Isabel Sawhill-20 years later, data shows Dan Quayle was right about Murphy Brown and unmarried moms
...marriage brings economic benefits. It usually means two breadwinners, or one breadwinner and a full-time, stay-at-home parent with no significant child-care expenses. Unlike Murphy Brown — who always had the able Eldin by her side — most women do not have the flexibility afforded a presumably highly paid broadcast journalist. And it’s not just a cliche that two can live more cheaply than one; a single set of bills for rent, utilities and other household expenses makes a difference. Though not necessarily better off than a cohabiting couple, a married family is much better off than its single-parent counterpart.
I’ve been studying single mothers since long before “Murphy Brown” was on the air. In a study I co-authored with Adam Thomas, I put them into hypothetical households with demographically similar unmarried men who, in principle, would be good marriage partners. Through this virtual matchmaking, we showed that child poverty rates would fall by as much as 20 percent in an America with more two-parent households.
In later research, Ron Haskins and I learned that if individuals do just three things — finish high school, work full time and marry before they have children — their chances of being poor drop from 15 percent to 2 percent.
1. sophy0075 wrote:
So Dan Quayle wasn’t so dumb after all. Think of that!
May 27, 9:04 pm | [comment link]
2. Teatime2 wrote:
Sorry, sophy. Quayle really was dumb. Or are people writing articles defending his inability to spell, too? The point for me, at least, was the mean-spiritedness and politicization of the lives of real people.
See, when you castigate homes, mums, and children as inferior, what do you think that does to these families and their prospects? To their earning power? Sense of confidence and self-worth? I`m speaking from experience here. As a single mum, I had to work harder, smarter and cheaper simply because of the stereotypes people like Quayle perpetuated. I was continually reminded of the “risk” taken when I was hired or promoted even though I was more talented and better-educated than the married men on staff. And when they sent me to conferences, I went to the sessions and had to keep my mouth shut about what these supposedly virtuous married people were doing instead.
It was and is important for the Dan Quayles ofsociety to diminish other people`s status so they have a better chance of maintaining their own.Successful single parents who manage family and career well—and there are many—can run circles around Quayle and his ilk.
May 27, 10:34 pm | [comment link]
Wealth and power aren`t important to many of us.
3. dwstroudmd+ wrote:
Never let reality get in the way of denial. All single parent mum households are Murphy Brown. That business about welfare and social needs and poverty is just conservative propaganda. Don’t want to hurt the self image of any of the single parent families who AREN’T (for unknown reasons) Murphy Brown successful!
Shame on researchers who do actual data evaluation! Off with their academic credentialing and statistical hoopla!
May 27, 10:52 pm | [comment link]
4. Paula Loughlin wrote:
“Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong,” the vice president said. “Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.”
Please Teatime2, I would like to know what is false about those words.
May 27, 11:08 pm | [comment link]
5. Teatime2 wrote:
Picking a fight with a sit. com. character, #4? It was, as I recall, a silly spectacle and a means by which Quayle could take shots without having to engage in real, earnest debate. (Quayle failed miserably at debate later, surprise-surprise.)
There are, indeed, serious issues at play here. There is also life, which can be messy. Let`s just not play with stereotypes or idiots and breathe new life into them. That`s not helpful.
May 27, 11:56 pm | [comment link]
6. magnolia wrote:
it appears that not too many people commenting here actually read the article.
May 28, 12:49 am | [comment link]
7. Paula Loughlin wrote:
He was not picking a fight with a sit.com character he was making the true statement that their depiction of single motherhood was not realistic. Considering the influence that the media has on people I think that was a good thing.
May 28, 1:13 am | [comment link]
8. Paula Loughlin wrote:
PS. It was the media that turned it into a silly spectacle because someone dared gore one of their sacred oxen. That all family structures are equal.
May 28, 1:15 am | [comment link]
9. Capt. Father Warren wrote:
finish high school, work full time and marry before they have children — their chances of being poor drop from 15 percent to 2 percent
Other studies than this have also found this correlation. But when we create government programs to support family and non-family structures that will not work on their own, we support the myth that all family structures do work. Take away the props, other people’s money, and then the accuracy of the research will clearly be born out.
