Doing the Marriage Thing Again

Yves here. Matt Bruenig describes what is wrong with warmed-over analysis about the benefits of marriage for offspring. It’s a fine, compact example of critical thinking.

By Matt Bruenig. Originally published at his website

Melissa Kearney is promoting a book where she dares to speak a truth that nobody else is brave enough to say: marriage and two-parent families are very good. So stigmatized is this view that in the last three days alone, the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Washington Post (twice) have featured pieces promoting the book.

Given the hype, I was hoping that Kearney had something new to say on the topic, but sadly she does not. It’s the same dumb shit with the same dumb analytical mistakes that I’ve been seeing every few months since I started doing this work in 2011.

Not Controlling Correctly

The naive way to prove that kids in one-parent households (1P-kids) fare worse than kids in two-parent households (2P-kids) is to track the average life outcomes of each type of kid and see who does better.

But sophisticated researchers, like Kearney, know that this kind of comparison is not sufficient because 1P-kids and 2P-kids are different from one another in other ways, including their socioeconomic status, that may also explain their differences in outcome.

The solution to this problem is to control for these other differences by, for example, comparing 1P-kids and 2P-kids who have the same demographic characteristics. This is described as controlling for these other variables in order to isolate the variable of interest, which is the number of parents present.

But this solution is just as naive as the first one because 1P-kids and 2P-kids with the same demographic characteristics also differ in another important respect: the underlying quality of their parents’ relationship. The lack of two parents in the household is not a random occurrence. It generally happens because, for one reason or another, the parents could not get along.

To understand my point here, imagine we have two married families that are demographically and socioeconomically identical. Now imagine that one of those two families experienced a divorce. If we wanted to isolate the effect of that divorce on the kids in that family, would we be able to do so by comparing those kids to the kids in the other family that did not experience a divorce?

Kearney and her ilk say yes. But this is clearly not true. In general, there was some kind of problem present in the family that experienced the divorce that was not present in the family that did not experience the divorce. To actually analyze the effect of the divorce, you would need to compare the divorced family to a hypothetical version of itself that did not divorce despite whatever the problem was that lead to the divorce.

Another way to put this is: you need to compare couples with the same kinds of relationship dysfunctions, but where one couple splits and the other couple stays together. Comparing a split-couple with a certain relationship dysfunction to an intact-couple that does not have that relationship dysfunction, which is what all of this research does, is an obvious mistake.

To put this in less abstract terms, if dad beats mom and they get divorced, it’s not accurate to say that, but for the divorce, the kids would have fared exactly the same as a similar non-divorced family where dad does not beat mom. Yet that is what the research Kearney relies upon assumes.

Thinking at the Margin

A similar problem that plagues this kind of writing is that it casually assumes that the parent that is “missing” from a 1P family would, if he or she was present, be an average parent. In Kearney’s NYT piece, she writes about a hypothetical missing parent who earns $44,000 per year (the median for a high school graduate) and contributes “considerable time and energy to taking care of children.”

The assumption that the missing parents in 1P families are average parents who would contribute an average amount of earnings and an average amount of child care is obviously ridiculous. As with any group, the missing parents are a heterogenous bunch, but that population almost certainly skews towards below-average earnings and below-average domestic contribution, with many actually having a net-negative domestic contribution, whether because they are abusive, demanding, or otherwise.

This is easily the goofiest thing about this discourse. To hear Kearney talk about it, you’d think that the single mothers of the world are turning down $44,000 and hundreds of hours of free child care each year. But why would someone do that? If that option is as incredibly beneficial as Kearney says it is, why don’t people select it? Do people want their lives to be bad rather than good?

The solution to this seeming paradox is that Kearney and her ilk are just obviously wrong that the missing parent is otherwise an average person who would make average monetary and non-monetary contributions. The relationship that is on the margin of staying intact is not the same as the average intact relationship. This is pretty basic stuff and yet every few years, the discourse is blessed by someone who doesn’t get it.

A Better Mental Model

Rather than only make critiques here, let me propose a better framework for thinking through this whole question.

Imagine if the two parents of all of the children in the country lived as couples in the same household. Contrary to the assumptions used in many of the arguments in this discourse, these couples are not all average. Instead, their relationships have varying quality: some extremely low quality, some extremely high quality, and some in the middle.

