Illegitimacy and Inequality

The New York Times has finally found a reason to be concerned about the rising rate of out-of-wedlock births in America.

It’s not traditional Judeo-Christian morality, of course, nor even the voluminous evidence from the social sciences supporting the venerable and commonsensical belief that children raised in old-fashioned nuclear families tend to fare better in life than those raised by baby mommas. What worries the Times, rather, is the alarming possibility that illegitimacy is causing income inequality.

The argument has infuriated many of the paper’s readers, predictably enough, and the “comments” section of the internet edition is brimming with indignation. Feminist writer Katie Roiphe even took to the internet pages of Slate Magazine to demand that the Times “Stop Moralizing About Single Mothers,” decrying the paper’s “puritanical and alarmist rumination on the decline of the American family” and accusing it of “recycling truly retrograde and ugly moral judgements. [sic]”

Much of the criticism seems to reflect a fear that the secular left’s beloved issue of income inequality might somehow be co-opted by the religious right. Capitalism and the Republican party are apparently the only acceptable explanations for any unfairness that might occur in life, and perish the thought that the decisions made by individuals might have anything to do with it, so many of the commenters labor strenuously to argue that society can somehow be reconfigured along lines that will obviate mothers and fathers. Some commenters claim that it’s just a matter of tax breaks and a bit more federal funding, others seem to acknowledge that more radical reforms will be required, but none bother to attempt a refutation of the article’s facts and reasoning that show nuclear families are by and large the most successful.

There’s also the usual repulsion to moral judgments, which are “retrograde and ugly” even when they provably result in better outcomes for individuals as well as the country at large. The left isn’t averse to rendering judgments, and indeed they’re about as judgmental a bunch of busy-bodies as you’re ever likely to endure, they just don’t like it when anything akin to traditional morality is involved.

The Judeo-Christian tradition isn’t the only one that insists on marriage as a condition for parenthood, however, and every functioning nation in history has also done so because humankind’s long experience of organizing itself into societies has found no effective alternative. Couching the argument for traditional families in such secular terms, and especially when evoking the holy cause of income equality, is therefore a vexing challenge to those who intent of remaking society along the lines of a Soviet collective farm or hippie commune.

Even more annoying, as far as the enraged commenters are concerned, is the Times’ unsubtle suggestion that having children out of wedlock is an increasingly lower-class phenomenon. The Times’ readers don’t mind being called immoral, but they won’t stand for being called lower-class.

— Bud Norman

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