Friday, April 11, 2008

Responsibility and Reproduction

Another dispatch in from the urban poverty chicken and egg bureau. In a Slate article written a few weeks ago, Emily Yoffe says that out-of-wedlock pregnancies are a national disaster that are contributing to all sorts of societal problems.

The figures on this are pretty shocking. In 1960 only 5% of births were to unmarried mothers. Today that figure is nearly 40%. Among black Americans it's nearly 70%.

In the piece she writes that, "Studies have found that children born to single mothers are vastly more likely to be poor, have behavioral and psychological problems, drop out of high school, and themselves go on to have out-of-wedlock children." This is where the chicken and the egg comes from. Is it that children from single mothers are more likely to be poor with behavioral and psychological problems and low levels of education or is it that women with these issues are more likely to become single mothers? Either way, though, it's a problem and to some extent, arguing the chicken or the egg of the thing brings us closer to the realm of making excuses than finding solutions.

I agree that out-of-wedlock births are a problem. However, while Yoffe seems to view this as the problem, I see it more as a symptom of something even larger. Namely, the lack of personal responsibility that seems endemic in our society in general and in urban ghetto culture in particular.

The lack of two-parent households and married mothers stems from a lack of personal responsibility and sense of personal authority over life. My experiences as a teacher in the Bronx showed me that there is a lack of the sense that through hard work people can improve their position in life. There was a lack of the sense that each individual is responsible for their actions and that those actions have consequences that will affect other choices they can make. There was no sense that working hard and planning ahead now will lead to better outcomes later.

Don't believe me? Look at the number of kids who have ipods, X-Boxes, and fancy cell phones but don't have any books when they get home.

The out-of-wedlock birth epidemic is another outgrowth of that. It stems from the same instant gratification, no sense of consequences, live for the moment, no personal responsibility mentality. And that is the problem.

Yoffe writes, "perhaps in our desire not to make moral judgments about personal choices, young women wholly unprepared to be mothers are not getting the message that there are dire consequences of having (unprotected) sex with guys too lame to be fathers."

Maybe it's about time to start making those moral judgements. Clearly, the problems aren't getting better on their own.

P.S. While I think a two-parent household (with extended family nearby) is the ideal, it is not necessary in order to have a good life or to raise children well. I think it helps, but it's not required. What is required is a commitment to be responsible for oneself and one's children.

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