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July 17, 2012

More on the "I Do" Divide: A short response to Eric Bugyis

Eric Bugyis has a post, here, that, in my view, reflects a misunderstanding of what I wrote, and intended, in my recent post, "Marriage, Class, Opportunities, and Outcomes."  He writes:

[I]f one reads past the headline, the picture becomes significantly more complex, and Garnett’s takeaway: “It’s not just that marriage might be ‘confined’ to the fortunate classes; it’s also, it seems, that mobility into those classes (or not) is connected to the decisions that people make — and that people’s parents make — about marriage and childrearing,” becomes less tenable (to the extent that it is not meant to be trivial).

I did, of course, "read the past the headline" and appreciate that the "picture" is "complex", and I am confident that my short reaction is both tenable and nontrivial.  Bugyis seems to have assumed quickly that I was offering a "values-oriented" interpretation of the stories described in the piece, perhaps in an exercise of "sanctimonious" or "self-congratulatory affirmation."  While I admit to thinking that "values" are implicated in the choices people make about marriage and child-rearing, I think his assumption here is unfair and uncharitable, and, in any event, unfounded.

My point -- which I certainly didn't hold out as the only "takeaway" from DeParle's piece and which I don't think was too hard to get -- was that (we know that) it is a good thing for children to be raised in intact, two-parent families, and therefore (here's the relevance of the "Dan Quayle" reference) it is not a good thing for us to celebrate the kids-without-marriage choices of celebrities and others who are able, by virtue of their economic advantages, to protect themselves and their children from the consequences that often attend, for those who lack such advantages, those choices.  (To say this is not to imagine that educational and economic opportunities and situations do not put some people in a better position to make the better -- i.e., better-results-yielding -- choices instead of the worse -- i.e., worse-outcomes-yielding -- ones.)   I would not have thought that this was more an empirical claim -- coupled with a critique of the more fortunate sector to which, I admit, I belong -- than a "sanctimonious" or "self-congratulatory" point.

Posted by Rick Garnett on July 17, 2012 at 01:43 PM in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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I don't remember anyone thinking "My Three Sons," in which a widower (Fred McMurray) and his father-in-law raise three boys, was subversive. Everyone thought it was heartwarming. I suppose the writers of Murphy Brown didn't have to write the plot they did, but in the context of the show as it was presented, what was she supposed to do? Have an abortion? And does anyone suppose poor women deciding whether or not to have a baby out of wedlock said, "If Murphy Brown can do it, so can I"? Dan Quayle was bashing Holywood, a still-popular pastime among conservatives.

Does anyone think that Katie Holmes ought to stick with Tom Cruise and have her daughter raised in the Church of Scientology rather than do what she has done—escape and put the kid in a Catholic school?

I think that marriage is very important, and I think that the out-of-wedlock childbirth rate is a disaster. But that's a sociological and economic opinion, not a judgment about individual cases. The woman in the Times article made some bad choices, but she also had some bad luck. And if she hadn't listened to her boyfriend and given up the idea of aborting the first child, she might have finished college and been the better-off married mother supervising the struggling single mother. Matthew Boudway makes some good points along these lines in his comment following the Commonweal piece.

Dan Quayle may very well have been right about the importance of marriage, but the Murphy Brown references were just red meat for conservatives who like to blame the country's ills on the liberal media and the entertainment industry. I don't think Murphy Brown contributed one iota to the social problems of poverty and single-parent families, any more than "My Three Sons" was a brief for same-sex partners raising children!

Posted by: David Nickol | Jul 17, 2012 3:23:32 PM

David, you write: "But that's a sociological and economic opinion, not a judgment about individual cases." Sure. I'm really at a loss to understand your (and Bugyis's) reaction to my reaction. Mine was not a culture-war, or a "conservatives bashing hollywood" point. Why so quick to assume otherwise? I cannot imagine that you disagree with me that, as a general matter, it is unfortunate that we too often celebrate among our celebrities choices that, for those without money and fame, can prove costly and bad for children.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Jul 17, 2012 3:28:38 PM

Someone who respects and values the relationship of a child to their father and mother, whether born or adopted sons and daughters, would certainly not deliberately deny them the Love of a father or mother. I have great respect for those single parents who have had to raise their children alone and have been willing to make incredible sacrifices for their children, like my brother-in-law had to when my sister Joanie, the mother of three young children, died suddenly. My niece and nephews almost lost their father that day, and yet they were able to display as a family, such courage and gratitude, a tribute to both their father and mother, and that special bond that will remain with them forever.

