Saturday, April 30, 2011

Diversity helps US claim first prize in single parent department

The OECD report that made it into news cycles earlier this week for having discovered that children in the US are more likely to live in single parent households than children in other developed countries grabbed my attention for illustrating why ignoring racial realities and instead relying only on culture (or 'propositionalism') has significantly obfuscatory policy implications. The AP story reads:
Experts point to a variety of factors to explain the high U.S. figure, including a cultural shift toward greater acceptance of single-parent child rearing. The U.S. also lacks policies to help support families, including childcare at work and national paid maternity leave, which are commonplace in other countries.
The logic of the second sentence seems backwards to me--shouldn't a lack of childcare and paid maternity leave discourage single people from having children more than it should discourage married people from doing so? In the latter's case, there is potentially already a stay at home option, with the on site childcare being a nice fringe benefit but not a necessity. In the case of the single person, it probably means private childcare, which makes low-end employment barely economically viable.

That aside, the point is to highlight the fallacy of identifying the US' single parent rate as higher than in other wealthy countries and then, in a robotic fashion, proceed on to suggestions that the US adopt the policies x, y, and z that distinguish these countries from the US. This almost always works to the detriment of those in the US who are opposed to the expansion of the welfare state, because our uniquely multiracial society means Americans as a whole consistently underperform residents of other Western countries on a slew of social indicators. Why? Because race matters. It matters more than the availability of paid paternity or maternity leave does.

Of the 27 European and European-descended countries (plus Japan and South Korea) listed, the percentage of children under the age of 18 living in single parent households has the dubious distinction of being the very worst. But if NAMs are removed from the equation*, the US jumps ahead of Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, Estonia, Canada, New Zealand, and Ireland. Still near the back of the pack, but no longer sticking out like a sore thumb as the conspicuous worst.

Parenthetically, the data the OECD report draws from are copious but require a sea gate oracle to filter through. In getting to what I was after, a came across some other interesting figures, including the 2009 rates on female labor force participation and total fertility. Might there be an inverse relationship there, with more women running the rat race corresponding to fewer of them making babies?

Not really. The correlation is inverse, but it's weak (.18) and statistically insignificant (p = .26). Eyeballing the numbers, the high female participation rates and high TFRs of the island nations--Great Britain, Iceland, and New Zealand--stand out as especially bucking the weak trend. Removing them from the regression ups the inverse correlation to .28 (p = .10).

Another should make Walter Williams smile. The following table shows the percentage of impoverished married couples with children in which both spouses are working, by country:

1. Norway
2. Denmark
3. Germany
4. Czech Republic
5. Australia
6. New Zealand
7. Great Britain
8. Finland
9. Sweden
10. Slovak Republic
11. The Netherlands
12. Ireland
13. Slovenia
14. Belgium
15. Italy
16. Austria
17. France
18. Hungary
19. Estonia
20. Israel
21. Greece
22. Canada
23. Iceland
24. Portugal
25. Spain
26. South Korea
26. Luxembourg
28. Poland
29. Chile
30. United States
31. Japan
32. Mexico
33. Russia
34. Turkey

The keys to staying out of poverty in the first world are to marry and hold down a job. If these two things are present, for more than 19 out of 20 parents in the developed world, poverty is not. This gets to the heart of Half Sigma's assertion that one of the best things public schools can do for children from working and underclass backgrounds is to try and instill middle class values in them. Easier said than done, of course, but more worthy than the pie in the sky aspirations of legislation like No Child Left Behind.

* The report does not break down national statistics by race, so I used data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that does and applied it to the OECD figures. The foundation's numbers are a bit higher across the board as it includes the children of unmarried women who are cohabiting as being in single parent households, while the OECD does not (more usefully, in my view).


Anonymous said...

Middle class values = slut shaming

There really is no way around this. Married couples are the social opposites of multiple partner sluts and PUA's.

When most of the teachers are themselves single moms, it is going to be damned hard to get them to teach kids to shame the sluts.

It would be interesting to know what fraction of teachers are single moms.

Audacious Epigone said...


I'll see if the GSS sample size is large enough to get some insight into that tomorrow.

M.G. Miles said...

The keys to staying out of poverty in the first world are to marry and hold down a job.

There's no question 'race matters,' as the U.S. stats convincingly show, but so does dysgenic welfare policy, as your quote above shows.

When the government pays the least able women to have kids (but only if they don't marry!), and taxes the most able women to fund them, you get an explosion of single-parent homes, as Charles Murray has well documented in England. I've blogged about this too.

When one adds dysgenic welfare policy to the various well-known African social pathologies, one indeed ends up, as you say, 'First prize in the single parent department.'