From a long article attacking conservative ideas about poverty, some thoughts on the collapse of marriage among the lower and middle class:
Next Edin took up the question of why low-income mothers so often put childbearing before marriage. Far from eschewing marriage as an institution, she found, poor women idealized it to such an extent that it became unattainable. They didn't believe that a marriage born in poverty could survive.

In a society that increasingly saw marriage as a choice, not a requirement, low-income women were embracing the same preconditions as middle-class women. They wanted to be "set" before marrying, with economic independence to ensure a more equitable partnership and a fallback should things go bad. They also wanted men who were mature, stable, and who had mortgages and other signs of adulthood, not just jobs.

"People were embracing higher and higher standards for marriage," Edin explains. From a financial standpoint alone, "the men that would have been marriageable [in the 1950s] are no longer marriageable now. That's a cultural change." The low-income women in Edin's study reported that decent, trustworthy, available men were in short supply in their communities, where there were often major sex imbalances thanks to high incarceration rates....

Marriage was so taboo among her subjects that Edin discovered two couples in her sample who claimed they were unmarried at the time of their babies' birth but were actually not. One of the women had even been chewed out by her grandmother for marrying the father of one of her children.
Emphasis added.

The author got around to studying men in poor communities too, though it took some effort. "Edin [says] she'd never been interested in studying men. 'It's fun to write about people with a strong heroic element to the story,' she says. 'Women have that. Men don't have that.'"

But the men she talked to had yet another surprising attitude: they thought having kids out of wedlock was a good thing they were doing in the world. It was a way of adding something hopeful and promising to an otherwise bleak landscape.

A whole lot of the thinking going on in the article will not be what you expect, both from the authors and from their subjects.

1 comment:

Joseph W. said...

I didn't really see the article as "attacking conservative ideas about poverty"...though from the source I certainly was expecting that. In fact the spin was refreshingly light. In some ways it concedes the most important points -- that when you inject a welfare system, people make work choices based on the benefits, and those choices might include "off the books" work or crime. That's at least acknowledging economic reality...and encouraging the reader to think about the incentives created by a system, rather than making the static assumptions that are too common in leftist economics.

And I like Ms. Edin's approach to interviewing, as it's similar to what I like to do with witnesses - talk to them in their "native habitats," not call them into my office for an interrogation.

My own views, and the nature of her schooling (that emphasized "social justice") incline me to suspect (as Mr. Haskins does, and good on the author for quoting him!) that Ms. Edin is prettying things up a bit. There's not a word in the article about sexual attraction...or whether, in our current culture, the man who excites a teenage girl so that she wants to go to bed with him is the same as the man who wants to stay by her and support the family.

Theodore Dalrymple's articles from the 90's, which really do rely on extensive "fieldwork" though in a different country's underclass, suggest that he is not. (The accounts I read in Dinesh D'Souza's The End of Racism paralleled Dalrymple's accounts pretty closely, and disturblingly.)

It's refreshing too that the author doesn't try too hard to squeeze her facts into a preferred policy response. Government job training has a pretty dismal record, if this paper and that article have it right. Trying to apply an ineffective policy more equally to men...still leaves it an ineffective policy.