May 28, 8:49 am | [comment link]
10. montanan wrote:
There are two valid points being expressed here. Teatime2 is correct that there are many devoted, hard-working and successful single parents (mostly mothers) who do an amazing job of raising their kids. They do so in the face of secular marrieds (and even some of those within the Church) who do not honor their vows and hinder, rather than help, their childrens’ growth into wonderful women and men. At the same time, it is certainly true that statistics routinely bear out that marriage elevates the financial status of more women with children (and of the children) than it doesn’t - and that those children are less likely to be ‘troubled’ in the various ways we look at those things (teen pregnancy, legal issues, etc.). This BY NO MEANS speaks to all children raised in single-parent households; it is just the general truth of the statistics. Mr. Quayle may not have been good at spelling the word ‘potato’, and may not have been a great VP of the US. However, the networks were pushing an agenda, as they have relentlessly, and he called them out on this one. It was a very unpopular stand for him to make, in part because they waged war against him with the power the 4th Estate has which cannot be matched, but I would argue he stood for truth against popularity. I would also argue the Church has generally done a lousy job of supporting the brave parents (again, mostly women) who are single - by circumstance, by poor choices, by victimization - really, by all sorts of reasons, reasons which, ultimately, are not our business in each individual case and which do not change our responsibilities. If we are ‘pro-life’ we MUST support single parents and their children to a high degree. We don’t get to have a choice about this; it is a command which will stand in judgment against us.
May 28, 12:04 pm | [comment link]
11. lostdesert wrote:
The general acceptance of women’s role as the gatekeeper of childbearing has been nullified and women now engage in risky behavior, often resulting in pregnancy and with no thought that they have just sentenced their child to a life of uncertainty. Without a marriage preceding the pregnancy, the child is likely to be partly parented by the father until he or the mother moves on. The moving on puts the child at further risk. I didn’t see mention in the article that children from unmarried households are many times more likely to be the victims of abuse; the mother is tired, distracted, absent due to work/school, needy enough to want to please the latest boyfriend and the boyfriend attracted is exactly the one who would like to have at the child. When did women stop seeing themselves as the gatekeepers, needing to mind the gate strictly so that the father of their children is just the right sort of man. That man will have a profound effect on our child’s life and on our lives - for the rest of our lives. When did we stop seeing ourselves as gatekeepers, keeping our unborn children safe, finding the very best possible man for the job, insisting that marriage and commitment is the first step and learning enough about him to know, as best one can, that he is up to the task? No amount of discernment will prevent all bad outcomes, but when 40% are born into unwed homes, with all of the inherent chaos of that choice ..... is this what we have become?
May 28, 1:35 pm | [comment link]
12. Paula Loughlin wrote:
“Teatime2 is correct that there are many devoted, hard-working and successful single parents (mostly mothers) who do an amazing job of raising their kids.”
May 28, 5:10 pm | [comment link]
13. Mark Baddeley wrote:
As someone raised in a single parent home for the later part of my childhood/adolesence, I don’t see anything in Quayle’s words as dishonouring single mums (like mine) who worked very hard to mitigate the dynamics at work in our situation. He was criticizing the media for glamorizing a sub-optimal context for children’s (and mother’s) outcomes.
The fight was instigated by the media, not him. Just like the firestorm over Komen was instigated by the media, and the almost a complete media blackout on one of the biggest news items of the last few weeks (possibly months) - the catholic institutions going to court over the Obama ‘health’ mandate’ - was instigated by the media.
Touch their sacred cows and they will come for you. Leave them alone, and they won’t play nice, but they won’t make it personal.
Meanwhile the fact remains, as the article discusses, the point he was making was right - marriage is best for children and mothers, and it needs to be encouraged and ‘glamourised’ by those with cultural influence.
May 28, 7:56 pm | [comment link]
14. Teatime2 wrote:
I don`t think that any reasonable person buys the glamorization argument any more than they would have if Quayle was dumb enough to assert that the show “Good Times” was problematic because it falsely depicted a happy, solid family in the ghetto. I mean, really?
There will always be single parents, for any number of reasons and many tragic. It`s not easy or glamorous, irregardless of celebs or sit. com. characters. But it`s telling how Quayle objects to portraying one as respectable but didn`t care about all of the overwhelmingly negative stereotypes that single parents had/have to counter in their work and social lives. If he`s truly concerned about the well-being of the families, then why doesn`t he take on one of root problems—the inferior wages paid to women and, particularly, single parents for the same job as married men—rather than denounce a sit.com character?
