Boys Hardest Hit

An excerpt from the Wall Street Journal article by JAMES TARANTO:

Now and then truth emerges in surprising places, such as the pages of the New York Times and the work of Third Way, a goo-goo “moderate” Beltway think tank heretofore best known for its pioneering efforts in the crucially important sphere of seating arrangements.

Today’s Times reports on a new Third Way study that is highly important–no sarcasm here–and that picks up on some of this column’s frequent themes. Here’s the abstract:

A new gender gap has emerged–one where girls and young women outperform boys and young men in both education and key aspects of the workforce. This gap could be as much about social family structure as it is about economic forces like the demise of labor unions, globalization, and rapid changes in technology. Authors David Autor and Melanie Wasserman make the case that the decline in male achievement is almost exclusively reserved for males born into single-parent households; while females in single-parent households do OK, boys seem to suffer.Boys in female-headed households “appear to fare particularly poorly on numerous social and educational outcomes,” the authors note. “A vicious cycle [sic] may ensue, with the poor economic prospects of less-educated males creating differentially large disadvantages for their sons, thus potentially reinforcing the development of the gender gap in the next generation.” Boys, it seems, suffer more than girls do from the absence of a father.

Well, maybe. We have a quibble with the conclusion that “females in single-parent households do OK.” That may be true by the measure of individual economic and educational outcomes, but part of the vicious circle involves these girls’ growing up and bearing children out of wedlock (or for other reasons raising them in broken homes). If that is “OK,” our standards have already slipped too low.

Even in strictly economic terms, the life of a single mother is far from easy. So while women who grew up fatherless may be considerably more successful at school or work than their male counterparts, they pay a concomitant price in the burdens of unassisted childrearing.

The study helps explain why, as we argued last week, simple moral suasion is certain to prove an insufficient response to the growing illegitimacy crisis. For a woman, the idea of marrying before bearing children may be highly attractive. It also seems eminently rational. But if it isn’t feasible–if the pool of suitable and available men has diminished to a puddle–bearing a child out of wedlock is an entirely rational course of action for a woman who aspires to be a mother.

The Times approaches this point obliquely in its intriguing closing paragraphs:

Some experts cautioned that Professor Autor’s theory did not necessarily imply that such children would benefit from the presence of their fathers.

“Single-parent families tend to emerge in places where the men already are a mess,” said Christopher Jencks, a professor of social policy at Harvard University. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Suppose the available men were getting married to the available women? Would that be an improvement?’ “

Instead of making marriage more attractive, he said, it might be better for society to help make men more attractive.Designing a social policy to make men more attractive is easier said than done–and let’s be honest, it isn’t even that easily said. But we can identify ways in which social policies have made men less attractive.

First is welfare. Starting in 1935, the federal government financially enabled out-of-wedlock childrearing through Aid to Dependent Children (later Aid to Families With Dependent Children). The 1996 welfare reform aimed to wean single mothers from dependence on the government, but it did so by encouraging work rather than marriage–an understandable choice given that a good job was easier to find than a good man.


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1 comment for “Boys Hardest Hit

  1. patriarchal landmine
    November 28, 2013 at 12:30 AM


    my mom did a fairly effective job in convincing everyone in the family that I wasn’t doing well in school because of this or that mental disorder, or because I refused to take medication for it, whatever.

    I’m not interested in setting her or them straight anymore.

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