Let’s say we sorted these couples based on the relationship quality thereby creating a distribution of relationship quality. In this distribution, the 1st percentile couple is in a living hell: substance abuse, violence, criminality, you name it. The 100th percentile couple is in paradise: no conflict ever, super-high-earning, equal contributors, and so on.

I think we can all agree that at the lower end of that distribution, it would be better for the kids if their parents’ cohabitation ended. We can also all agree that at the higher end of the distribution, it would be worse for the kids if their parents’ cohabitation ended.

With these agreements established, the question becomes purely one of where in the distribution does net-negative turn into net-positive. Is the 5th percentile relationship a net-positive? The 10th? The 30th?

This is obviously a very bloodless and abstract way to look at the question, but it is the actual question we should be debating. Kearney surely does not believe that the 1st percentile parenting couple should remain intact and that keeping it intact would be a net positive for kids. So if Kearney wants to actually make an interesting contribution, then she should walk us to the spot in the relationship-quality distribution where she thinks negative turns into positive.

At present around 78 percent of kids live in two-parent households, meaning that 22 percent do not. The interesting question is how many of those 22 percent of kids would be better off if they lived in a two-parent household with their parents at the relationship quality that those parents would have (not at the average relationship quality). We could also ask the opposite question, which is how many of those 78 percent of kids in two-parent households would be better off in one-parent households. Nobody ever asks that question, but the number is definitely not zero.

Hands Off The Welfare State

When I write stuff like this, people sometimes conclude that I have some stake in the “marriage debates.” And really I don’t. I think people should evangelize whatever lifestyles they want to evangelize. Spread the good news about how good your religion, relationship, exercise, and diet are. I am all for it.

Where I draw the line is when these lifestyle battles bleed into arguments about how only this lifestyle, and not the welfare state, can achieve distributive equality in society. That is a lie and it is the best way to actually hurt the most vulnerable people in the society by laying the ground work for opposition to the welfare state.

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  1. SpatialFix

    On quality of relationship.

    At the risk of being unscientific, I can say that from my own experience, there are too many variables in any family situation to say that one-parent or two-parent households are better for children.

    I went to a single-sex private school of about 1000 students. So, we were all reasonably well-off. Of the other students I knew, about 1/3 – 1/2 had divorced parents. But each person’s situation was so unique that there was basically no correlation between their parent’s marital status and their quality of life.

    Obviously, it’s always sad when a marriage ends, or a child’s parents drift apart. But sometimes it’s sad because it’s preventable. Other times it’s sad because it’s necessary.

    1. johnherbiehancock

      At the risk of being unscientific, I can say that from my own experience, there are too many variables in any family situation to say that one-parent or two-parent households are better for children.

      I was trying to think of how Bruenig could take this one step farther and start parsing out when kids are better off with a single parent.

      It’s easy enough if one parent has an addiction or other spending habits that make them a net loss financially.

      The psychological damage is harder to quantify; fighting between parents – even when one is not physically abusive – is not good for anyone. But at what point is it better for the parents to split up?

      It really is hard to say; and some kids would prefer their parents stay in an unhappy marriage, for their own sake.

      I also hate how – despite peoples’ best efforts – too often this becomes gendered and everyone assumes it’s women are out here working hard and looking out for their kids, and it’s men who are always screwing up and letting the family down.

      Physical abuse is generally speaking easier to recognize and typically a male behavior; but emotional abuse is not without a toll on those who suffer from it, and BPD is more prevalent in women. I know plenty of guys who struggled to recognize that their wives were emotionally abusive – primarily toward them, the husband, but when push came to shove, also their kids. Typically the wife took out her own issues on her partner first and foremost and tried to drag the kids into on her side, but if or when the kids didn’t go along with it, the wife had no problems directing the same emotional abuse toward them. And the husband had to make the calculation of whether it was better to stay put for the kids’ sake, or leave – knowing the kids would be alone with her much of the time, but hoping he could provide enough of a stable home separately to shield them from it.

      How does a situation like that shake out in this analysis?

      Perhaps it’s simply not possible to quantify these factors on an aggregate basis in any meaningful way.

