Sunday, July 10, 2005

L&S: Single-Parenting, Then and Now

Steve Davies is our after dinner lecturer tonight, giving a wonderful talk on what he calls "The Age of Funk." This talk explores the way in which human life has never been better than it is right now and then compares that to the various chicken littles on both sides of the political spectrum who are constantly telling us how bad things are. It's really an extended riff on Easterbrook's The Progress Paradox.

He just made the huge point that many children prior to the 20th century were not raised by both parents - women frequently died in childbirth and men at work, leaving children to be raised by stepparents, especially stepmothers. The modern obsession with the problems of single parenthood or stepfamilies is hardly new. The mom-dad "traditional" family that we've invented in our nostalgia frequently didn't exist back then either. Yes, now it's due to divorce more often than death, but the breaking up of the marital dyad and the consquent adjustments to new parenting arrangements are hardly only post-war phenomena. It's always been the case that children have had to deal with changes in family form/structure.

It's worth asking whether it's worse for children of divorce today to have, potentially, 4 parents, ideally, interested in their welfare, two of whom are their biological parents, or worse historically, when there would be two parents, at most, only one of whom was biologically related. Is divorce worse than the death of a parent? Are two remarriages better than one? Interesting questions.

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