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Economics of life in America handicaps single moms and dads

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The economic storms of recent years have raised concerns about growing inequality and questions about a core national faith, that even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead. Most of the discussion has focused on labor market forces like falling blue-collar wages and lavish Wall Street pay.

But striking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility. College-educated Americans…are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women…are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes.

“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University…

Long concentrated among minorities, motherhood outside marriage now varies by class about as much as it does by race. It is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class…

Sara McLanahan, a Princeton sociologist, warns that family structure increasingly consigns children to “diverging destinies.”

Married couples are having children later than they used to, divorcing less and investing heavily in parenting time. By contrast, a growing share of single mothers have never married, and many have children with more than one man.

“The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers,” Ms. McLanahan said. “The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go.”

Unfortunately, understanding and accepting changes in family structure is limited to a minority of the population. That understanding doesn’t bring equal opportunity to education or income. Single parents are trying to function within a society stuck into religious and cultural constraints – leftover from centuries long ago left behind by families with access to a more complete education.

It’s a self-reinforcing dialectic. Better incomes aid better education and vice-versa. Single parents handicapped by opportunities reduced by more than half – education, sport, culture, health and recreation, every aspect of a broader life you may think of – produce the occasional success story. The contrast lies with the overwhelming majority.

RTFA. Beaucoup examples in a longish article. Mostly relevant with a few too many maudlin anecdotes. Worthwhile for all the studied information allowing you to build some breadth into understanding these challenges.

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Written by Ed Campbell

July 16, 2012 at 10:00 am

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