      1. Odysseus

        The father that I grew up with was a driven man. I describe my childhood with him as “He wasn’t happy unless he was working”. A Teamster and a Farmer, he took great pride in providing a good life for his family.

        When I was twelve, he had a series of heart attacks culminating in open heart surgery and a quadruple bypass, all within a year. Medically unable to lift even 20 pounds until his breastbone healed. Couldn’t even pick up his children. Forced to sell the farm due to six figure medical bills. Mom went back to work as a nurse as the sole breadwinner.

        Dad was completely unable to cope in any way with this change in status. He crawled into a bottle for several years, and became in every way a drunken, abusive, bum.

        When I was twenty, us kids sat mom down at the kitchen table, and told her she had to leave him. Her response was “not until the youngest is out of school”. Four years later, she made that move.

        My youngest sister has told me outright that she has no positive memories of our father, and envies me because I do.

  2. Revenant

    And what are the external factors (welfare policy, economic model etc) that move the break even point from 5th percentile to 25th percentile or vice versa? Western countries destigmatised divorce and liberalised divorce law but they also provided benefits, destroyed demand for manual labour, feminised social roles etc. There are a lot of feckless or just prospect-less men who might once have been in an army or occupying a position now held by a computer or a machine or a woman. Women have better choices at all levels these days and men below a certain level do not. They also destigmatised unmarried motherhood and stopped promoting adoption and care proceedings. There are children in their natural parent’s households who formerly might have been been adopted or in care, and this has populated the lower percentile range of household prospects which was formerly artificially small.

    With all these changes, there is no stable dataset for comparison.

  3. Robert Hahl

    On matters of discipline my mother would very occasionally say: “If you don’t like it, you can always go live with your father,” and that would certainly shut me up. He was a nice guy, smart, everybody liked him, but his drinking and gambling were too much to deal with.

  4. Mikel

    These are people that cheer every “disruption” (and it’s constant) and wonder why people can’t stay connected.

  5. Tom Pfotzer

    I wonder: why are all the examples in the article of the parent that left, or the parent that was “unhelpful” always men? Abusive. Drinkers. Demanding.


    In my life’s relatively few opportunities to observe the divorce phenomenon – at close enough range to know the people involved fairly well – the divorce happened because the two parties really shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. Post-divorce, none of the parties made a serious attempt to change themselves, or to select all that much better the next time.

    In our society, it’s generally not permissible to live with someone for a few years before getting married. I think that’s a major mistake.

    I also note, this time at fairly close range, how eager some of the women I dated were to get married – this even when I was in my early twenties, and I was dating women my own age.

    I was, on the other hand, not in a big rush, and that paid great dividends. I eventually married a woman that I get along with really well – for nearly 30 years so far.

    I’d like to see a study that compared marital success – happiness, self-actualization, sense of emotional security, etc. – for couples that got married early or later in life, and a separate study comparing divorce rates for couples that lived together a few years before getting married .vs. those that moved in together after they were married.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Bruenig only once mentioned dad beating mom. His other discussion was not gender specific. He did not mention drinking.

      While women physically abusing men is much more common than acknowledged, in a marriage with kids where the default is the woman is the child-carer and also statistically likely to earn less, a female victim of spousal abuse is vastly more likely to be trapped in the relationship than a man. So I am not as offended by the stereotype as you are.

      Let us not forget that men on average are bigger than women, at the same size have more muscle mass and upper body strength, and are acculturated that getting rough to assert dominance is OK. I can tell you from being in the room with far too many crime shows that women are deeply inculcated to cower and at most engage in defensive tactics when physically attacked. The fact is if someone really wants to hurt you, you need to hurt them enough to at least briefly incapacitate them and then get away.

      However, emotional abuse is also severely traumatizing to kids and there’s no reason to think men have an advantage there.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        This is likely a dead thread, but I’ll make these remarks on the possibility you circle back to see them.

        The article names “demanding” “violence” and “abuse” and “substance abuse” as causative factors in divorce. The article only directly associated physical abuse with men, you’re correct about that, but if you read the rest of the comments, then it’s apparent that my assertion that it’s men that are claimed to be the root-cause of divorce becomes apparent.

        I acknowledge that physical abuse is much likelier to occur by men, for all the reasons you set out.

