Make your own free website on Tripod.com
book reviews, articles at the good, the true, the beautiful book reviews, articles at the good, the true, the beautiful

 

My Main Page with Links to My Other Book Reviews

 

Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps by Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur

Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur describe the results of several longitudinal studies on three outcomes: Idleness, teen births, and high school graduation. The findings: Low income is the largest factor affecting achievement in single parent homes, accounting for half of worse consequences. Arguing that low income and family disruption mutually cause each other, the authors claim that residential mobility (moving often) and direct father factors (daddy nurturing) account for the other half.

††††††††††††

Judith Rich Harris and others argue the daddy nurturing factor is mistaken because the studies failed to decompose for genetic factors. The combination of parentsí genes is what causes the worse outcomes, not direct father influence. The Harris argument concludes that low income, residential mobility, and bad heredity are major causes, not to mention a slew of individual and social factors--pop culture, schools, jobs, neighborhoods, crime prevention strategies, and so on--that would be the subjects of different books. The parental substance abuse factor is also not accounted for in these studies. The studies examined by the authors decomposed for race, gender, geography, parents' education, and number of siblings.

††††††††††††

Some consequences may not be huge. Dropping out of high school is more a symptom of other problems than a disaster itself. This is not to say that ending a marriage is without major consequences, especially on the economic and psychological fronts.

††††††††††††

Step-families have consequences, too--bad ones the research suggests. Step-families move more often than single parent families and stepparents are often uncommitted, emotionally and economically. Serial monogamy leaves a trail of dumped lovers and children. One appalling thing about our society: Our willingness to devalue or abandon children for the most asinine reasons while maintaining correct beliefs about families. "Family is important," a man might say, "but my ex-wife is a witch so to hell with it all."

††††††††††††

Why is parental absenteeism important? First, absent parents provide fewer resources. Absence creates new ties that blind. Absence makes the heart grow colder. Two-thirds of children entitled to child support get no child support or less than the full amount. Government neglects its duty to get non-custodial parents to pay.

††††††††††††

Second, two providers who pool resources in one household can live much better than two providers in separate households--economics of scale. In 1992, 45 percent of families headed by single parents were in poverty. The figure for two parent families was 8.4 percent.

††††††††††††

Younger children face the most poverty. In 1997, the official poverty line for a family of four was $16,050 and 23 percent of children under six were in poverty. Even 11.5 percent of married couple children under six were below the poverty line.

††††††††††††

The authors recommend guaranteed jobs, human capital internships, longer school days, universal health care, a

$500 refundable tax credit, custody decisions that consider the future mobility factor, a nationally consistent child support system, better establishment of paternity, and better enforcement of child support. One key: Encourage two parent families without punishing children in single parent families. The $500 refundable tax credit is inadequate on both merit and consequentialist grounds. The authors call the dependent exemption a middle class policy, but that is not true. The dependent exemption delivers the most money to those in the highest tax brackets.

††††††††††††

The authors do not offer a specific plan for individual single parents. A plan that might help:

1. Megasearch for cheap housing in good school districts

2. Choose play groups for young children that have good kids

3. Avoid moving from a good neighborhood

4. Look into pooling resources with relatives

5. Cross your fingers

††††††††††††

Here is suggestion for those looking to start a family:

1. Choose your spouse carefully, and that includes evaluating genes and other unsavory facts you would rather ignore

2. Wait at least 12 months prior to marriage

3. Seek John Gottman-style pre-marital advice

4. Follow steps one through five above for single parents

††††††††††††

Recommended. 1996

Book review by J.T. Fournier, last updated June 28, 2009.

 

My Main Page with Links to My Other Book Reviews