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Men Making Less Money? Blame It On Their Single Moms

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Study of men’s falling income cites single parents

WASHINGTON — The decline of two-parent households may be a significant reason for the divergent fortunes of male workers, whose earnings generally declined in recent decades, and female workers, whose earnings generally increased, a prominent labor economist argues in a new survey of existing research.


David H. Autor, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that the difference between men and women, at least in part, may have roots in childhood. Only 63 percent of children lived in a household with two parents in 2010, down from 82 percent in 1970. The single parents raising the rest of those children are predominantly female. And there is growing evidence that sons raised by single mothers “appear to fare particularly poorly,” Professor Autor wrote in an analysis for Third Way, a center-left policy research organization.


In this telling, the economic struggles of male workers are both a cause and an effect of the breakdown of traditional households. Men who are less successful are less attractive as partners, so women are choosing to raise children by themselves, producing sons who are less successful and attractive as partners.


“A vicious cycle may ensue,” wrote Professor Autor and his co-author, Melanie Wasserman, a graduate student, “with the poor economic prospects of less educated males creating differentially large disadvantages for their sons, thus potentially reinforcing the development of the gender gap in the next generation.”


The fall of men in the workplace is widely regarded by economists as one of the nation’s most important and puzzling trends. While men, on average, still earn more than women, the gap between them has narrowed considerably, particularly among more recent entrants to the labor force.


 For all Americans, it has become much harder to make a living without a college degree, for intertwined reasons including foreign competition, advancements in technology and the decline of unions. Over the same period, the earnings of college graduates have increased. Women have responded exactly as economists would have predicted, by going to college in record numbers. Men, mysteriously, have not.


 Among people who were 35 years old in 2010, for example, women were 17 percent more likely to have attended college, and 23 percent more likely to hold an undergraduate degree.


“I think the greatest, most astonishing fact that I am aware of in social science right now is that women have been able to hear the labor market screaming out ‘You need more education’ and have been able to respond to that, and men have not,” said Michael Greenstone, an M.I.T. economics professor who was not involved in Professor Autor’s work. “And it’s very, very scary for economists because people should be responding to price signals. And men are not. It’s a fact in need of an explanation.”


Most economists agree that men have suffered disproportionately from economic changes like the decline of manufacturing. But careful analyses have found that such changes explain only a small part of the shrinking wage gap.


One set of supplemental explanations holds that women are easier to educate or, as the journalist Hanna Rosin wrote in “The End of Men,” because women are more adaptable. Professor Autor writes that such explanations are plausible and “intriguing,” but as yet unproven.


He disagrees entirely with the view of the conservative analyst Charles Murray, in “Coming Apart,” that men have become “less industrious.”


 “We’re pretty much in agreement on most of the facts,” Professor Autor said of Mr. Murray. “But he looks at the same facts and says this is all due to the failure of government programs, eroding the commitment to working. And we’re saying, what seems much more plausible here is that the working world just has less and less use for these folks.”


Professor Autor’s own explanation builds on existing research showing that income inequality has soared, stretching the gap between rich and poor, and that a smaller share of Americans are making the climb. The children of lower-income parents are ever more likely to become, in turn, the parents of lower-income children.


Moreover, a growing share of lower-income children are raised by their mother but not their father, and research shows that those children are at a particular disadvantage.


Professor Autor said in an interview that he was intrigued by evidence suggesting the consequences were larger for boys than girls, including one study finding that single mothers spent an hour less per week with their sons than their daughters. Another study of households where the father had less education, or was absent entirely, found the female children were 10 to 14 percent more likely to complete college. A third study of single-parent homes found boys were less likely than girls to enroll in college.


“It’s very clear that kids from single-parent households fare worse in terms of years of education,” he said. “The gender difference, the idea that boys do even worse again, is less clear cut. We’re pointing this out as an important hypothesis that needs further exploration. But there’s intriguing evidence in that direction.”


Conservatives have long argued that society should encourage stable parental relationships. Liberals have tended to argue that the government should focus instead on improving economic opportunities. Jonathan Cowan, the president of Third Way, said the paper underscored that addressing social problems was a means to improve economic opportunities.


“If Democrats have as their goal being the party of the middle class, they have to come to the realization that they’re not going to be able to get there solely through their standard explanations,” said Mr. Cowan, a veteran of the Clinton administration. “We need to ask, ‘How can we get these fathers back involved in their children’s lives?’ ”


But some experts cautioned that Professor Autor’s theory did not necessarily imply that such children would benefit from the presence of their fathers.


