Fatherless children, including among low-income whites, are far more common in America than Europe

Paul Nachman writes:

Here are a six paragraphs from a long article in National Affairs by Jim Manzi. There is a startling statistic I’ve boldfaced:

Child-rearing has seen a similar split. In 1965, almost no mothers with any level of education reported that they had never been married. Today, this still holds true for mothers who have finished college: Only 3% have never been married. But that figure stands in stark contrast with the nearly 25% of mothers without high-school diplomas who say that they have never been married. In fact, last year, about 40% of all American births occurred out of wedlock. And about 70% of African-American children—as well as most Hispanic children—are born to unmarried ¬≠mothers. But this situation obtains for low-wage, non-college-educated whites as well: It is estimated that about 70% of children born to non-Hispanic white women with no more than a high-school education and income below $20,000 per year were born out of wedlock.

The level of family disruption in America is enormous compared to almost every other country in the developed world. Of course, out-of-wedlock births are as common in many European countries as they are in the United States. But the estimated percentage of 15-year-olds living with both of their biological parents is far lower in the United States than in Western Europe, because unmarried European parents are much more likely to raise children together. It is hard to exaggerate the chaotic conditions under which something like a third of American children are being raised—or to overstate the negative impact this disorder has on their academic achievement, social skills, and character formation. There are certainly heroic exceptions, but the sad fact is that most of these children could not possibly compete with their foreign counterparts.

As the lower classes in America experience these alarming regressions, wealthier and better-educated Americans have managed to re-create a great deal of the lifestyle of the old WASP ascendancy—if with different justifications for it. Political correctness serves the same basic function for this cohort that “good manners” did for an earlier elite; environmentalism increasingly stands in for the ethic of controlling impulses so as to live within limits; and an expensive, competitive school culture—from pre-K play groups up through graduate school—socializes the new elite for constructive competition among peers. These Americans have even re-created the old WASP aesthetic preference for the antique, authentic, and pseudo-utilitarian at the expense of vulgar displays of wealth. In many cases, they live in literally the same homes as the previous upper class.

Such behavior enables multi-generational success in a capitalist economy, and will serve the new elite well. But what remains to be seen is whether this new upper class will have the nerve, wit, and sense of purpose that led the old WASP elite to develop a social matrix that offered broadly shared prosperity to generations of Americans.

Their task will be made very difficult by the growing bifurcation of social norms in America. A welfare state can best perform its basic function—buffering the human consequences of the market, without unduly hampering its effectiveness—where enough widely shared social capital exists to guide the behavior of most people in a bourgeois direction. But as it performs that function, the welfare state creates incentives that push people toward short-term indolence, free riding, and self-absorption—thus undermining the very norms, and consuming the kind of social capital, it needs to operate. (The market often does the same thing: relying on rules and behaviors made possible by traditional morality even as it undercuts it.)

Post-war America had much more widely shared bourgeois norms, and so was better able to contend with the negative side effects of the welfare state. Today’s American underclass, however, is increasingly developing in the absence of such norms—to a large degree as the result of the welfare state itself. Meanwhile, the need for innovation and the pressures of a global economy only continue to reinforce the causes of our social bifurcation.

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Robert C. writes:

There are a lot of other things in that article that are also interesting, but the cultural and demographic issues involved when the nuclear family breaks down on such a massive scale are quite frightening. As I recall, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote about such issues concerning the black family during the 1960s.

He was lambasted for blaming the victim. I think I know what he would say today.

To quote Moynihan, “From the wild Irish slums of the 19th century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history; a community that allows a large number of men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, disorder—most particularly the furious, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure—that is not only to be expected; it is very near to inevitable. And it is richly deserved.”

I know there are some who would say that this applied to the black community in the inner city ghettos. Are we prepared for what happens when such dysfunctional behavior patterns become the norm throughout society?

Leonard D. writes:

Manzi is a very smart guy. He is smart enough to know the facts about race and intelligence. (I infer that he does by reading between the lines in that article.) But Manzi is also attempting to influence mainstream politics. Given that goal, he is smart enough not to mention hatefacts except in the most elliptical way. For example, in polite society one never mentions “intelligence” or “IQ” in the racial context; instead you discuss “education” and “educational attainment.” And I can see how a smart guy like Nachman might get the wrong idea from lines like the one he bolded.

Here’s a more politically incorrect view of the problem. Due to the 1965 immigration policy, and subsequent weak enforcement of immigration law and the 1986 illegal immigrant amnesty, America is importing hordes of low-IQ peasants from the Third World. And of course we have our own native low-IQ subpopulation (blacks). These groups have lots of social dysfunction, at least according to American standards. They, and a small minority of similarly low-IQ whites who are similarly dysfunctional, account for the alarming statistics. Basically, the level of social dysfunction is highly correlated with the proportion of the population who are mestizo and black. There are stats on bastardy here: Changing Patterns of Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States. Note in particular figure 3. As America has become less white, our stats have trended south. No surprise for anyone who has read The Bell Curve.

I am sure many bad things are happening to “non-Hispanic white women with no more than a high-school education and income below $20,000 per year.” But it is small proportion of the white population, who are mostly not having many children. There has always been social dysfunction among whites, just as for other races; just less of it proportionately. This is still true.

Undoubtedly defeating liberalism would make it easier to deal with these populations. I.e., we could educate all children properly if we regained control of schools from the students, by the old-fashioned means of imposing corporal punishment. We could incentivize work properly by abolishing welfare. We could anathemize bastardy. Etc. However, the fundamental problem here is neither liberalism by itself, or diversity; it is the combination of both. (Of course, since liberalism demands diversity, and there’s plenty of it out there to import, liberalism is the ultimate problem.)

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 14, 2010 08:52 AM | Send

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