Time: Single Parents, Not Poverty, Bad for Kids

Guest blogging at Double X (7/2/09), Linda Hirshman takes on a Time magazine “cover story by working mother-scourge Caitlin Flanagan” that uses “the occasion of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s staggeringly banal adultery to tell America that ‘Marriage Matters.'” Specifically, Hirshman writes of Flanagan’s contention that

Marriage matters, because single-parent families are bad for children, the only people who count. “Drastically” bad: “On every single significant outcome … children from intact, two-parent families outperform those from single-parent households…. If you can measure it, a sociologist has; and in all cases, the kids living with both parents drastically outperform the others.”

OK, maybe poor people, more often single than their critics from the elite Flanagan class, have worse outcomes, but aren’t those problems more about, say, poverty than single-parent families? And, in fact, sociologists have been looking for reliable data that sorts that out since the invention of sociology in the 19th century and as recently as 2005.

But instead of looking at the recent work, Flanagan gives us her usual brew of autobiography (my parents’ 50-year marriage, my husbandâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s caretaking), outmoded studies and interviews with experts from right-wing foundations such as David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values (and a loud spokesman against marriage for same-sex people), and Heritage’s Robert Rector.

Hirshman points to a 2005 report from “the centrist Brookings Institution” that apparently is “unbeknownst to Flanagan”: “Looking at a decade’s work, [Penn State Professor of Family Sociology and Demography Paul R.] Amato reported ‘the results of individual studies vary considerably: Some suggest serious negative effects of divorce, others suggest modest effects, and yet others suggest no effects.'”

One of Amato’s conclusions is that “if the share of adolescents living in two-parent families returned to its 1970 level, it would have … a relatively small effect on the share of children experiencing these problems.” His educated guess that “in general, these findings… are likely to disappoint some readers” appears true enough, except when corporate media pundits like Flanagan choose not to read them at all. See the FAIR magazine Extra!: “Career Women, Go Home: Media Return to a Favorite Obsession” (11â┚¬“12/06) by Keely Savoie.