Posted by: N.D. | Jul 17, 2012 3:59:35 PM


"I don't remember anyone thinking "My Three Sons," in which a widower (Fred McMurray) and his father-in-law raise three boys, was subversive. Everyone thought it was heartwarming."

Well yes, since the mother DIED, there really wasn't anything that was subversive about the show.

"Does anyone think that Katie Holmes ought to stick with Tom Cruise and have her daughter raised in the Church of Scientology rather than do what she has done—escape and put the kid in a Catholic school?"

What does that situation have to do with having a child out of wedlock? And beyond that point, Ms. Holmes is in a different economic situation than virtually any other woman raising a child by herself.

"Dan Quayle may very well have been right about the importance of marriage, but the Murphy Brown references were just red meat for conservatives who like to blame the country's ills on the liberal media and the entertainment industry."

Right, because the repeated representation of certain behavior as acceptable, even praiseworthy, never has any impact on a society. Quayle's referencing of Murphy Brown was meant as a reference to an entire moral code, not just a single character on a single show.

"I don't think Murphy Brown contributed one iota to the social problems of poverty and single-parent families, any more than "My Three Sons" was a brief for same-sex partners raising children!"

I hate to break this to you, but Steve never had sex with Bub or Uncle Charley. I hope I have not ruined the show for you.

Posted by: Brian English | Jul 17, 2012 4:48:32 PM

Rick Garnett,

You said: "Mine was not a culture-war, or a 'conservatives bashing hollywood' point. Why so quick to assume otherwise?"

Because you suggested that the piece could be named "Dan Quayle Was Right." Even if Dan Quayle *was* right, saying that to anyone who is to the left of center is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. It's bringing up an old liberal/conservative dispute, saying, "We told you so," and inviting a rehash of the argument (which was actually rather silly).Quayle was almost certainly only reading something somebody else wrote for him. If he had been a social scientist whose work had been somehow vindicated, then it would be most appropriate to mention him. But he was just an inept politician who happened to stumble into a controversy that made liberals mad and conservatives happy. He's just a symbol of the culture war.

You said: "I cannot imagine that you disagree with me that, as a general matter, it is unfortunate that we too often celebrate among our celebrities choices that, for those without money and fame, can prove costly and bad for children."

I don't know that the thought ever entered into my mind. I don't think the things that celebrities do, at least as individuals, influence the decisions of ordinary folks. It may be that, in general, celebrities who marry and divorce and remarry repeatedly and cohabit and cheat on their spouses contribute to an overall loss of respect for marriage, fidelity, and so on. I do, however, think that if anything in the world in the last twenty years counts as an outrageously bad example, it was Prince William, future king and head of the Church of England, was cohabiting with Kate Middleton without making any real effort to keep it secret, and the news was that the Queen was pleased that they had "settled down." We expect Hollywood stars to do things like that, but not future kings. (And don't get me started on Charles and Camilla.)

Posted by: David Nickol | Jul 17, 2012 5:08:05 PM

"I hate to break this to you, but Steve never had sex with Bub or Uncle Charley. I hope I have not ruined the show for you."

An example of how nasty good Christians can be when standing up for "family values." I hope Rick let's it stand.

Posted by: David Nickol | Jul 17, 2012 5:16:17 PM

Rick,

I apologize if it seems any of the above was directed at you. It was all meant for Dan Quayle. (And I deleted a lot before clicking on Post, too!) I do agree with you that marriage is very, very important, and I can point you to posts I have written elsewhere to demonstrate it. One of the statistics I often quote is that of women with two or more children, 28% of them have conceived the children with two or more fathers. How can anyone not be shocked and appalled?

