The Conversation with David Blankenhorn TONIGHT

04.18.2013, 12:56 PM

Join us tonight (live in Manhattan at the Center for Public Conversation or on-line!) when David Blankenhorn converses with Professor Lawrence M. Mead about “Is Marriage Gap Driving American Inequality?” By clicking here you can sign up to receive a reminder e-mail right before the event begins.  Also, tonight we will be live-tweeting the event–you can live-tweet your comments and questions too, using #IAVMead.  As usual we will include questions from the on-line audience at the end of the conversation!  Follow us on Twitter and stay up to date on the conversation!

You can read more from Professor Lawrence Mead from our recent Valentine’s Day Symposium!


50 Responses to “The Conversation with David Blankenhorn TONIGHT”

  1. Teresa says:

    Dr. Lawrence Mead:

    The fundamental positions I espouse come mainly from people in the field.

    Great interview with lots of important points made by Dr. Mead. Lessen inequality by getting a high school education, getting a job (not even a great paying job … even seasonal work) marry, and then have children.

    Learn commitment, and see marriage working to the common social good. Open the door to the difficulties that marriage has embedded within it: talk about it, have suggestions as a society to help married persons as they’re going through marriage problems.

    Can single persons help married persons w/o having walked the talk?

  2. matthew kaal says:

    Teresa,

    I have passed your question on, hopefully they will get to it.

  3. Diane M says:

    @Teresa – I missed the talk, but I think anyone can help others by listening to their struggles sympathetically.

    If you like kids, many couples could use time away from them.

  4. Teresa says:

    Diane said to me:

    I missed the talk, but I think anyone can help others by listening to their struggles sympathetically.

    It was a very good talk, Diane. Near the end of the conversation, Dr. Mead did say pretty much what you’ve said. Loose paraphrase: listening to someone sympathetically is what he tries to do … although, he might make some suggestions. But, the best thing is just listening.

    However, Diane, I’m not sure married persons will necessarily think a single person would be the best ‘ear’ to listen to them; because, single persons wouldn’t understand being married and the problems incumbent with it.

  5. Matthew Kaal says:

    Teresa,

    I definitely understand that concern; as single people we run the risk of hitting a relational barrier with our married and coupled friends because our experiences differ. I think at a certain level we acknowledge that we are starting from different places, but if friendship and goodwill exist, and we are listening and seeking to understand, then a wise single friend is ultimately a wise friend. I think things like shared language, and values aid in this process, but that listening is a key component.

  6. David Lapp says:

    I agree that the conversation with Larry Mead was excellent. I also wondered, as Mead was talking about making marriage a common obligation (I think those were his words), about what this means for single people. To me, a society that proposes marriage as a common obligation for all people is a society that has too “strong” of a marriage culture, if I can put it that way.

    I think the Catholic Church gets it right: encourage youngsters to think about their vocation, whether that be as a married person, single person, or as a priest or religious. Don’t say that marriage is the best, or only, vocation.

    However, for those who do want to raise a family, uphold marriage as a common obligation.

  7. Teresa says:

    David L., I heard that part too, when Dr. Mead talked about a common obligation, and then sort of an afterthought about single persons.

    I’m not sure, David L., whether the Catholic Church sees the single life as a vocation. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think they consider it a ‘state’ of life.

    There were so many good points in this conversation, it’s hard to focus where to start; but, I’d like to move the conversation to the point where Dr. Mead talked about the need for ‘stigmatizing’ out-of-wedlock births. I do agree with David Blankenhorn and Lawrence Mead on this. In my opinion, society needs to show disapproval for behavior that is harmful to everyone involved … maybe, life-long harm. A similarity was brought up with cigarette smoking, and how we handled that.

  8. La Lubu says:

    Well, apparently my comment was too controversial. For those who missed it, I offered examples of exactly how stigma was applied in the past. Yes, there was liberal use of the term “B—–D”, but I used that pointedly to show what stigma entails.

    If you’re advocating for stigma, you’re advocating for treating myself and my child badly. By my comment, I wanted to show you what that looks like—what indeed, it looked like in the not-so-distant past—so that you can see what you’re in for as well. I know what I’m in for; I do receive some stigma—just not like what women have received in the past.

