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Sunday, February 19, 2012

The New Normal

From the NYT:

After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage. Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington research group that analyzed government data.

Overall, only 29% of white children are born out of wedlock, and the cognitive elite remain downright old fashioned: they marry, have children, and stay married as much as not. For the average and below however, the rate of bastardy has increased, now just breaking the 50% mark.

For me, on the far side of 45, experience means a vantage point from which to see who makes it and who doesn't, and the complicated personal lives of the article's subjects are pathetically familiar:
Meanwhile, children happen.

Amber Strader, 27, was in an on-and-off relationship with a clerk at Sears a few years ago when she found herself pregnant. A former nursing student who now tends bar, Ms. Strader said her boyfriend was so dependent that she had to buy his cigarettes. Marrying him never entered her mind. “It was like living with another kid,” she said.

When a second child, with a new boyfriend, followed three years later — her birth control failed, she said — her boyfriend, a part-time house painter, was reluctant to wed.

Ms. Strader likes the idea of marriage; she keeps her parents’ wedding photo on her kitchen wall and says her boyfriend is a good father. But for now marriage is beyond her reach.

Note the tone of the NYT article: children just "happen." No mention of the fact that she flirted, became involved, and subsequently had sex with two men with no interest in fatherhood or marriage and no means of supporting an intact family. The welfare state, and pro-female hiring policies, take up the slack--single motherhood is subsidized.

Over time, two Americas have been evolving. The right side of the IQ distribution is doing pretty well in the global economy, moving where the work is (overseas if need be), keeping their families intact, avoiding substance abuse problems, etc. It is the left side of the distribution which is getting hammered, as documented by Charles Murray in his latest work, Coming Apart: The State Of White America, 1960 - 2010. (The link is to Steve Sailer's review in The American Conservative.)

The progressives will tell you we can all adjust to this new reality of unbridled sex and 'non-traditional' family and high rates of net tax consumption. But the truth is we've had one of these Great Leaps Forward before. Lyndon Johnson's Great Society enforced equality of outcome via a massive transfer of taxpayer funds to black Americans. Nobody stopped to consider that the practical effect was to remove the consequences of anti-social behavior among a group with low IQ's and high time-preference. Black men got money for being street-corner lotharios, black women got money for making babies with them, and here we are with 73% of black children born to single mothers. Four decades into the War On Poverty, high rates of black social pathology continue to frustrate policy-makers.

One conclusion to draw is that people should do what the folks on the right side of the bell curve do. Acquire a marketable skill, get married and stay married. George Will once referenced a seemingly Iron Law: high school diploma, no children out of wedlock and no marriage before age 22. Of those who observed this law, some 80 - 90% managed to stay out of poverty. Reverse the behaviors and you reverse the outcomes, now you have an 80 - 90% chance of being poor.

The conclusion would seem pretty obvious to the data-crunching social scientists, right? Society should encourage sexual scruples and intact families. Instead, the welfare state tacks exactly opposite: ANYBODY can get married. ANYBODY can (nay, should) have sex with ANYBODY in whatever combination our fallen natures can dream up. After all, Sandra Bullock's a single mom and she's doing okay. George Takei is a distinguished old queen married to his longtime boyfriend and he's doing okay. The fact that these individuals are a tiny minority among their own socio-economic class and that this class, compared to a lot of us, is downright Puritanical is not assigned any significance.

It never seems to have entered anybody's head that if you are mucking along with average or below average intelligence, you may not be capable of extrapolating to the long term, and you'll never have the kind of money that lets upper class twits buy their way out of problems caused by impulsive behavior. It would therefore make sense for society to reserve marriage as the brass ring for young men and women: a solemn, exclusive institution for heterosexual couples who are going to be the ones creating and rearing children. And we want to discourage female hypergamy, because otherwise we end up with a giant free-for-all where a majority of women have sex with a minority of men. (The Middle East is figuring out what happens when you condemn millions of young men to sexual pauperhood.) Oh, and it would also mean less syphilis (becoming antibiotic-resistant) and HIV/AIDS. Those things are expensive!

In short, we need bright-line rules for people who aren't capable of drawing subtle distinctions because we all end up paying for the lower classes' poor impulse control and high time-preference. But our culture keeps touting this libertine lifestyle which its own elites do not observe.

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