Posted by: David Nickol | Jul 17, 2012 5:25:10 PM

"Quayle was almost certainly only reading something somebody else wrote for him. If he had been a social scientist whose work had been somehow vindicated, then it would be most appropriate to mention him. But he was just an inept politician who happened to stumble into a controversy that made liberals mad and conservatives happy. He's just a symbol of the culture war."

What did Dan Qualye ever do to you? You seem very upset that he is the one who is getting credit for being right on this issue.

"An example of how nasty good Christians can be when standing up for "family values." I hope Rick let's it stand."

I hope so too.

Posted by: Brian English | Jul 17, 2012 5:41:37 PM

Whatever you may think of Eric Bugyis's post, I highly recommend the comments of Matthew Boudway and Barbara in the accompanying thread.

Posted by: David Nickol | Jul 17, 2012 7:45:13 PM

This article has, as its basis, not a right-wing narrative. It fits more the David Brooks hypothesis: "The upper classes talk like libertines and live like Puritans and the lower classes talk like Puritans and love like libertines."

This story is about a hardening of the classes. Poor women have relationships with poor men and have children, maybe get married, but fail to stay together married or not. Middle and upper class women have relationships with men of similar classes, complete a college education, get employed, get married, have children.

Religion is less likely to play a role in any of this. Additonally, broad sociological factors are more likely at work than the simple narrative of "being married means they will make more money." In fact. That is an unproven assertion and more likely obviously false permitted actively and tacitly to be repeated by right wing pundits. Weigel says that several times, unchallenged, a year.

The association of marriage and wealth may have to do with the loss of the poor, the lack of community they experience, and their abandonment by the middle class into suburbs. I then claim that the loss of faith of the suburbanites is due to the abandonment of the poor.

What we never learned well during our Year of St. Paul was what he DID, not what he taught. What he DID was create worship communities with poor and rich people together, intentionally. We don't have that now, and everything suffers-faith, family, and community.

Posted by: Dan C | Jul 18, 2012 4:58:02 AM

Dan C, if you are going to refer to St.Paul, why don't you mention that what is lacking in Christian communities today is a cohesiveness of belief in The One Word of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the Truth revealed by God, that from The Beginning, every human individual, being wholly human from the moment they were created and brought into being at their conception, has been created equal in Dignity, while being complementary as male and female? Faith, Family, and our Community suffers whenever we deny The Truth of Love, The One Word of God.

Posted by: N.D. | Jul 18, 2012 7:33:48 AM

In the wake of the sexual revolution, we have seen the collapse of married 2-parent families in America, first among the poor and now among the working-class. And yet it is controversial for Catholics to state the obvious: Lifestyle choices that contradict traditional sexual morality are generally hurtful choices, not just for those who make them but for completely innocent bystanders: children who must grow up without both their parents in their lives. Instead of focusing on those who are truly suffering, however, our debate turns instead to gays or abused women or others whose victimization has captured the PC imagination. How interesting that the NYTimes has made a better case for traditional family values than we Catholics seem able to acknowledge.

Posted by: ron chandonia | Jul 18, 2012 8:38:16 AM

David, you write: "And if she hadn't listened to her boyfriend and given up the idea of aborting the first child, she might have finished college and been the better-off married mother supervising the struggling single mother." True, she might have been. Do you think that would be better? Do you think she wishes that were so? Ask her if she wishes her eldest were dead so that she could now live more comfortably -- I doubt she'd cotton to the idea, no matter the current struggles. Or, she could still give him up for adoption to lighten her load. That certainly has happened -- kids shipped off to live with better-off relatives, or to other living situations. It sounds like she's a loving mom. The kid may not have all that others have, but he has life itself, and a loving mom, and that's actually cooler than just about anything.

Posted by: A reader | Jul 18, 2012 8:56:08 AM

ron chandonia:

You say: How interesting that the NYTimes has made a better case for traditional family values than we Catholics seem able to acknowledge.

