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October 02, 2005

The Underclass and its Lack of Fathers

Charles Murray has an intersting essay in the WSJ that emerged today from behind their subscriber wall. It’s partly a response to the lawlessness we saw (or at least, we were told we saw) during Katrina. He goes on to speak about criminality at large, a problem he blames on ‘unsocialized’ males in the underclass.

Now those sound like codewords for ‘poor blacks’ and, to some degree, they are. But he points out that the problems there are simply concentrated strains and troubles in society at large. He also argues the troubles are growing, saying that the falling crime rates we’re comforted by hide a growing lawlessness in that young underclass:

Why has the proportion of unsocialized young males risen so relentlessly? In large part, I would argue, because the proportion of young males who have grown up without fathers has also risen relentlessly. The indicator here is the illegitimacy ratio--the percentage of live births that occur to single women. It was a minuscule 4% in the early 1950s, and it has risen substantially in every subsequent decade. The ratio reached the 25% milestone in 1988 and the 33% milestone in 1999. As of 2003, the figure was 35%--of all births, including whites. The black illegitimacy ratio in 2003 was 68%. By way of comparison: The illegitimacy ratio that caused Daniel Patrick Moynihan to proclaim the breakdown of the black family in the early 1960s was 24%.

He also argues that the new, old talk about governmental programs to change this are doomed to fail. That the problem of the underclass is not in its ‘lacking opportunities,' but in its culture:


The government hasn't a clue. Versions of every program being proposed in the aftermath of Katrina have been tried before and evaluated. We already know that the programs are mismatched with the characteristics of the underclass. Job training? Unemployment in the underclass is not caused by lack of jobs or of job skills, but by the inability to get up every morning and go to work. A homesteading act? The lack of home ownership is not caused by the inability to save money from meager earnings, but because the concept of thrift is alien. You name it, we've tried it. It doesn't work with the underclass.

Perhaps the programs now being proposed by the administration will help ordinary poor people whose socialization is just fine and need nothing more than a chance. It is comforting to think so, but past experience with similar programs does not give reason for optimism--it is hard to exaggerate how ineffectually they have been administered. In any case, poor people who are not part of the underclass seldom need help to get out of poverty. Despite the exceptions that get the newspaper ink, the statistical reality is that people who get into the American job market and stay there seldom remain poor unless they do something self-destructive. And behaving self-destructively is the hallmark of the underclass.

He goes on to circle those cultural problems back into the issue of ‘fatherlessness.’

I think there’s a lot of truth in what he says. Of course the government hasn’t a clue, no one does. There’s not a governmental solution, not realistically, not anymore. After all, how does a government fix culture? How does anyone?

Sure, they can set up programs that erode it, set up cascading unintended (though, not entirely unforeseeable) consequences that leave us with a horror show, but can they reverse it? Hah.

Look, let’s say we really, really did want to fix fatherlessness - we ‘get serious’ about it (sick of that phrase). Well, how does it come about? Let’s reverse engineer the thing.

It comes about, ultimately, because men are able to get what they want, sex, without any expectation from woman beforehand that they will stick around, and without the worry that society will penalize them if they leave. Stigma? If the illegitimacy rate is 68% in places, there ain’t much stigma attached to being in a 2/3 majority. (And if there is, hell, they got the numbers to override any pertinent filibuster or veto.)

But that present lack of stigma isn’t a cause, it’s merely restating a current problem.

The cause, originally, is the social safety net, or rather, government’s role in expanding it. Once, Dickensian society didn’t send unwed mothers checks in the mail to care for what they would have deemed ‘that slut’s mistake.’ (We were some harsh people.)

Nope. It was her responsibility. And she was raised by parents instructing her that opening her legs without a ring on her finger was a mortal sin. And they had every incentive to instill in her that great shame - those fatherless grandchildren would be much more likely to die. (And if you care for evolutionary psychology you might point out that harsh parenting reinforced itself: Permissive parents were less likely to become grandparents.)

Later, widespread, effective contraception accelerated that trend toward permissiveness. Sex was no longer a quite the risky proposition. The chick didn’t have to be so certain her bedmate was a decent guy with prospects, one in it for the long haul (signaled in the past by the quaint custom of actually having to marry her beforehand.)

And men, no longer held to any standard other than possessing a good opening line and a nice ass, stopped making promises. And why should they? Why promise anyone that you’ll stick around and only have sex with them from now on?

And you old fashioned women? Well, how strong is your ‘no sex til marriage’ negotiating leverage anymore when the rest of your union is jumping into bed long before they ever get near the bargaining table? How long are you gonna stay in the ‘hold out’ camp? Somewhere, a sluttiness ‘tipping point’ was reached. (And try getting that genie back in the bottle.)

Are we done? Nope. Next came legalized abortion. At first a last refuge, now, because society can no longer stand the concept of shame, where are we? A recent comment here pointed out this 2003 CDC statistic: The abortions/births ratio for white women was 184 abortions per 1,000 live births; for black women, it was 543 abortions per 1,000 births.

Think about that, about how distant not just sex, but pregnancy is from marriage. Run the numbers.

Out of every 1543 black pregnancies, 543 are aborted. Of those 1000 live births, only 320 (reversing the 68% rate) are going to be born to wed mothers. Put it this way: only 1 in 5 black pregnancies will result in a child born with a father.

In whites, using the general 35% figure above, it comes out to a not so comforting figure of roughly half.

And do you think those figures get higher or lower the further you drift down the income/eduction ladder, the closer you get to the underclass?

Sex has become entirely divorced from marriage (divorced, no longer on speaking terms and refusing to pay alimony.)

And there you are. No incentive for men to stick around. No sexual incentive for man to be a ‘good prospect.’ - ie. stable, clean cut, having a decent job and promise of promotion (God, how old fashioned does that sound?)

So what can government do to turn a cultural, sexual revolution back?

Absolutely nothing. We can’t get men back into homes to stay if women keep unlocking the door for them.

Some say try to make leaving expensive, talking about ‘getting tough on deadbeat dads.’ Well, maybe it’s a start, but ultimately, it’s a whispered breath amidst a cultural hurricane.

Government can’t do anything against a culture once changed. We aren’t going to criminalize contraception. We aren’t going to ban abortion. We aren’t going to go back to difficult divorces and private eyes snapping naughty photos of naughty spouses in seedy hotel rooms.

Stigma, once removed, can never be returned – certainly not by any federal program. (Oh, and cutting off welfare to unwed mothers? Are you serious? Who’s gonna stand for that in the face of a single Anderson Cooper interview of an American mother holding a malnourished American baby? Not me.)

I don’t see how government can affect ‘fatherlessness.’ And frankly, if you get a couple beers in me, I don’t see any institution lying around anymore strong enough to stand up to the permissive, one direction only, landslide.

Maybe someone has some good ideas, but I ain't heard em yet.

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posted by Dr. Reo Symes at 05:33 PM

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