    But I don’t think most of the folks blithely agreeing to re-instituting stigma know what that looks like for them. What types of behavior would be required from them, and whether that is the kind of person they want to become. If the language I used (a certain negative term commonly used for women who have sex while unmarried, and another term that was part of official language used to describe the child of unmarried parents—-and yes, it WAS stamped on birth certificates) was the problem with the comment, can it be brought back without that language?

    Because I really think it’s a valid critique. If you are advocating for stigma, you are advocating for all the behaviors I delinated in my comment. You are advocating for hostility and exclusion. I have seen calls in the conservative blogosphere for exactly those behaviors. It’s mean. It’s despicable. And it’s worth talking about.

  9. Diane M says:

    I don’t like the idea of stigmatizing having children outside of marriage. I think we need to talk about the facts and what it means for the children, but if we go back to the level of stigma that we had before, we’ll have more abortions.

    Repeating myself from an earlier thread:

    I would rather start by talking about the value of waiting before having sex or living together, looking for partners who care about you, not drinking, and using birth control.

    I think you also have to find ways to create hope. Girls who believe that they can get somewhere if they wait are more likely to wait.

    You may also have to build connections between different communities. Young people need to see some successful marriages to believe in them.

    And some newer thoughts:

    I think positive messages can be more effective than negative ones.

    I also think one of the challenges we face with this issue is that conservatives want to tell people to stop living together and having sex before marriage which I think is unrealistic. Liberals, on the other hand, don’t want to tell anybody to do or not do anything which does nothing to address the problem.

  10. David Blankenhorn says:

    La Lubu: I am an advocate for stigma, and I am not advocating the things you described in your deleted comment. And I do not appreciate in the slightest having my views called mean and despicable by you; and I do not appreciate, and do not accept, the kind of bullying that you are engaging in here.

  11. Diane M says:

    @David Blankenhorn – Could you describe what exactly you would advocate for stigma?

    For anyone who heard the conversation, did Mead say anything specifically about what he means by stigmatizing unmarried childbirth?

    Also, for advocates of stigmatizing having children outside of marriage, would that mean stigmatizing all premarital sex and/or cohabitation?

  12. Anna Cook says:

    David,

    I see La Lubu’s comment(s) as pointed, forceful, and impassioned advocacy for herself and her child. She’s naming the abuse and marginalization and stigma that have shaped their lives (and the lives of those who experience a similar situation), and she is pushing people to recognize that when you advocate for “stigma” toward parents who are unmarried, that is the type of behavior you are condoning.

    Speaking out against that type of marginalization =/= “bullying.”

  13. La Lubu says:

    but if we go back to the level of stigma that we had before, we’ll have more abortions.

    I’ve been reading your comments for quite awhile, Diane M., and as such I’m finding it hard to believe that this is the only reason you have a problem with stigma. I think you’re too kind to be, or want to be, the person who engages in all the behavior I listed in my now-deleted comment.

    Why is it so hard to say that stigma is bad because it is mean? Because it marginalizes people who have done nothing to deserve it? Because it is dehumanizing—to those being marginalized, and to those doing the marginalization?

    Liberals, on the other hand, don’t want to tell anybody to do or not do anything which does nothing to address the problem.

    This isn’t true. For myself, I can’t in good conscience advocate for doing anything that (a) I don’t personally believe is a good decision, (b) I wouldn’t do myself, and (c) I wouldn’t advise my own daughter to do. So I don’t. I don’t believe that sexual abstinence prior to marriage is the best policy, and indeed one of the primary characteristics of the population that is both getting and staying married is developing a vibrant, healthy sexual relationship prior to marriage. I don’t see “shotgun marriages” as a good thing; no one should be getting married just because of a pregnancy.

    I’m still waiting for an explanation on how loving and caring for one’s child is a harmful action if one is unmarried, but a helpful action if one is married.

  14. La Lubu says:

    La Lubu: I am an advocate for stigma, and I am not advocating the things you described in your deleted comment.

    David, with all due respect, what exactly do you think stigma is? Stigma is hostile and exclusionary. The behaviors I described in that comment are historical facts. That is what stigma looked like in my grandmother’s era. It was ugly and it was brutal.

