I think the greatest, most astonishing fact that I am aware of in social science right now is that women have been able to hear the labor market screaming out ‘You need more education’ and have been able to respond to that, and men have not, and it’s very, very scary for economists because people should be responding to price signals. And men are not. It’s a fact in need of an explanation.
— Michael Greenstone, M.I.T. economics professor
Social scientists are obsessed with the “gender wage gap”; for decades they were distraught that the gap existed at all. Now large numbers are alarmed that the gap is shrinking. The quote above fits with the more recent concern, and is central to the New York Times business section article Study of Men’s Falling Income Cites Single Parents, as well as an opinion piece by David Frum at CNN titled Straight marriage is the real issue (H/T Rollo).
While I’m not a professor of economics from MIT, I do have a real degree in economics and an honorary PhD in red pill pharmacy. Putting those two together allows me to explain what so frightens the good professor and the journalists quoting him. To start with, they very much should be frightened by the shrinking wage gap, but not because men are ignoring market signals or are somehow unfit for the modern economy. In fact, the problem is that men are slowly but surely starting to respond to market signals stemming from our radical overhaul of the family structure in recent decades.
Not too many decades ago the US and the rest of the western world had marriage as the central organizing philosophy for family structure. This was a structure which created an incentive for men to produce more than they required for their own consumption and encouraged them to take on the responsibility of a family. This system not only benefited children, but men and women as well. Women benefited from the protection and resources husbands provided to them and the children they bore. Men were provided the only socially and morally sanctioned access to sex as well as the prestige and satisfaction which came from leading a family. Society as a whole benefited because children had the advantages of growing up in an intact home and men were willing to work extremely hard to produce the required surplus.
Through a combination of legal and social “reforms”, the US now has what appears on the surface to be a dual family structure but is in legal reality a single family structure organized around the concept of child support. Where in the past a woman needed to secure a formal promise from a man in the form of marriage before she could expect him to support her and the children she bore, in this new structure the law declares that any man she has children by are bound to support her and her children whether she marries or not, and whether or not she honors her own marriage vows.
While men were motivated under the old family structure, they absolutely detest the new child support system of family formation. Under the old system a man who married before fathering children could reasonably expect access to his children and the opportunity to direct their upbringing (in concert with his wife). Under the new system the children are de facto considered the property of the mother, whom the state compels him to pay so she can direct their upbringing generally as she sees fit. Since the new system has removed the incentive for men to work hard to provide for their families, it has to rely instead on threats of imprisonment to coerce men into earning “enough” income. Where men used to take pride in the birth of their children and celebrate with cigars, large numbers of men now fear fatherhood more than anything.
Under the new rules even if a man chooses the structure of marriage he is always subject to being forced into the child support model for any or no reason by his wife. No fault divorce laws are unilateral and openly celebrated by both social scientists and modern Christianity as a tool for wives to threaten their husbands. Fathers have gone from being the respected head of household to deputy parent serving at the pleasure of their wives.
Fortunately for society awareness of the reality of the new system has been slow to spread. Most men are either uninformed about the true nature of the family court or assume that the woman they marry would never detonate their family for 30 pieces of silver. Because of inertia men continue to earn more than women, and those who have studied the question (Hymowitz, Farrell) have found that this is due to men choosing to work harder, longer, and/or more difficult and dangerous jobs than women. While the MIT economist is correct that men earn fewer degrees than women, those men who do earn degrees are far more likely than women to choose majors with real economic value. However, the gender earnings gap is still shrinking, and this has the author of the NY Times business article both puzzled and worried:
The fall of men in the workplace is widely regarded by economists as one of the nation’s most important and puzzling trends. While men, on average, still earn more than women, the gap between them has narrowed considerably, particularly among more recent entrants to the labor force.
He should be worried, but he shouldn’t be puzzled. The hard earned lesson of the twentieth century was that incentives work far better than coercion when it comes to generating economic value. Yet despite winning the cold war the US and the western world has quietly elected to move from an incentives based family/economic structure (marriage) to one based on coercion (child support).
Nearly all observers however are misunderstanding the cause/effect relationships here. In his otherwise excellent recent NY Times piece Late Marriage and Its Consequences, Ross Douthat makes the classic error of confusing the added responsibility men take on when they marry for a benefit, instead of a cost they bear in exchange for leading a family:
Men, meanwhile, reap a wage premium from marrying earlier, so late marriage tends to hurt their economic prospects
Similarly, the NY Times business piece and Frum’s piece at CNN both note that men’s shrinking relative economic output is occurring at the same time the majority of young mothers are skipping the time honored wedding/birth/divorce process and deliberately choosing to have their children out of wedlock. As we’ve seen with Christian leaders like Stanton and Driscoll, the standard narrative is that women are being forced to choose the child support model by men who are unworthy of marriage. The NY Times business piece explains:
Men who are less successful are less attractive as partners, so some women are choosing to raise children by themselves, in turn often producing sons who are less successful and attractive as partners.
Frum echoes this sentiment with:
As men (on average) finish less education, as male wages (on average) decline, men become less attractive as marital partners.
Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox of The Marriage Project doesn’t make this mistake in a similar article he wrote recently for Slate, but he agrees that the explosion in out of wedlock births is due to deliberate choices by women:
Melissa, a 31-year-old single mother, had this to say about why she has never married any of her boyfriends: “I just never felt that anyone’s as loyal to me as I am to them,” she said. “Even when I feel like I’m in a good relationship, there’ll be little things that they’ll do that will make me start wondering, ‘Do they really have my back?’ ”, according to the Love and Marriage in Middle America project, a study of Middle American relationships in a small town in Ohio. What’s striking about Melissa’s comment—which is all too representative—is that it’s not just the bad guys who give her pause about marriage; it’s also the good guys. She just seems to harbor a general suspicion about the possibility of lifelong love and the whole institution of marriage.
The long term danger here is obvious. The more women delay, avoid, and abuse marriage the less men will be willing to generate the surplus economic output our economy depends on. Instead of being the economic powerhouse of the west, men disenfranchised from fatherhood will more and more decide to enjoy the decline. This reduction in economic output will coincide with the massive increases in social costs caused by fatherless children and comes at a time when governments are already running out of options. If we want to stem this vicious cycle we will ultimately have no choice but to return to a marriage based family structure. Right now this is politically unthinkable, as both the left and the right are deeply invested in the child support model of family organization. However, the more we experience the true costs of this model the more the folly of this path will become undeniable. True hardship has a way of making the right choice suddenly clear, so it is still possible that we will ultimately return to a marriage based family structure. In the meantime social scientists will remain baffled and hundreds of millions of children will continue to suffer.