Is it money or family structure? The case of rich kids and family breakdown

19 Dec

Scholars of the left often dismiss (if they are aware of them) arguments made by myself and others that social problems are usually primarily a function of family structure (breakdown or unnatural/traditional structure).  Rather, they suggest money covers a multitude of troubles.  Matthew Yglesias, a progressive commentator, recently suggested that for all the talk traditionalist conservatives give about family, what really matters is just money. Give people money and their problems will dissipate (regardless of family structure). Think again Matt.

From Sociologist Brad Wilcox:

It is hard to count the ways in which Matthew Yglesias’ snarky attack in Slate on New York Times columnist David Brooks and Brooks’ reflections on the family is wrong, but two rejoinders are especially worth making.

1) Even privileged kids suffer when their family breaks down.

After noting that Brooks is getting a divorce, Yglesias wonders if Brooks will rethink his oft-expressed concern about family breakdown in America “in light of the breakdown of his own marriage.” Based on his “anecdotal experience growing up in affluent circles in Manhattan,” Yglesias thinks that divorce is ultimately of little consequence for the children of privilege, and that Brooks will come to realize this as he watches his own kids navigate life as children of divorce.

Sure, divorce can be “sad” for the children of privilege, but in the end it is no obstacle “to [these] kids going to college and maintaining a high socioeconomic status.” According to Yglesias, Brooks is likely to see that his children will “get along fine in life, possessing all the various [material and social] advantages that come from being David Brooks’ children.”

Sorry, Yglesias, your anecdotal experience doesn’t cut it on this topic. Not only do privileged children often get “sad” when their families break down, they are also markedly more likely to fail to graduate from college, to have a child outside of wedlock, and to lose the socioeconomic status of their childhood than their peers raised in an intact, married family. As I documented in a recent Atlantic article, for instance, the Add Health dataset shows that young adults from college-educated but non-intact families are about 31 percent less likely to graduate from college than their peers whose parents are married and college-educated (see below).

Analyses use data from Add Health Waves I and IV. Wave I was collected in 1995 when respondents were in middle and high school. Wave IV was collected in 2007 and 2008 when the participants were 24 to 32 years old. An asterisk (*) indicates a statistically-significant difference (p < 0.05) between respondents who lived with both, married biological parents at Wave I compared with respondents from other family structures, controlling for respondent’s age and race/ethnicity. A hat (^) indicates that there was still a statistically-significant difference when Wave I household income was added as an additional control.

Read the rest of this fantastic article here

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