    How do you plan on stigmatizing me and my daughter? What behaviors do you recommend for society to register its disapproval of us? How do you personally, plan to show my daughter and I, and others like us, your disapproval?

    And further, why do you consider the target of mean behavior a bully, for calling mean behavior mean?

  15. La Lubu says:

    I said:

    I have seen calls in the conservative blogosphere for exactly those behaviors. It’s mean. It’s despicable. And it’s worth talking about.

    You said:

    La Lubu: I am an advocate for stigma, and I am not advocating the things you described in your deleted comment. And I do not appreciate in the slightest having my views called mean and despicable by you; and I do not appreciate, and do not accept, the kind of bullying that you are engaging in here.

    The behaviors I was talking about (for those who missed the original comment) ranged from stamping “that word” on official records (starting with the birth certificate), to withholding any public benefits from the children of unmarried relationships, to social ostracizing and marginalization of children and their parents—including by the use of ugly expletives.

    David, I want you to go on a journey with me. A journey just a short while back, to a Sunday morning in my Unitarian Universalist house of worship. I believe I may have mentioned it here on this blog in a passing comment. Anyway, at the end of the sermon, a fellow congregant stood up, an older woman and openly advocated for bringing back the term “b—–d”, among other things, to discourage children being born to unmarried parents.

    I want you to sit with that for a moment. Imagine what that felt like for me and the other single mothers in that room, in our house of worship to hear that. To see how everyone was afraid to react to that comment, because it came from one of the “high-rollers” (large contributors) to the congregation. To see them weighing in their minds who to alienate. Sit with that. REally, really sit with that for a moment, like I had to. (fortunately, my daughter was not present. She was back in the classrooms, learning about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Ain’t that a groove?)

    Now…close your eyes and imagine what this looks like in the eyes of a child. In the eyes of my child. Imagine what it feels like to a child to make a friend, only to be shunned by that friend’s mother and to see that friend disappear. Imagine that happening too many times for comfort.

    Then get back to me about “stigma”. I know what stigma looks like, and more importantly, what it feels like. You resent my calling stigma what it is—mean and despicable? Well, I resent hearing that all my parental love, caretaking, effort and sacrifice are acts of harm against a society that quite frankly doesn’t care one whit whether I live or die. I stood by my child through a breathtaking amount of challenges. I did the right thing, and I have nothing to be ashamed of. Period.

  16. Schroeder says:

    I have an example of stigma in my own life, directed against me, that was helpful to me.

    I’m attending law school this Fall. Most of the time, when people hear that, they think “pretty soon, you’re going to be rolling in the dough.” While that might have been true thirty, or even twenty, years ago, that is no longer true today.

    Today, law students graduate with, on average, nearly 125,000 dollars worth of debt from private institutions. Only around 55% of law graduates had legal jobs nine months after graduation (with not nearly everyone reporting), and even this number is skewed because graduates from the top fourteen schools (out of about 250) snag a vastly disproportionate percentage of these jobs, and graduates from the top fifty schools get most of the rest.

    Even if you are one of the lucky 50% and do get a legal job, most starting salaries at law firms are $35,000 to $45,000… which are fine salaries unless you have $150,000 in debt that is not dis-chargeable in bankruptcy.

    If you are one of the really lucky 20% who sell their soul and get a job at a big law firm (the percentage is much lower if you don’t go to one of the top fourteen schools), you will make $130,000 a year, but you will have to work over 80 hours a week doing mind-numbing work. Needless to say, these firms have a huge attrition rate.

    I know all of this now, but I did not know it when I first started applying for law school. At this law school forum I visit, there is a lot of stigma against people who think they can go to a lower-ranked law school, pay sticker, and do alright (If you click on my link, you’ll notice one of the first posts is “Tips on Sharing ‘Law School Scam’ w/ Others [COMPENDIUM].”) They also stigmatize going to any law school (outside of Harvard, Yale, or Stanford) without a scholarship.

    When I first started applying for law schools, I was dead set on going to University of Virginia or University of Texas (very good schools), even though I knew that, with my numbers, I was unlikely to get a scholarship at either of these places and I was unwilling to work at a big law firm since I have a family. This decision, while it wouldn’t necessarily have ruined my life, would have made it much, much, much more difficult.