He didn`t because politicians like him love to lecture on morality to sound high-minded and caring when they support policies and practices that make it very difficult to elevate one`s socio-economic status. His is the group that can be stupid and never fail—their Ivy League educations and stellar futures were assured at birth. They only needed to be present.
May 29, 3:09 am | [comment link]
That stupid rich men are guaranteed a seat at the table but others more intelligent and hard-working don`t get equal opportunity is a travesty that didn`t faze Quayle, I guess.
15. Mark Baddeley wrote:
Yes really, and I think I’d count as a ‘reasonable person’. Murphy Brown presented a successful, good looking, charming, intelligent person deliberately choosing to bring her child up as a single mother and make a good fist of it. How representative is that? And don’t give me this stupid liberal idea that fictional narratives don’t change cultural attitudes and stigmas. Of course they do, and are well known to do that. That’s why the media gets upset with any show that smacks of anything even remotely socially conservative and heavily promotes any show seen to be socially progressive. The creator of Midsummer Murders got the sack for defending the lack of ethnic minorities in his show on the grounds that the most English villages are still overwhelming white. And the action, from what I could see when I was living in the UK was generally approved by ‘reasonable people’ on the grounds that TV shows should promote racial harmony. Of course TV and movies glorifies and stigmatises things, and does so quite effectively. You don’t sack someone for not promoting racial harmony unless that effect is genuinely recognised by reasonable people.
The root problem of single parents is not inferior wages. It is the *loss* of stigma associated with divorice or having children out of wedlock, the legal ease of getting a divorce, and the financial support for single mums. Every time divorce laws were liberalised, single parenting increased, every time single parents received government support it increased, and as stigmas have dropped the rate has increased. And it doesn’t matter how much support you give a single parent family - it helps a bit, but it cannot compensate for the lack of two biological parents working together. Take away the financial support our family got while I was growing up and we would have done it tougher. But I doubt our outcomes on my and my siblings’ physical and psychological health, success and the like would have altered much.
The best thing you can do, especially for children, is create a climate that strongly discourages people from choosing to be single parents, or choosing to leave someone else to be the single parent of their children. That one decision outweighs most other factors in a child’s life (not all, but it’s a short list of things that have even more impact).
Quayle’s privileges from birth are just smoke in the air. We can repeat the same argument but make the comparison between the smart, hardworking, peasant in the two thirds world and pretty well anyone in the U.S. Life is unfair, some people get extra advantages because of when and where they are born. It’s not our job to make it fair. Some people will get extra privileges because of their family. Rejoice for them, that’s a good thing, not a bad - the fact we wish others could have those birth advantages shows that we think it’s a good thing. Some get those advantages in comparison to others in the same country, others get those advantages in comparison to people in another country.
Our job is ensure that future generations aren’t disadvantaged unfairly. And a culture that promotes single parenthood, that portrays the lie that other arrangements are just good as marriage for bringing up kids, that makes it easy for parents to opt into single parenthood when things are difficult or just as a lifestyle choice, is utterly perverse. Quayle was right to draw attention to that side of the problem. The writer of the article was right to restate that side of the problem.
Murphy Brown was not portraying a woman forced into single parenthood who then made the best of a sub-optimal situation. It presented a glamarous woman choosing that as the preferred option, and never critiqued it inside the show. It was peverse and iniquitous and completely in defiance of the relevant statistical evidence.
May 29, 4:46 am | [comment link]
16. Teatime2 wrote:
Yes, indeed, #15, just because a few stupid people think that single motherhood is glamorous, let`s make it hard for the whole lot—you know, especially those horrible women who don`t know “their place” and their men feel obliged to show them who`s boss. I happened to be a newly minted single mum during this time and the domestic violence/family laws were abyssmal. The court gave my ex unfettered visitation with our son despite his dwi and domestic violence violations. The law stated that mum being beaten didn`t affect the child so visitation needn`t be supervised. One dwi accident with my son in the car and one drugged-out kidnapping with threats of suicide later and I did the only sensible thing—got a good job 2,000 miles away from the nutter.
