Man Without Qualities

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Fancy Women II: A Few Externals

This post below is directed at the internal inconsistencies and incoherencies of the criticisms of the Yale study and the New York Times article discussed, with the LA Times commentary taken as an example. For example, I noted in the prior post that the existence of a pool of rich potential husbands is "key." It's "key" to that post because Ms. Stabiner says it is "key" to her appraoch and argument. But as noted in that post, even in her context and taking her assumption, her criticism makes little sense. One can also address the issues raised in the prior post from an external standpoint that challenges the basic assumptions the critics make and the facts they assert. That approach opens up a vast vista, a vista that this post only gestures towards.

Many studies support the conclusion that for life-long prosperity a stable marriage with two spouses that support each other is hard to beat, regardless of whether either one of them is "rich" or potentially so. But what if the marriage is not stable? Yes, for couples of modest income divorce is a bigger issue as to material well being than it is for the rich. But focusing on careers and professional training while disregarding the needs of future childbearing unleashes its own statistical demons. Such a focus almost certainly increases the chances that a woman will never marry, or will bear children late in life or not bear children at all. Never-married people have their own problems and "numbers" - problems and "numbers" that arguments such Ms. Stabiner's fail to mention. For example, the plight of a divorced woman with children is far from enviable. But with divorce comes the obligation of child support payments from the ex-husband, an obligation certainly not universally ignored. So is the plight of a divorced woman worse on average than the plight of a never-married mother? Where are those "numbers," Ms. Stabiner? Then there are "numbers" concerning, say, the relative depression, alcoholism and drug use rates of married people compared to unmarried people. What "numbers" are there to express the loss to a woman who is required to use a "donor egg" rather than her own because she waited too long to bear children? Is there a "number" that measures a woman's state of mind when she comes to understand that her focus on her career has been the major factor in her never being able to have children at all? One could go on and on.

Closer to the home turf Ms. Stabiner stakes out for herself, where do we find in her article the "numbers" that capture the most basic, starting issue at stake here: Do children benefit from a full-time, stay at home mother? I keep looking and looking, but I just can't find those "numbers" in Ms. Stabiner's article. There's lots of research (some is detailed here, for example) and the results are by no means monochromatic. For the most part, as the book linked above notes, research shows a wide range of effects of maternal employment on child development, some apparently neutral and some clearly negative - with many other factors (including sex of the child and wealth of the household, Ms. Stabiner) interacting with maternal employment to create sometimes startling differences. For example, this study found that teenagers with working mothers who attend relatively wealthy schools are more likely (77 percent) to have a birth compared to teens who attend similar schools but have non-working mothers, where such teenagers who attend relatively poor schools are less likely (18 percent) to have a birth compared to teens who attend similar schools but have non-working mothers. Does that study make one more or less confident that the relatively rich women surveyed by Yale and HBS are "naive" and merely "privileged," as Ms. Stabiner says they are?

While most research does not paint a uniformly negative image of maternal employment, the general drift seems to be towards what common sense would suggest: It's on the whole generally better to have mom at home, especially in the early years. But one thing that does emerge with crystal clarity from the existing research is that if one is interested in whether a stay-at-home mother benefits her children, the kind of sweeping claims made by Ms. Stabiner and other such critics to a position supported by "the numbers" and "research" and "science" is completely unfounded - even embarrassing. Of course, it isn't at all clear from her article that Ms. Stabiner is mostly concerned about the children of the women she castigates. Indeed, Ms. Stabiner seems to have a pre-existing political goal and is quite prepared to tromp on anyone who gets in her way, whether it’s the older alumni she ignores, the current female students she castigates, or the future children, the concern for whom by their future mothers she labels "selfishness."

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