    Instead – in large part because stigma forced me to look honestly at inconvenient truths – I’m going to a less prestigious school (which places surprisingly well locally) with a good scholarship. It will still likely be difficult for me, but I know all of the facts now.

    This is the kind of stigma I think David is talking about. It doesn’t say, “You’re terrible!” and call names after the fact like your post suggested, La Lubu. Rather, it says – to people who are at a crossroads – “Count the costs and be very, very careful before you do X, because here are the facts about doing X.” I think that’s more in line with how social scientists use the word “stigma.”

    Here is what the Top Law School website I linked to earlier says about the Thomas Jefferson School of Law (a very low-ranked school): “Simply put, the odds of a TJSL student’s ever becoming a practicing or even a licensed lawyer are slim. With such abysmal statistics and a total debt-financed cost of more than a quarter of a million dollars, no one without a guaranteed postgraduate job and a full ride scholarship should even consider attending TJSL.”

    That is stigma (it definitely wouldn’t make someone who is already attending TJSL feel very good); but it is also, I would say, almost entirely salutary.

  17. Matthew Kaal says:

    I am not remembering perfectly, but I thought Prof. Mead qualified what he was saying about stigma by pointing out that any time you value something above something else (in this case “marriage as the ideal for raising kids”) that it necessarily involves a certain level of stigma because you are differentiating and showing preference. I don’t know that this necessarily implies shaming single parent families and kids growing up outside of married households, there can be a recognition (and I think Prof. Mead acknowledged this) that what we value in the ideal is not always universally attainable in reality.

    I think the problem for me is that the word stigma carries a very negative connotation, so maybe attempting to use it in a milder sense is foolish rhetorically because you immediately alienate people.

  18. Anna Cook says:

    Matthew, I would argue that “stigma” is stronger than merely making a value choice at the individual level. It involves social reinforcement through overt acts of disapproval. A quick Google search for the definition of “stigma” returns the following: “A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person: “the stigma of mental disorder”.” Along with the synonyms “brand,” “stain,” or “taint.”

    We could argue the finer points of definition all day, which I think would distract from the main point that La Lubu is making: that stigma toward single parents and their children causes harm — and that approval of stigma for unwed parenting reinforces that harm.

    I think it is possible to make a personal, ethical choice for option A (marriage) over option B (procreation while unpartnered) without stigmatizing option B. I, for example, have chosen to marry my partner; this was the decision that we felt strongly about and which works for us. But our act of marrying alone doesn’t signify that we look down upon people who choose not to (or don’t have access to) marriage. When asked, I can speak about the reasons I chose marriage — but I will be equally happy to listen to others talk about the reason they chose NOT to marry. I don’t think theirs is necessarily an inferior choice. I am not in their shoes.

    So I believe the decision to pursue, actively and specifically, a systematic social discrimination against unwed parenting, is separate from making choices about one’s own circumstances.

  19. Schroeder says:

    Anna,

    Do you think that what I experienced re: law school was stigma? (Described in my last comment.)

    Because something like that is generally what I mean when I say stigma.

    On the other hand, I think Matthew makes a good point when he says, “I think the problem for me is that the word stigma carries a very negative connotation, so maybe attempting to use it in a milder sense is foolish rhetorically because you immediately alienate people.” I’m perfectly fine using another word, as long as it still means what I mean.

    I certainly oppose being mean to people and calling people names, and I think all of the things in La Lubu’s now deleted comment would fall into that category.

  20. Matthew Kaal says:

    Anna,

    I actually agree with you and La Lubu; I think utilizing stigma (either as rhetorical choice or policy choice) can be problematic, because it alienates people who may find themselves in stigmatized situations out of no fault of their own.

    I guess I am not sure that the goal of something like the Bloomberg ads (which is how stigma came up in the conversation last night) is to “pursue, actively or specifically, a systematic social discrimination against unwed parenting” but rather an attempt to be informational about likely outcomes for unwed teen pregnancies (higher chances of poverty, lower educational attainment, negative social outcomes for one’s children) in an attempt to encourage different choices and outcomes within the sexually active teenage community in New York.