However, if the single mother featured in the Times article had procured an abortion and stayed in school, the outcome may have been very different for her. I rather doubt that there is a significant difference between the sexual behavior between the better-off women who go on to have children within wedlock and the less-well-off children who have children out of wedlock. Cohabitation before marriage is routine. Certainly one of the factors that separates the less-well-of must be birth control (or abortion). "Traditional family values" in the sense you no doubt intend would be no sex before marriage and no abortion. Those things have gone out the window. A lot of what separates the two women in the Times story is not adherence to "traditional family values." It's prudence. Someone pointed out elsewhere that the single mother can afford few activities for her children, but she makes sure they go to church. The more affluent mother can afford a great deal more for her children, but there is no mention of religion in her family's life.

I do certainly agree that out-of-wedlock births lead to many social problems and personal problems, but then again, a significant number of people who marry get divorced. Matthew Boudway had some interesting things to say over on dotCommonweal yesterday, among which was the following:

Matthew Boudway 07/17/2012 - 11:55 am
Instead of denying the documented correlation between prosperity and traditional marriage, why not instead point out that the traditional case for marriage is not that it makes you richer? And why not add that people who wait till their careers are well established to get married, are sexually active long before then, have children only after they marry, and get divorced after they have children are not obviously better examples of Christian sexual morality than, say, a mother who dropped out of school when her first child was born, never married the child’s father, but raised her family with him — and remained poor? The overlap between virtue and success is not as extensive as the successful middle class likes to imagine.

Posted by: David Nickol | Jul 18, 2012 8:58:09 AM

A reader,

Of course I can't speak for the single mother, but I rather doubt that if she could change the past she would do anything differently. If she could arrange it so that she never met the father of her children, that would mean she now wouldn't have the children she clearly loves. If she could go back and prevent herself from having sex before marriage, again she wouldn't have her children. I would assume (or hope) that it is fairly rare for a woman who chooses to have and raise a child to regret that she did not have an abortion.

I think we really can't judge much more than the two women's economic conditions. One is better off economically and the other is less well off. But I am not sure we can say, deep down, who is happier or who is a better mother.

In any case, my point in general is that it is not necessarily devotion to "family values" before marriage that leads to economic success. We don't really know the details of how and why she got pregnant the first time. Perhaps she was careless in using birth control, in which case the root cause of her current problems would be not that she didn't believe in "family values," but that she was careless.

But basically we're discussing a social problem here, not individual lives. Focusing on the choices these two women made doesn't really tell us much about the social problems.

Posted by: David Nickol | Jul 18, 2012 10:04:39 AM

David, I wasn't asking you to speak for another. I was asking which situation *you* thought was better, or which you'd advise to seek if you were the father:
(a) have a mother abort a baby; then have two more kids and shoot to be solidly middle class; or
(b) don't abort a baby; have three kids, and be struggling financially.
You comment led me to believe you thought (a) is preferable to (b), but I wasn't sure, so thought I'd ask.
I'm confused by the following: "Focusing on the choices these two women made doesn't really tell us much about the social problems." Aren't social problems (and social successes) the product of many individual choices? There's a problem of fathers not being around, and not enough money ... and that's a result of the individuals' choices of the father leaving, and the individual choice to live apart rather than pool resources living together ... and many other individual choices.

Posted by: A reader | Jul 18, 2012 10:47:25 AM

As I said in my response to Bugyis's critical post, I genuinely didn't mean to open up the can of worms about Dan Quayle, culture wars, and SSM, but instead to (a) note (as others have done) that there could be costs, especially to children and low-income folks, that result from our culture's uncritical, even celebratory, attitude toward celebrities' single-parent-having-a-baby or unmarried-couples-having-kids decisions and (b) ask what (if anything) "law" can do to push things in a better (for children, and low-income folks) direction. I suppose if one is predisposed to expecting sanctimony, self-congratulation, or other bad things from me, then one would be less likely to "hear" and engage (a) and (b). And, that's too bad. I'll close the comments now. Thanks all, and be nice to each other.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Jul 18, 2012 12:47:37 PM

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