By: David Brooks
July 10, 2012
Leave it to David Brooks to figure out a way to blame the ladies for income inequality.
In his most recent New York Times column, Brooks decided to take a look at the most recent research of Robert Putnam, the Harvard University political science professor best known for writing Bowling Alone, the modern treatise on why many of us feel so isolated. Putnam has now moved on to class distinctions in child-rearing, and discovered what many others, including most famously sociologist Annette Lareau, have found: the upper middle classes parent very differently from everyone else. They spend more time with their children, and they emphasize achievement and vaguely salutary extracurricular activities ranging from soccer to singing classes for their progeny over after-school jobs and familial responsibility. All of this, in the view of Brooks, is responsible for our nation's stunning lack of income mobility.
A quick tutorial: the United States has a much lower rate of movement between classes than either Canada or Western Europe. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, if a man is born into a family in either the bottom or top fifth of all earners, he is more likely than not to stay within either that grouping or next quintile than not. Much ink has been spilled on why this is so, with those who have intensely studied the phenomenon, like journalist Tim Noah, coming to the conclusion that an ongoing hostility to unions and the on-going destruction of our formerly progressive income tax system is largely to blame for the calcification of privilege.
Brooks, however, has a new take. It's those damn women's libbers causing grief yet again.
That's right. Brooks believes that unequal outcomes come about not because the wealthy have gamed the system but because doctors now marry other doctors, and lawyers other lawyers, not ditsy nurses and gum-chewing receptionists. The combined high IQ of these high-end matings apparently trumps all else. Not, mind you, that Brooks quite puts it that way. But how else can you take a paragraph like the following:
"Affluent, intelligent people are now more likely to marry other energetic, intelligent people. They raise energetic, intelligent kids in self-segregated, cultural ghettoes where they know little about and have less influence upon people who do not share their blessings.
In other words, when men married ill-educated, low IQ women who didn't attend college, we were all better off because the most intelligent and motivated among us weren't able to self-select into isolated communities where, apparently, we just hang around with other super-smart people and forget to instruct our social inferiors on how to behave, including vital lessons on making sure you get a ring around your finger before you go about making babies.
That brings me to the other way Brooks believes the ladies are contributing to income inequality. They insist on having sex when they really should not. In Brooks' world "traditional social norms were abandoned," leading to an epidemic of "single parents" who insist on making babies "out-of-wedlock" when they are "too stressed" to properly take care of their kiddies. Needless to say, you can read "single mothers" here, because if there is any epidemic of single fathers out there, it is not public knowledge.
Leaving aside the buried sexual creepiness of Brooks' assertions, no one has ever proved whether we are seeing cause or effect here. Upper middle class children do indeed have better outcomes than all the rest but they might well have that outcome even if their parents are dedicated free-rangers, allowing their children to run free like, uh, my mother and father did with me. Let me explain. The children of privilege benefit from a lot more than helicopter parents who think every moment is a possible educational offering. Thanks to our nation's use of local property taxes to pay for local schools, they attend better-funded educational institutions with lower teacher-student ratios. If they are in mixed-income districts ranging from Santa Monica to Silver Spring, their parents likely raise huge sums of money to complement their district's educational offerings. If they have a learning disability, not only are they more likely to be properly diagnosed, their parents likely have the funds to ensure they receive adequate therapy and supplementation. They eat healthier food and enjoy better access to needed medical care.
In short, the winners of the lucky sperm and egg club benefit from a lot more than intense parental attention or, for that matter, inherited IQ.