“Single-parent families tend to emerge in places where the men already are a mess,” said Christopher Jencks, a professor of social policy at Harvard University. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Suppose the available men were getting married to the available women? Would that be an improvement?’ ”


Instead of making marriage more attractive, he said, it might be better for society to help make men more attractive.

by on Mar. 20, 2013 at 3:57 PM
Replies (41-50):
by Ruby Member on Mar. 21, 2013 at 1:19 AM
I think it has more to do with the loss of manufacturing. Used to be a man who wasn't the type to go to college could still work with his hands and raider a family without much difficulty. Those jobs are gone. Men who would have been mechanics or working in factories are working in fast food and retail. You only go up so high in those jobs and you still make less than a truck driver. Their earning potential has plummeted and now they are getting stuck in the pink collar jobs they used to be the domain of undereducated women like retail and restaurants. Earning potential goes down because the jobs are gone and have been going.

Women had no preconceived notions on what it would take to succeed and were willing to do whatever it took because few had the mindset of "my father and his father did this job and that is what I will do, even if the factory closed or the farm was sold ten years ago. It is the way we do things." Women had to start from scratch so they had fewer emotional blocks to completely retooling their lives in hopes of a decent job. Some men dig in a little more and hope their stubbornness will be rewarded by the old ways coming back.
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by Thatwoman on Mar. 21, 2013 at 1:28 AM
1 mom liked this

Or, maybe, you can hold the people responsible for their own attitudes and choices, like they're free, adult humans...


by Platinum Member on Mar. 21, 2013 at 1:39 AM

I wasn't just talking about the part about the girls, I  was also talking about the speculation on why women chose single parenthood.

Quoting futureshock:

Quoting autodidact:

so only the parents of girls stay together?  this sounds like a lot of unsubstantiated conjecture. 

Read the article.

by Angie on Mar. 21, 2013 at 1:56 AM

Championing single parenthood because we've been left with little choice considering the downturn that the average American family has taken, is in fact,  taking it's toll on the children being raised in these environments.  We are finally seeing the negative effects of single parenting.  Between teen pregnancy and the scores of children that do not even know who their father is, really just how is single parenting an advantage to anyone?

Quoting TranquilMind:

I believe he is right, that it is a vicious cycle.  There will always be exceptions, who can break the stats, but generally men are faring more poorly, and single parent homes are one reason. 

The need for strong, stable, married husbands and wives(because children need both) to raise children cannot be overstated. 


by Bronze Member on Mar. 21, 2013 at 5:03 AM
2 moms liked this

Wow, this comment apparently came across differently than I meant it to, so let me explain......

I'm well aware that children who are raised by single mothers have extra obstacles to overcome. In my husband's case, his mom simply wasn't able to be involved in their lives as much because she was working all the time, and they spent a lot of their childhood years living in poverty because when her husband left her to raise four children on her own, she had no college education or work experience, meaning that she was dependent on the government for a while until she could finish school. Single parenthood is less than ideal, I won't argue that. Politically incorrect as it may be, I believe it's best for kids to be born into a home with two loving, committed parents in a stable relationship.

HOWEVER, and my point was this, we ALL have obstacles to overcome. The vast majority of us have been dealt a shitty hand in one way or another. Some of us have learning disabilities; some of us grew up in abusive homes; some of us just plain have bad luck. I think that blaming a person's lack of success on the fact that he was raised by a single mother makes very little sense. In my MIL's case, she raised four sons who saw their upbringing as motivation to do better, both in a professional sense AND as husbands and fathers, and didn't use it as an excuse to be lazy, not to get an education or not to work hard in their careers. At some point you have to grow up, pull on your big-girl or big-boy pants, and recognize that your upbringing is in the past and your future depends on the choices YOU make as an adult.Single mothers are not to blame for their children's failures when those failures are ultimately rooted in personal choice.

Even though my MIL was a single mom of four, raising them in poverty, she made sure they understood that education was the key to a better life and they were all required to do well in school. She also required each of them, in their freshman year of high school, to choose an extracurricular activity that they would stick with for the rest of high school. It could be whatever they wanted, but they were not allowed to quit for the entire four years. My husband and his oldest brother both chose music, and they both ended up going to college on music scholarships. Education, for them, has been the key to getting out of poverty, and music was the ticket to that education.

Quoting futureshock:

Quoting jhslove:

Wow. Well, I guess my husband, who was raised by a single mom along with his three brothers, is in trouble. They're all successful and happily married. I wonder what she did wrong?!

