Monday, September 26, 2005

The Importance of Marriage


In today's Washington Post, William Rasberry instructs us of a growing disconnect between marriage and motherhood for poor mothers.
Unlike earlier generations, they don't look to marriage to give their children "a name" or for economic stability; they see it as a crowning achievement -- something to look forward to after they have their children, decent jobs and a house of their own. To marry earlier, they insist, is to leave themselves prey to the controlling and abusive men who are available to them in their inner-city Philadelphia and Camden, N.J., neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Maggie Gallagher has produced an analysis of recent research on family structure and delinquency that concludes that -- after controlling for race, income and education -- boys who grow up without fathers are several times more likely to end up in jail. Earlier studies, says Gallagher, who is president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, show that children raised outside marriage are more prone to poverty, substance abuse, school failure, delinquency and adult crime.
Wait a second... I thought Maggie Gallagher was a staunch opponent of marriage. Oops - I guess that's only gay marriage.

Seriously, though, Gallagher is an ideologue who rails against gay marriage, single parent households and abortion rights, with a consistent subtext that there should be a diminishment of the wall between church and state. She is sufficiently reliable in her opinion that she was commissioned by the Bush Administration to write brochures on the subject of marriage, but sufficiently unreliable in her candor that she "forgot" to tell her readership of the arrangement when subsequently editorializing in favor of Bush Administration policies. You don't need to be told which positions Maggie holds or what conclusions her organization advances - if it didn't support her position, she wouldn't be talking about it.

The description reminded me of a rather unpersuasive interview I heard on NPR a few weeks ago, with author Peggy Drexler. While Drexler was asserting that her recent book, "Raising Boys Without Men", was intended only to show that single mothers and gay couples didn't have to fret about the absence of a male presence in their household, her arguments have widely been viewed as anti-male. She argued in effect that most of the supposedly deleterious effects of single parent households are tied to other factors, and that single mothers who lived in decent neighborhoods with stable incomes were producing sons who fared no worse, and sometimes better, than those from "traditional" families.

What I found unpersuasive about this was her methodology (interviews with the boys and their mothers over a period of years), which seemed designed to screen out both opposing viewpoints and unstable families (which are likely to drop out of a longitudinal study). She frequently referred to her findings as following a scientific methodology, but never used the magical words "peer reviewed" in relation to her more controversial findings. Which is not to say that there aren't many single parent households and gay households raising fine children, or "traditional" households which aren't - it's just to say that she seemed to be letting her ideology drive her research and her conclusions. Which I guess makes her Maggie Gallagher's counterpart, save for the fact that Drexler at least performs research.

So I was not particularly suprprised when I Googled Gallagher's organization the "Institute for Marriage and Public Policy" and found that the report mentioned in the Raspberry column was apparently prepared to rebut Drexler:
Can Married Parents Reduce Crime? 9/21/05
Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy says, "Results like these are a reality check for people such as Peggy Drexler ("Raising Boys Without Men") who argue that it is only poverty, and not father absence, that hurts children. Boys are hardwired to grow into men. But they are not hardwired to grow into good family men. That’s a job for mothers and fathers working together."
Well, there's a scientific assertion.... You can download the report (in PDF format) from Gallagher's site.

The report isn't actually a study - it's a survey of studies. And it doesn't actually conclude that "after controlling for race, income and education ... boys who grow up without fathers are several times more likely to end up in jail" - it states, "recent research strongly suggests both that young adults and teens raised in single-parent homes are more likely to commit crimes, and that communities with high rates of family fragmentation (especially unwed childbearing) suffer higher crime rates as a result". Raspberry should have checked his source.

Lest you believe that Gallagher's advocacy for government intervention in the family is premised in her concern for poverty, her writings will quickly set you straight:
We expect our governments, local, state and federal, to respond to our citizens' needs, all of them, even those too poor or too stupid to get out of the way of a Category 5 hurricane.
Given Gallagher's position that it is a matter for contempt and derision to suggest that government should help the poor, her advocacy for government policies relating to marriage can safely be presumed to be about something other than a concern for poverty.

1 comment:

  1. Raspberry's the same pundit (that's Latin for "talkative moron") who bemoaned changes in the law and social attitudes that permit a woman to earn her own living, as women now no longer have to depend on men so much.

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