February 4 2014

Real Inequality: The Marriage Gap

Charlotte Hays

President Obama cited the discredited 77-cents on the dollar gender wage gap in his SOTU to promote the idea of inequality.

While beloved of Democrats, who see the bogus statistic as useful in garnering support from women, this figure is hopelessly obsolete. Mona Charen says that, in using it, the president “could not be more dated if he were issuing calls to improve phonograph needles.”

But he did not acknowledge a very real gap that contributes to a harsh and intractable form of inequality. Charen writes:   

Conservatives such as Christina Hoff Sommers, Charles Murray, and Kay Hymowitz have long been drawing attention to the declining fortunes of boys and men in American society. They have been joined recently by non-conservative scholars and researchers as well.

A paper by two MIT economists, "Wayward Sons," published by the center-left think tank Third Way, outlines the startling decline in the fortunes of moderately to poorly educated men over the past several decades. The title of the opening chapter is direct: “Women gain ground, men lose ground.” Starting with the cohort born in 1951, a gender gap in high-school completion has opened up and continues to grow. More girls than boys are graduating from high school.

The college picture is even more stark….

Many factors are cited as causes of the plight of men—globalization, loss of union clout, and the reduced availability of blue-collar jobs. Still, women with equivalent levels of education have not seen their incomes decline or pulled out of the labor force.

“Wayward Sons,” according to Mona, weighs theseoft-cited  various factors and then confronts the real issue:

At length, the authors come to the elephant in the room: the dramatic change in family structure since 1970. In that year, 69 percent of black men without a high-school diploma were married. By 2010, only 17 percent were. The marriage rate among non-college-attending whites and Hispanics has declined precipitously as well.

The link between family composition and child welfare is well established. What “Wayward Sons” adds is data on the differentially harmful effects of fatherlessness on sons versus daughters. “Growing up in a single-parent home appears to significantly decrease the probability of college attendance for boys, yet has no similar effect for girls.” Boys from such homes “are 25 percentage points more likely to be suspended in the eighth grade than girls from these households, whereas the corresponding gender gap between boys and girls from households with two biological parents was only 10 percentage points.”

A vicious cycle is clearly underway. Poorly educated women do not find marriageable mates among low-earning or jobless young men. Women then raise children alone and handicap their sons more than their daughters, and the cycle repeats itself.

The collapse of the marriage culture is arguably the “defining issue of our time.” Neither men nor women thrive without marriage, but men and boys seem to suffer more. Fatherlessness is driving income inequality, child poverty, and declining mobility. But Barack Obama is manning the barricades on “equal pay for equal work” — a matter addressed by Congress in 1963.

 

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