The New York Times has made a stir with How Did Marriage Become a Mark of Privilege?
Marriage, which used to be the default way to form a family in the United States, regardless of income or education, has become yet another part of American life reserved for those who are most privileged.
After blaming a lack of good paying jobs for working class men*, the Times then offers a second solution. Those who are not privileged should simply become privileged, so that the new form of marriage designed for and by the privileged will work as well for them as it works for our elite. The non privileged need to learn to become privileged by relying on birth control, abortion, delayed marriage, high levels of education, and high incomes:
People with college degrees seem to operate with more of a long-term perspective, social scientists say. They are more likely to take on family responsibilities slowly, and they often benefit from parental resources to do so — like help paying for education, birth control or rent to live on their own. In turn, the young adults prioritize waiting to have children until they are more able to give their children similar opportunities.
“The cultural reinforcement, people relying on contraception and abortion, reinforces a norm, that you don’t have the kid with the wrong guy,” Ms. Carbone said.
The Times closes the article with a quote from W. Bradford Wilcox explaining his “success sequence” thesis:
Mr. Wilcox suggests a bigger emphasis in high schools and pop culture on what’s known as the success sequence: degree, job, marriage, baby. “The idea is that if people follow that sequence, their odds of landing in poverty are much lower,” he said.
Wilcox has been selling his “success sequence” thesis for many years. From the 2010 State of Our Unions report:
…highly educated Americans (and their children) adhere devoutly to a “success sequence” norm that puts education, work, marriage, and childbearing in sequence, one after another, in ways that maximize their odds of making good on the American Dream and obtaining a successful family life.
The callous elitism on display here is astounding. Both the Times (on the left) and Wilcox (on the right) are observing that the new family model is creating massive human misery, and both respond by asking why the peasants don’t simply eat cake.
This is a problem Herrnstein and Murray described in detail in their much maligned book The Bell Curve. In Chapter 8 (Family Matters), they explain that the reason college graduates and the UMC have lower divorce rates is because these things correlate positively with IQ, not because high socioeconomic status (SES) and higher education themselves reduce divorce rates. In fact, both of these factors increases divorce rates once IQ is controlled for (emphasis mine):
The consistent finding, represented fairly by the figure, was that higher IQ was still associated with a lower probability of divorce after extracting the effects of other variables, and parental SES had a significant positive relationship to divorce–that is, IQ being equal, children of higher-status families were more likely to get divorced than children of lower-status families.
It is clear to all researchers who examine the data that higher education is associated with lower levels of divorce. This was certainly true of the NLSY, where the college sample (persons with a bachelor’s degree, no more and no less) had a divorce rate in the first five years of marriage that was less than half that of the high school sample: 7 percent compared to 19 percent. But this raw outcome is deceptive. Holding some critical other things equal–IQ, socioeconomic status, age, and date of marriage–the divorce rate for the high school graduates in the first five years of marriage was lower than for college graduates.
In their closing chapter, A Place for Everyone, Herrnstein and Murray explain the reason thinking honestly about IQ is so important. If we are honest about IQ, we can be compassionate towards those who aren’t on the right hand side of the bell curve:
Our central concern since we began writing this book is how people might live together harmoniously despite fundamental individual differences. The answer lies outside economics.
The initial purpose of this chapter is to present for your consideration another way of thinking about equality and inequality. It represents an older intellectual tradition than social democracy or even socialism. In our view, it is also a wiser tradition, more attuned to the way in which individuals go about living satisfying lives and to the ways in which societies thrive.
They argue that public policy is currently being made by the elite, for the elite, without regard for the needs of everyone else:
The thesis of this section may be summarized quickly. As of the end of the twentieth century, the United States is run by rules that are congenial to people with high IQs and that make life more difficult to everyone else. This is true in the areas of criminal justice, marriage and divorce, welfare and tax policy, and business law, among others…
The systems have been created, bit by bit, over decades, by people who think that complicated, sophisticated operationalizations of fairness, justice, and right and wrong are ethically superior to simple, black-and-white versions.
The new elite focused systems of course include the new model of the family. Herrnstein and Murray take it as a given that our new view of sexual morality can’t, and shouldn’t, be changed. This leaves the legal definition of the family. Their proposal is to jettison the family structure that we have used to replace marriage (the child support model):
Repeatedly, the prerogatives and responsibilities that used to be limited to marriage have spilled over into nonmarital relationships, whether it is the rights and responsibilities of an unmarried father, medial coverage for same sex partners, or palimony cases. Once the law says, “Well, in a legal sense, living together is the same,” what is the point of getting married?
For most people, there are still answers to that question. Even given the diminished legal stature of marriage, marriage continues to have unique value. But to see those values takes forethought about the long term differences between living together and being married, sensitivity to many intangibles, and an appreciation of second-hand and third-hand consequences. As Chapter 8’s evidence about marriage rates implies, people low on the intelligence distribution are less likely to think through those issues than others.
Our policy prescription in this instance is to return marriage to its formerly unique legal status. If you are married, you take on obligations. If you are not married, you don’t. In particular, we urge that marriage once again become the sole legal institution through which rights and responsibilities regarding children are exercised. If you are an unmarried mother, you have no legal basis for demanding that the father of the child provide support. If you are an unmarried father, you have no legal standing regarding the child–not even a right to see the child, let alone any basis honored by society for claiming he or she is “yours” or that you are a “father.”
The reality is that to our elites on both the right and the left, such a proposal is unthinkable. Both would rather have millions of innocent children suffer than switch to a model that is not optimized specifically for the elites. At some point down the road, the profound economic cost of this new family model will eventually make at least some of our elites more open to reconsidering this. But for now, expect to see ever louder calls from the elites on the left and the right for weak men to stop screwing feminism up, and for non elites to simply become elites so our dysfunctional family system won’t be so obviously dysfunctional.
*While it is true that men without good earnings are far less likely to marry, it is also true that weakening marriage as an institution greatly reduces men’s incentives to have high earnings. This isn’t a problem of uni-directional causation, but a vicious cycle.