that this is primarily a racial or ethnic divide. Murray's study focuses only on white families, ignoring blacks and Hispanic whites. Putman and his colleagues recently made a PowerPoint presentation at the Aspen Institute. One graph shows that the gap in math and reading scores between black and white children has actually gone down over the past 40 years. But the gap between high- and low-income children (of whatever race) has been progressively widening.
Another stunning graph shows a trend in out-of-wedlock births among non-Hispanic whites. For college graduates, the number is less than 10% and there has been little change in the past 15 years. However, among those with no more education than a high school degree, the number has been soaring and is now above 50%!
I don't have an immediate answer to this problem. Here is one proposal to take the children away from rotten parents. I'm not in principle opposed to that proposal, I'm just afraid there are way too many children for this to be a practical idea.
There are two very bad ideas in Putnam's Aspen Institute presentation that need to be nipped in the bud, however. One is the idea that the behavioral problems of the underclass are caused by poverty. Wrong. Their behavior is what is making them poor and keeping them poor; not the other way around. One hundred years ago almost everyone in the whole country was poor by our standards. That didn't keep our ancestors from building the greatest country on earth.
The second bad idea appears on the last slide of the Aspen PowerPoint presentation. It says, "These are all our kids." But, of course, they aren't all our kids. They are in the custody of some adults rather than other adults. And the adults who have custody are all too often bad parents.
Lloyd Bentsen IV helped with this editorial.