        But that’s not nearly the whole story. Women are perfectly capable and quite adept at using coercion to get what they want. Sex is a means for women to coerce men, and it’s used widely and to great effect. Nagging and demanding and all manner of esteem-reducing mechanisms are often employed by women to coerce men to be and do what the woman wants.

        Men, emotional neophytes that we are, are often not well-equipped to identify and respond to those mechanisms with equanimity. Hence conflict which sometimes burns and smoulders for years before the eruptions.

        I have seen at close range these sorts of coercion. They are every bit as real as the physical abuse men (more often) do to women, but they are just as real, just as damaging, and vicious. It happens a lot. The rage that some men feel toward some women doesn’t come out of the blue. There’s a reason for it.

        And the reasons aren’t just grounded in the personality of the spouses. There are significant societal forces, set out eloquently below in comments, that act to coerce people – men and women – to make life decisions that really aren’t in the individual’s, or ultimately in society’s best interests.

        Religion plays a big part in this, of course, as does good ol’ tradition. The historic dependence of women on men to be breadwinner also creates fundamental imbalances in the relationship.

        Thankfully, people seem to be gradually identifying and evolving away from this situation, but not without a lot of stress.

        Lastly, men need to find new roles in life. What we were formerly needed for no longer pertains (to varying degrees, of course). That fact is certainly threatening to some, but for me, it was very much the keys to the gates of self-actualization.

  6. .Tom

    Funnily enough, Bruenig and Kearney appear to tacitly agree with the premise of the debate: that parents should do what’s best for the kids (or the family overall, I’m not sure). So they are equally conservative, at least relative to the liberals who would do what they want.

    1. ambrit

      Well ‘Dot Tom,’ I would replace the word “liberal” with “libertine.”
      Placing the welfare of the children first is a recent innovation in Terran human society. For generations untold, children were viewed as unpaid labour units. Just as women were viewed as chattels. Historically speaking, Bruenig and Kearney are radical thinkers.
      We are in the midst of a grand social experiment.

      1. .Tom

        In the social/political vernacular I am familiar with it is a traditional value and (small-C) conservative position that parents should put the welfare of the children/family/household ahead of their own individual interests. I didn’t take sides on that nor suggest it is incoherent or illegitimate. But I don’t think it’s radical unless you mean that rhetorically to mean something like boldly unfashionable.

        My own opinion, where I live having children is generally voluntary, it is therefore exercising a freedom and all freedoms come with corresponding responsibilities.

        1. Odysseus

          it is a traditional value and (small-C) conservative position that parents should put the welfare of the children/family/household ahead of their own individual interests

          That rhetoric is distinctly at odds with the reality.

      2. GramSci

        Interesting. I think for most of history and before, men thought of children as units of labor and women thought of children as, well, children. That views have changed may be a ‘libertine’ consequence of the pill.

        1. Polar Socialist

          Last year archaeologist in Finland found 8000 year old grave of an infant (3-7 years old). The child had been buried on a bed of waterfowl down with a dog, some arrows and a net. Whoever buried that kid, showed love, caring and respect, and assumed kids were at least somewhat equal to adults in this and/or afterlife.

          One would think that 150,000 years of hardships saw only those groups of humanity to survive that looked after their young ones. Abuse came with the accumulation of surplus (a.k.a. wealth), and surplus came with farming.

  7. Roger

    For a few decades after WW2, manual workers in the US could earn a “middle class” salary, and it was assumed that they were becoming more middle class – sociologists called it embourgeoisement, e.g. workers at US car factories. The workers took the majority of the benefit from increases in increased efficiency, and pay differentials shrank – the “great convergence”.

    Then we had the neoliberal attack against the New Deal structures and social arrangements from the 1970s, which both greatly reduced manual worker wages and benefits, with such things as much lower pay and benefits for new employees vs. current ones, outsourcing to non-union suppliers, relocation to union-intolerant states, relocation to Mexico, then the great offshoring wave. Together with “changing welfare as we know it” (i.e. slashing welfare spending) and the mass imprisonment legislation resulting in leaps in the imprisoned population.