My parish priest (RC) at the time advised complete and utter separation. A restraining order provided no protection. My situation was common and actually mildin comparison with some. Murphy Brown`s was NOT the common situation. Yet all of the single mums should pay the price, eh? As if we don`t have enough kidnappings, murder-suicides, and spousal abuse/murder in the news. Maybe you could get a law passed forcing arranged marriages on single mums, would that make you happy?
I am disgusted with the “Gentleman`s Cs” club of not-very-bright but very powerful elite so don`t count me among the fans. Maybe you approve of that sort of thing but most don`t. I do find it curious how you smile and nod toward the old boys` club while seeking to penalize the less fortunate. The rich aren`t more moral—they just make their problems go away via discreet doctors, lawyers, and abortionists.
May 29, 2:06 pm | [comment link]
17. lostdesert wrote:
As with most social problems, my guess is that dwi convictions and domestic violence violations were at least hinted at prior to the marriage. I have heard a number of stories where women were pregnant and left the father before or just following the birth. Was his character never considered before creating the child? This doesn’t even raise eyebrows today, in fact, it is considered the norm. When I was growing up, we were taught to look hard for the right man. Every ounce of literature, every teacher, every neighbor woman spoke the language of “watch out, be careful whom you date, you may just end up marrying him.” The drinker/abuser did not wake up long into a marriage and begin that behavior, there were hints of this. Years ago, the entirety of culture was pointed toward the careful rearing of children. Today we point young women toward the sort of party life that was once considered worthy of a sailor. I just read the planned parenthood pointers offered to women who want to have a one night stand. We are in a moral free fall and unless women stand up for what is right and best for children, we are truly lost. This has nothing to do with wages, this has to do with women choosing who will be the father of their child.
May 29, 7:34 pm | [comment link]
18. Mark Baddeley wrote:
I’ve talked with a social worker in England, a big part of whose job it is try and convince single teen mums to continue their schooling, but who don’t want to, but want to raise several children, each to different guys, on her own, living in poverty on social welfare - like her mum and grandmum, her aunts and sisters.
My wife and I both know and have talked with fellow Gen Xers who shed few tears about dissolving their relationship with the other parent of their child, who see ‘both biological parents’ or ‘single parenthood’ as fairly equivalent for the children’s outcomes. There’s no violence or the like in the mix, the relationship just isn’t giving them ‘what they need’ anymore.
Look around you, it’s not a few stupid people. It’s a cultural myth that continues in defiance of the evidence and is promoted by the media, and enabled by social attitudes and legal frameworks. And of course media promotion has an effect in all this - advertising works primarily by making things glamorous either by creating a short 15 second narrative, or even just with a single photo. The whole advertising industry is predicated on having a power that you deny to fictional narratives.
Domestic abuse is real and awful, and very hard to deal with in law. Here in Australia the domestic violence laws have now been toughened to a degree that accusing your ex of violence and getting a restraining order is a commonly used tactic to obtain custody of the children and restrict or even deny the father’s ability to visit the children. There’s no easy answers to the problem - go one way and abused wive’s don’t have the protection they need, go the other and innocent fathers lose the protection of innocent until proven guilty that they are entitled to especially in the context of a family break-up.
lostdesert is surely pointing to part of the problem here - detach parenting from lifelong marriage, and a lot of the extra cultural helps that would limit (not stop all cases, but certainly limit) a whole host of problems in relationships are lost. Not only are women not being warned to look for the signs of a violent husband, men aren’t being encouraged to become the responsibile kind of guys who could make good husbands and dads. ‘Laddism’ is back in vogue.
And, once again, Quayle’s situation is really a red herring in this whole issue. I’m neither a fan of the wealthy nor some kind of class war envier. Rich people are just folk, like all of us. My observation is that almost everyone would rather be rich than poor if they had a choice, so I find attacks on ‘the rich’ a bit detached from reality. Apart from that, I think it is more productive to argue the issue than debate the merits of the messenger. Quayle was right on this. It doesn’t matter if he’s a saint or a sinner, he was right that the culture is making the choice to be a single parent (or the choice to make the other partner be a single parent of your children - this definitely cuts both ways, it isn’t an ‘anti-single mum’ thing) too attractive in comparison to the alternative.
May 29, 8:41 pm | [comment link]