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Tipsheet

A Debate That Boxes Liberals In

News pieces pointing out the fact that unwed (and single) motherhood are now key drivers of the socioeconomic inequality the left deplores should have liberals lamenting today's USA Today report that more cohabiting (i.e. unwed) women are having children.

But the whole topic of the relationship between single motherhood and inequality puts them in a box.  On the one hand, many of them have spent their lives insisting that women don't need men and that all one needs for a family is "love."  On the other, there is growing evidence that the children of single mothers -- even taking into account income --  fare worse when it comes to social mobility than those coming from intact families and that single-mother families are five times as likely to be poor as married-couple families.

All this, obviously, contributes to the socioeconomic inequality that, we are told, is a prime motivation for the protests of the Occupiers and likeminded groups.

So what's to be done when the Huffington Post reports that single mothers suffer from a great likelihood of health problems than their married counterparts? And even Hanna Rosin of Slate notes, with pity, that changes in marriage and economic patterns have deprived today's men of the opportunity to be "steady fathers," a blogger at the New York Times characterizes many economically struggling men as "discouraged dads" And Bradley Wilcox summarizes a barrage of studies that show that being raised in a single-parent household is worse for boys and girls alike?

Liberals can't have it both ways.  All people may be created equal, but apparently all family forms are not -- at least when it comes to promoting general happiness and economic welfare.  

Research has shown that if an individual does three things -- finish high school, work full-time and marry before having children -- his/her chance of being poor is about 2%.  So as Brookings scholar Isabel Sawhill has pointed out, no government policy is likely to reduce child poverty as much as restoring marriage as the preferred way to raise children. 

It will be interesting to see which value liberals hold dearer: The idea of individual "freedom" to redefine the family, or the commitment to addressing the growing inequality among America's children -- which, it seems, can increasingly be attributed to the choices their parents make.
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