    All of the above changes impacted the working class and lower middle class much more than anyone else (the rich and upper middle class either gained or at least held their income levels). What are the best predictors of marriage failure? Educational level of the female spouse (women with at least a Bachelors degree get divorced much less), and financial stress. Its the group under the most financial stress (i.e.working class and lower middle class) that divorce much more than other class groups. These two factors are also the biggest determinant of never-married single motherhood. Now of course, de-stigmatizing divorce had some impact, but that impact has been much greater on the working and lower middle classes. In Jamaica, where it is extremely difficult for many men to find reliable work, there is the phenomenon of women having children with a number of men and remaining single, a form of economic insurance policy.

    So if all these conservative types want people to stay more happily married, and not be never-married single parents, all they have to do is support unions, favour corporations that keep good jobs onshore, and raise the minimum wage (and conservative screams of that driving job losses are not supported by research, lets remember that the now better off minimum wage earners will spend their money creating jobs elsewhere – the multiplier effect), provide better welfare payments, and end mass incarceration. Oh, but such policies are exactly what they are against?

    Conservatives blaming the working and middle class for not staying married and having children outside of marriage are like Western nations blaming refugees for fleeing the countries that the West turned into failed states. Like kicking a dog and then cursing it because it has trouble walking.

    1. johnherbiehancock

      Like kicking a dog and then cursing it because it has trouble walking.

      AND THEN claiming the dog simply doesn’t want to walk normal as an excuse to cut the Dog Walking Benefit fund from the government, and cutting the taxes of the Dog Kicker.

    2. Amfortas the Hippie

      and to add to your fine list of conservative(sic) counterproductivity:
      i cant remember the name given to this effect, but sociologist found that in the years after Roe there was a marked effect in society…lower crime, etc…due to people who didnt want kids(but having sex anyway, then getting preggers, given the stigma, etc regarding birth control,comprehensive sex ed, etc) weren’t forced into having an unwanted child…so fewer neglected children leads to fewer screwed up adults, and so on.

      in my experience…at least down here at the lower levels…it is sometimes possible to convince “conservatives” that their end goals are not furthered by their actual policy(sic) prescriptions.
      that disconnect was rather obvious to be by the end of high school, in east texas, late 80’s.

      1. JohnnyGL

        That was one of the big ‘lessons’ of the book Freakonomics, one of the many mainstream pop-economics books from 10-20 years ago.

        As it turned out, getting lead out of paint, water, and gasoline did umpteen times more to reduce crime.

        I think mother jones did a pretty compelling write up on that one years ago. The researchers referenced even took blood samples of convicted prisoners and found elevated lead levels in a ton of them.

    3. MT_Wild

      By that line of reasoning, then the liberal types that want to destroy marriage as an institution would just need to destroy unions, offshore jobs, and keep the minimum wage down.

      I’d say they’ve been pretty successful at that and it shows.

      1. The Rev Kev

        So I suppose that you could say that these liberals are thinking that it is better to reign over a neoliberal hell that they have created rather than to serve in a worker’s paradise instead.

        Milton would have recognized that idea.

        1. JBird4049

          >>>Milton would have recognized that idea.

          Does this not describe both parties?

          I think that the Democrats and the Republicans, do not care about the family at all. The former being the supposed liberal, but really neoliberal, and the latter being supposed conservative, but really American, but not European, Libertarians or even just reactionary jackasses; I say this to point what they are, which is not what they say, but what they do.

          Both parties under the leadership of the wealthy have followed practices that hinder, if not make impossible, being married and having children without being in poverty for a growing percentage of Americans.

          Just look at abortion. To be blunt, that is just at best a bandaid for the miserable, low paying jobs along with the cost of medical care, housing, retirement, and now food, becoming unaffordable are the drivers for this problem of the family. Most people want the option of having an abortion in at least some circumstances, period. Most people also do not like abortions, period. But there is enough disagreement over the detail, the two parties have used the issue as tool of distraction, vote getting, and money making for decades even when one party or the other controlled Congress and the Presidency making it possible to pass through national legislation on it. This was particularly true of the Democratic Party. However, neither party did anything. What damn shame. /S

          Instead it tax and welfare cuts, untrammeled free market capitalism on steroids, shipping most industries with their well paying jobs overseas, not to mention what was done to education, while expanding the prison system, and having a permanent state of undeclared war in or on God only knows how many countries for now more than two decades.

