It’s like something from a time capsule buried in the 1970s and recently unsealed. Out of nowhere, Slate published this strange and at-odds-with-the-science article extolling divorce. Back in the 70s, when no-fault divorce was coming into its own backed by a second-wave feminism that told women they’re in constant peril from their husbands, the non-stop narrative held that concern about divorce was just an artifact of patriarchal times, that no adult should be shackled to a less than ideal marriage and that, with adult unhappiness out of the way, the kids would be fine. That message was long on feminist ideology and short on empirical fact. Over the next four decades, we learned its many errors that demolish the “divorce is harmless” narrative.
That Slate should, at this very late date, cough up a screed peddling those same long-debunked claims is simply bizarre. If the article is any indication, progressivism is scraping bottom. This informed takedown by sociologist Nicholas Wolfinger covers a few of the high points of the actual science on divorce and child well-being. As a general principle, divorce is bad for kids.
[D]oes parental divorce have a causal negative impact on offspring well-being? We know now the answer to this question is yes, based on modern econometric methods and sophisticated data resources like sibling data (see this, this, this, and one of my own studies). The effects vary and have many causes, but the evidence for them is overwhelming.
By contrast, here’s the core claim of the Slate piece:
In a 2003 paper, Paul Amato of Penn State created an index of overall psychological well-being and concluded that the overlap between adults with and without divorced parents was 90 percent, meaning only about 10 percent of those with divorced parents had more mental health issues and reported lower life satisfaction and happiness than those with married ones.
In other words, once they’ve grown up, adults can heal from the trauma of family breakup. But that’s a long way from saying they didn’t suffer as kids, sometimes terribly, during and after the divorce. To analogize, I have a friend who, many years ago, was badly injured in a motorcycle accident. She’s fine now though, so, according to Slate’s rationale, the wreck and the long months of pain, disability and rehabilitation were no big deal. Make sense?
Weirder still is this:
Most of the problems associated with being a child of divorce are instead related to sexism, racism, homophobia, shoddy recordkeeping, and insufficient government support.
To which, informed readers are likely to respond, “Huh?” But if you’re confused by that statement, don’t expect to find elucidation in the Slate article in which it appears. Amazingly, it’s just a stand-alone assertion unexplained elsewhere. Wolfinger rightly calls the claim “fatuous” and, unlike Slate, backs his statement up.
Never mind that a huge meta-analysis showed that the effects of parental divorce are consistently much stronger for white kids than for their African American peers.
Never mind that [Slate]’s claim about sexism is fundamentally impossible to establish or falsify. Our long history of maternal custody and sexism are inextricably related, but it’s intellectually lazy to ipso facto conclude that female custody is a reason why people think divorce is bad for kids. Cornwall and Coltrane ignore the fact that it was fathers who generally got custody of kids prior to the 19th century.
Plus of course any suggestion that the divorce system is “sexist” must begin with the fact that the vast majority of custody cases are decided in favor of mothers, but if you think the Slate piece even mentions the fact, think again. Likewise, when, prior to the institution of the Tender Years doctrine, fathers almost always got custody, divorce was far rarer and more disdained than it is today, facts that hardly square with “female custody is the reason why people think divorce is bad for kids.” Do the Slate writers know anything about pre-no-fault times?
The good news is that, like so much progressive ideology, most people aren’t buying what Slate is selling. Since about 1980, the divorce rate has been declining, the longest such period in U.S. history and the best of news for all who value a stable society.
The reasons for the long decline aren’t hard to figure out. The no-fault revolution spun off the highest divorce rate in history and along with it, the highest number of children of divorce. Those kids are now adults and they take their marriages and the children in them far more seriously than was considered de rigueur in the 70s. The Slate writers want those millions of young adults to believe that the break-ups of their families, often the loss of their father and the attendant drop in their living standards were no big deal, but those young adults know better. They’ve felt the pain of their parents’ divorce all too sharply and are determined to not inflict the same on their kids. Good for them.
I’ve written often to the effect that We the People know better than the elites who seek to instruct us. The sharp decline in the divorce rate is yet another good example, despite the blandishments of progressive elites and their mouthpieces in the news media.
This article originally appeared at The Word of Damocles.