I guess I missed the part of the article that said the study was talking about every single male raised by a single mother.

by Bronze Member on Mar. 21, 2013 at 5:26 AM

I think (and this is pure speculation on my part) that part of it is that the CULTURE has changed. There used to be nothing wrong with the perception that it was a husband's responsibility and role to provide for his family, and a man who couldn't or wouldn't do that had a real reason to be ashamed. This was reinforced by society. My grandmother and my mom both speak openly and without any shame about the fact that if my grandfather or my dad, who are both doctors, hadn't been working toward stable careers to provide for a family, they never would have married them. Gender roles used to be very clear--men are responsible for this, and women are responsible for that. But now, gender roles have changed. I don't think this is a bad thing in itself--I work full-time, I love it, and I'll probably always be a working mother, as was my own mom--but it BECOMES a problem when men are able to abdicate any sort of responsibility and women will keep them around because they're so desperate for male companionship that they're willing to overlook serious character flaws for the sake of not being alone. And as a society, we're so afraid of being politically incorrect that we're not willing to make anyone feel ashamed, even when shame would be appropriate (as in the case of a man who fathers children and then behaves like a total douche by not providing for them or being involved in their lives).

As I mentioned before, I work full-time, and while my husband was in the beginning of his PhD program, I was the primary breadwinner. If he had ever decided that he wasn't going to work or go to school full-time, he would have been out on the curb faster than he knew what hit him. It's important to me to be married to someone who is an equal provider for our family--that's a non-negotiable for me. So this isn't an issue of "traditional" gender roles being better, IMO. It's an issue of women having such low standards that men are able to escape any societal consequences of their poor character, because there will always be women willing to have sex with them.

Quoting TranquilMind:

 This is true too, but why? Why have lots of men become useless?  What is missing?  Why don't they have that sense of being a leader, responsible for their families  and how the children turn out anymore?

I couldn't imagine being married to a man who had not demonstrated extreme responsibility and maturity BEFORE I married him. 

Quoting furbabymum:

 I think men are also more likely to succumb to addictions like gaming, tv, etc. I don't know how many posts I've read on CM where the woman is working and complaining about her SO who is doing nothing but playing Xbox.

Well maybe that's the answer, women are supporting useless men. Men used to have to have a good job to support their family but now women don't require that and thus, men aren't doing it.

by A.Ham on Mar. 21, 2013 at 11:40 AM

These problems have been plaguing black communities for years.  They are just now, due to globalization, I think, affecting white ones.

Frankly, I think this is the biggest challenge of our time -- what to do with the huge number of low-skilled workers who simply are outside the job market; how to correct that mismatch.

But I agree with the conservatives in this article that we should also encourage stable parental relationships -- but for me, "encourage" also means support, which we can do by through funding good quality services, such as day care and health services.

by A.Ham on Mar. 21, 2013 at 11:52 AM


Quoting Saphira1207:


“Single-parent families tend to emerge in places where the men already are a mess,” said Christopher Jencks, a professor of social policy at Harvard University. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Suppose the available men were getting married to the available women? Would that be an improvement?’ ”


Instead of making marriage more attractive, he said, it might be better for society to help make men more attractive.


I read this entire article and the part I highlighted in red is, imo, the most important part.  There's a lot that goes into "fixing" this problem but acknowledging those 2 points up front is a really good first step.

I totally agree. 

Personally, I believe that most women generally want to get married -- but that fact doesn't suddenly make the men in their lives marriagable.


by A.Ham on Mar. 21, 2013 at 11:55 AM
1 mom liked this

 A closing wage gap isn't a problem; but what you want is for women to start making as much as men, not for men to start making as little as women, which is what is happening.

Quoting stacymomof2:

I guess I don't get why a closing wage gap (not completely closed, of course) is seen as men "faring poorly."  What will people do when the wage gap actually closes?  Start telling women they aren't allowed to go to college anymore?  Put a limit on women's wages so they can't catch up?  psshhht.

There is no evidence here, just a correlation.  Of course they jump right to "it's because of single moms!"  


by A.Ham on Mar. 21, 2013 at 11:58 AM

 I think all of those questions are relevant, but they are mitigating factors. 

Quoting autodidact:


i'd like to see the results of a study comparing the college attending offspring of single parents to those who don't go, that would tell us more than this. 
how involved are the fathers after divorce?

what other role models are available to the child?

what role does parental education play? or the parent's finanical status?

it's too complex an issue to simply blame on single moms.  

Quoting stacymomof2:

I guess I don't get why a closing wage gap (not completely closed, of course) is seen as men "faring poorly."  What will people do when the wage gap actually closes?  Start telling women they aren't allowed to go to college anymore?  Put a limit on women's wages so they can't catch up?  psshhht.

There is no evidence here, just a correlation.  Of course they jump right to "it's because of single moms!"  




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