          And now there is a problem with having families with children? Really, how surprising, not. But they can always get everyone whipped on abortion. It is good politics to do so.

          1. The Rev Kev

            Agree with what you say. In the end, it is all about power and who wields it – and that is both parties. The fact that both parties are starting to lose control is leading to them trying to bring in censorship, media manipulation, cancelling and anything else to retain their power. They could retain it by doing stuff for the little people to make their lives easier but both parties are ideologically committed to giving the little guy nothing and taking away what little they have. Both want the rentier state and as far as they are concerned, citizens are just another name for resources waiting to be exploited.

            1. EquitableEqual

              Most future-focused consultancy white papers devote a lot of attention to resource scarcity currently, along with potential job losses in lower positions due to AI – I think reducing population growth in working/ lower middle classes is tacitly perceived as the solution to the world’s problems now. Rentier economics are just the means to the end.

              1. JBird4049

                Maybe. I just have to say that I have been aware of this going for roughly twenty years, and I been reading on it for fifteen years. It has been ongoing for over forty years. AI and population degrowth are the latest excuses that those in power are giving themselves.

  8. square coats

    Having spent the majority of my childhood/adolescence shuttling back and forth each week, post-my parents’ divorce, between a one parent (1P) household and the other parent plus step-parent (1P+1SP, or 2CG [caregiver]) household, I think we need to add some niche categories here (do I get a 3CG total household or do I average the difference?) :)

    On a serious note though, I thought the number of children being raised by primary caregivers other than parents was higher and I wonder how well or poorly the #P household captures the actual primary caregiving relationships that children wind up with.

  9. Hepativore

    I do not mean to derail this thread, but as I 39-year-old male I am not married, nor have I ever wanted to be. Part of it is the fact that there is something that I subconsciously resent about being legally bound to somebody as it feels too much like being under somebody’s thumb whether they are good company or not.

    It would seem that a partnership that is formed out of mutual love and respect would not find it necessary to lock each other down like that through legal contract as it seems like a statement of genuine attachment in knowing that your partner chooses to stay with you knowing that they are free to go at any time. Plus, I have seen and heard of the hell that many people go through during the divorce process and concluded that it does not matter how much money you spend during the wedding or how much you love your partner at the time, marriage comes with no guarantees of anything as people are constantly changing; sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

    I have also grown used to being single and enjoy not having to share my home with anybody else except for my cat.

    I think perhaps more people of my generation (very early millennial) and later are starting to realize that you do not have to get married if you do not want to. Of course marriage was always voluntary for the most part, except that there were strong familial and cultural expectations for adults to get married, and it was just something people “did” in many cases without examining the idea behind it just like having children. There is still the lingering consternation against unmarried adults, in many places, especially older bachelors as being irresponsible, swingers, or homosexual.

    Related to the above, one thing that does annoy me from time to time are the lack of programs or opportunities for single people to afford things like housing, healthcare, or other big expenses. It is often very difficult to buy a house on a single income, and many states that have healthcare assistance do not grant it to single adults without dependence. Just because we are single and without children does not mean we are lesser people.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Skip the part about the cat — my household is pet-free — and you’ve described 65-year-old Slim to a tee. Keep doing what you’re doing, Hepativore!

  10. playon

    It’s interesting to me that marriage (particularly with having children) is still incessantly promoted in practically every movie and television show, even while there are arguably already far too many people for the planet to support. Get married, and if you can afford to buy a house you are in debt for the next 30 years. If you have children you are forced to keep your job to support them, no matter how unpleasant it may be. All this is much to the liking of our elites, and of course the instinct to reproduce is very powerful. My wife and I never had children and are both quite happy with the freedom it has given us… and we are boomers.

  11. Cristobal

    The next question, given the fact that many, if not most, divorced persons remary, is what constitutes a 1P or a 2P household? I agree with Yves, this type of pseudo-statistical analysis is bonkers, stupid, and just wrong. Most children do not really know their parents until they are grown (if ever), and the influence that said parents have exercised on them (good or bad) has long since been done.

  12. herman_sampson

    A similar report years ago (maybe in the Atlantic) found that children who had one parent die were similar to children with two parents (also forgot what measures the researchers used to compare the two groups. Without analyzing further all the variables involved, one could conclude the number of parents is irrelevant

    1. SG

      That’s interesting to me from a purely personal perspective: I was raised in a 1P family because my dad dropped dead when my mom was in her third month of pregnancy with me.

