The Marriage Encouragement Act of 2017.

Back in the 1960s, the rough-around-the-edges, but “Harvard-trained” Daniel Moynihan argued that single-parenthood condemned an increasingly large share of the African-American community to poverty.[1]  Subsequently, Moynihan was tarred with the brush of working for Richard Nixon.  Still, the Clinton, Bush II, and Obama administrations all encouraged marriage.

Decades of social science research has shown that Moynihan was right to have worried.  Single-parent households are worse for children than are two-parent households.  Children raised in single-parent households are poorer than children in two-parent households; they more likely to engage in “risky” behavior; they are more likely to have “contact” with the police and the criminal justice system; and they are more likely to drop out of school before getting even a worthless diploma.  That in itself is an employment  death sentence.

So, should the government encourage poor people to get married?  My God, NO!  You’ll just get lots of kids born into poverty!  Oh, wait, we already have lots of kids born into poverty by “unwed”[2] mothers.  Currently, about 40 percent of mothers are unmarried and 20 percent of white children, 25 percent of Hispanic children, and 50 percent of African-American children live in a household headed by a single woman.

Eduardo Porter argues that efforts to promote marriage are a “waste of resources and time.”  In comparison with married couples, parents who have children outside of “holy deadlock” tend to have less education, worse-paying jobs, and more mental health problems.  Very often they guys are losers by any standard.  So, says Porter, these people “would have a tough time raising children in a healthy environment even if they stayed together.”

Beyond this, Porter has two points to make.  First, women get pregnant because they don’t understand that sex leads to pregnancy,[3] and because they don’t have access to contraceptives.  Second, trying to turn back the clock to some golden age makes less sense than trying to off-set the ill-effects of single-parenthood as it exists.

In a refreshing confession of the failures of typical liberal reforms, Porter frankly admits that “government has no clue how to” encourage couples to get married.  Still, he doesn’t shrink social engineering.  If women had easy access to “long term” contraception[4]; if unmarried co-habitation was socially acceptable; if the State paid more generous benefits to mothers, then s ingle-parenthood would be less catastrophic for the kids.

Some of this is puzzling.  First, Porter argues that fathers are often losers, but then argues that globalization and technological change have wiped out many blue-collar jobs that enabled these men to support families.  So, once upon a time these same men or men like then were functional fathers?  Second, he implies that being an unwed mother carries a social stigma in America.  Really?  Then why has the rate risen?  Third, Porter argues that women may not marry the fathers of their children because the men cannot provide for their families.  Or do they not marry because the State can provide better than can the men?

[1] Eduardo Porter, “Push Marriage?  Not for the Sake Of the Children,” NYT, 23 March 2016.

[2] “Unwed” mothers and “undocumented” immigrants.  Soon we’ll be referring to Donald Trump as “untactful.”

[3] Implicit in this argument is that 20-25 percent of white and Hispanic women don’t understand that sex can lead to pregnancy and that 50 percent of black women don’t understand that sex can lead to pregnancy.  Normally, this would result in a charge of racism.  However, Porter writes for the NYT, so—by definition—he isn’t saying anything racist.

[4] The rate of unmarried mothers has been rising, so at some point in the past unmarried birth rates were much lower.  Does this mean that one generation of mothers and fathers forgot to tell their own children that sex can lead to pregnancy?  Or did condoms just fall out of fashion?  Probably should look at STD rates.


We’ve been testing “intelligence” for about a century. What does an IQ test “test”? It tests what is called “abstract intelligence,” basically solving logic problems. There is a correlation—not a cause-and-effect linkage—between high IQ scores and both good grades and good job performance. In contrast, many of the standardized tests (SAT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT, GMAT) that hold the keys to opportunity in life measure verbal and quantitative ability. Apparently the two types of tests measure different things because IQ scores have been rising steadily for decades, while measures like the SAT have stalled or even fallen. (Then there’s the third kind of test called “personal judgment” used by employers, teachers, and voters. I don’t see scholars doing much work on what I conjecture to be a key factor in individual success.)

Raw IQ scores rose steadily in all developed countries throughout the 20th Century and continue to do so today. Three points per decade is the normal increase. That means that my older son should have an IQ about 20 points higher than my father and about a 12 points higher than myself.[1] They are rising across all groups tested, rather than in just part of the population. The dumb are getting smart and the smart are getting smarterer.

It’s hard to tell why they are rising. Improved nutrition and health may play a role by allowing most children to develop more rapidly. IQ tests are usually given to captive school or draft age populations, so a fast first step in life might contribute to rising scores. Also, more education became available to the lower income groups in the course of the 20th Century. This could move the “left tail” of a standard distribution to the right. On the other end of the spectrum, smart kids increasingly hang with smart kids. A “social multiplier effect” may explain why the IQ scores of this group continue to rise when improved nutrition and education cannot be factors. There is an intriguing third possibility. Both computer games and popular television shows have become increasingly complex. The narratives in each art form stress complicated plots and lots of characters. Perhaps this fosters a constant analysis of abstract relationships.

Then there are Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. These aren’t discussed much, if at all, in the media. What one analysis of the scores since 1968 shows is that the Torrance scores for American children have been dropping since 1990.

While something is causing IQ to rise, it probably doesn’t have anything to do with what is going on in the classroom. Better nutrition, more years in school, watching “Lost,” and playing “Call of Duty” might be the most reasonable explanations. In contrast, the stagnation (at best) in the SATs and the decline in the Torrance Test scores might be related to what is happening in classrooms since they test things that schools claim to teach and foster.

There are implications for social policy. First, improving both childhood nutrition and education help poor children. That could get tangled up with questions about the quality of parenting supplied by poor people. FDA guidelines on nutrition and good advice on stimulating the intellectual development of children has been available for decades. Not everyone uses them. Second, schools and colleges might want to think about incorporating complex television series and electronic games into their tool-kit. If William Shakespeare were alive today, would he prefer to write “Kinky Boots” or “Breaking Bad”? Third, mixing higher IQ students with lower IQ students in the classroom may be good for the lower IQ students. It won’t be good for higher IQ students. I can hear the Republican outcry against Democrats’ “redistribution of grey cells” already. I might be part of it. (“Smarter than ever,” The Week, 16 September 2011, p. 11.)

[1] This may be an argument for having children as early in life as possible. It cuts down on the IQ gap between yourself and your children. Otherwise the little bastards will be just insufferable.