      That said, children of 1P households are often stigmatized growing up – something which rarely has anything to do with their actual circumstances but has much to do with the prejudices of society at large. I can quite clearly recall a junior high friend of mine being discouraged from associating with me because “children of broken homes” were inclined to criminality.

  13. ArvidMartensen

    There are so many factors that can be missed in simplistic research. A major one is childhood trauma. If children are traumatised by one or both parents before and by a divorce, then the emotional effects will be profound, as documented in Judith Wallersteins research years ago. And emotional effects often spill over into economic effects.

    When kids internalise abuse as a normal part of families, then they are at great risk of perpetuating the same violence on their own children and partners. And violence doesn’t just have to be physical, it can be emotional as well, including callousness, selfishness, cheating, lying, gaslighting. A person who emotionally abuses their partner also unwittingly emotionally abuses their children.

    This is where religion fails in some respects, as any religion based on man as the boss in the family tends to sweep spousal abuse under the carpet. There are many stories of abuse from wives or ex-wives of clergymen, where the church hierarchy told them to suck it up for the sake of the man’s career and image.

    Men who are pillars of the community in business, politics and professions similarly have been known to hide behind their image while abusing their spouses. And a controversial statement might be that the media focus is on physical violence because the emotional abusers are more likely to be well-off and influential.

    For many, crossing the bridge from abuser to non-abuser is a bridge they aren’t able to cross in time to save themselves and others a lot of pain. Being a dick feels good when you can get away with it.

    And most people have seen a sad old person living by themselves, multiple broken relationships behind them, and children who won’t have much to do with them. Those elders with no insight rail against the unfairness. Those with insight should start campaigning for recognition of, and education around, spousal and child trauma. To help the next generation.

  14. orlbucfan

    What a load of hot air! I am a white Boomer female who is married and childless by choice. I was born into a non-dysfunctional family with two parents who both wanted their kids! I have friends whose parents divorced, and it was the best thing that ever happened to them growing up. I also have friends who divorced cos they loved their kids first, and were afraid their decaying relationship would hurt their kids. In other words, their kids came first! If you want kids, you better d (family blog) well give it plenty of serious thought. That child comes first, not you. There was never any sort of stigmatizing about it. If anything, I went through more nonsense cos I didn’t want kids. I could have cared less. Bringing an unwanted child into this world is my definition of a mortal sin.

  15. Jay Ess

    Genetics are another factor. I mean the genetics of the children – genetics which were inherited from parents who were able to get along, or not.

  16. ALM

    Matt Breunig’s arguments are always fact based and models of coherence and intellectual honesty. I’ve never read anyone so adept at uncovering hidden biases and assumptions. Breunig is definitely worth following.

  17. OliverN

    Good article which is a reminder to validate the way the data is measured rather than just accepting the conclusion.

    It occurs to me that the best dataset might be couples that divorced when it was discovered that one partner committed adultery; its a situation where they could have been fully in love on day, and then trust forever broken the next, and it’s also conceivable that an alternate version of the couple could exist who would have remained together under a slightly different scenario (assume everything the same except both parents are in favor of an open marriage – therefore adultery does not impact their relationship)

  18. farmboy

    “I once loved a woman, a child I’m told…”
    Marital conditions beg examination of outcomes. Since all that matters is anecdotal, then personal truth outs. Divorce is a healthy outcome in harmful situations. Death of a spouse (along with divorce), parent leads commonly to search for another. Often with offspring, new beginnings are cheerful but fraught with already built in problems. Without detailing those problems, end results are often another ending. Failure at the third try is heartbreaking, with regrets piling up. Children in these situations often look on in bewilderment, with why not even being worthy as a question. But let’s consider another possibility, that after divorce, the children are raised by relatives and nobody ever talks about or sees the former parents. Kids seemed to grow up okay, parents went their separate ways, but they never had children of their own.
    Pain is preferable to denial.

  19. DM

    It’s obvious that children that grow up with a strong father and mother figure who are united/on the same page will be more adept at navigating life’s challenges… any other thesis is just trying to justify internal biases

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