    The unintended consequence is that for those without a choice in the matter (already pregnant or already a single parent), they now feel like the city government is labeling them as failures and forecasting their doom, which is not an outcome I imagine the city desires.

    So how does a city like New York, which already offers a fairly liberal sex-ed curriculum in schools, provides free condoms and other medical resources to sexually active citizens (and has robust civil society institutions rounding out those services), and doesn’t go out of its way to stigmatize sex culturally – attempt to educate and encourage good choices among a vulnerable population (teenage girls) without hurting others? Is there a way for the city to be more proactive than it already is?

  21. La Lubu says:

    Schroeder, the term for single mother in my culture is disgraciada, which carries the exact meaning you would imagine it does in English. Can you offer a similar term, universally understood among English speakers as disgraciada is in Latin countries (including the Phillipines), for those who attend law schools that aren’t top-tier? Late-night talk show jokes aside, do people really shame attorneys by socially ostracizing them? (I ask because in my community and in various form of national and global media, it appears as if attorneys are highly respected members of the community, usually with a great deal of social power…the “movers and shakers”). Do people not permit their children to play with the children of attorneys? Do people disown their children for attending law school? Do people routinely refuse to attend law school graduations, because they don’t want to support that sort of thing?

    There is no comparison between what you claim is stigma towards those who attend law school, and those who become single parents (single mothers if we want to get real; there is no term for single fathers in any language remotely comparable to the negative ones levied at women). To claim that pressure to attend one law school over another is in any way comparable to the social (and historically, legal) ostracism, mistreatment and inhumanity routinely offered to single mothers is minimizing, at best.

    When Soul-searching isn’t just for those in law school. Single parents do it too. We just make the decision that you don’t want us to, and we have good reasons for making the decisions we do. Hence, the call for stigma, since without coercion we will continue to make the best decision for our given circumstances.

    And again, while I know what I and my daughter are in for, the people who are going to be called upon to engage in stigmatizing (or show their assent through visible, silent witness) for the most part do not know what they are in for. Stigmatizing means turning your back on friends and family. It means breaking up those meaningful relationships. It means being cruel, and teaching one’s chilldren to be cruel. It means substantive form of marginalization such as job loss, loss of an education, or loss of housing. Anything less than that—while painful—can be ignored and dismissed. Are you ready for that? Are you ready to levy that against your own people? Because if you aren’t, you’re no longer talking about stigma.

    And let’s be frank—for every person that didn’t get married as a virgin bride or groom, the only difference between them and single parents is: their birth control worked.

  22. Schroeder says:

    La Lubu,

    To claim that pressure to attend one law school over another is in any way comparable to the social (and historically, legal) ostracism, mistreatment and inhumanity routinely offered to single mothers is minimizing, at best.

    That is not what I was doing. I oppose (as I explicitly said) “social (and historically, legal) ostracism, mistreatment and inhumanity.” I don’t know how I can possibly be any more clear about that.

    I also wasn’t at all saying that the situations were equivalent.

    Instead, I was giving an example of a kind of stigma that can be helpful.

    But, look, you say that “stigma” means to you…

    turning your back on friends and family. It means breaking up those meaningful relationships. It means being cruel, and teaching one’s chilldren to be cruel. It means substantive form of marginalization such as job loss, loss of an education, or loss of housing. Anything less than that—while painful—can be ignored and dismissed.

    …and I have over and over again said that I do not approve of that and I think it’s detestable. I feel like you’re getting very angry about things that I never said.

    So, like I said, I’m fine using a different a word. I just don’t know what word to use. I think that society should be able to say, “For most people, choice A is better than choice B. If you want to make choice B, count the costs. Also, here is why choice B is a bad choice for most people.”

    Finally, La Lubu, even when I say all this, I’m not talking about you. From what I can tell from reading about your life, you’ve made very good choices, in spite of some particularly difficult circumstances. So… good job!

  23. Schroeder says:

    Also, as an afterthought – while I am perfectly fine getting rid of the word “stigma” to mean what I’m talking about – some social scientists won’t be as obliging.

    So it’s important to find out what someone is talking, even if, in the end, you think that the words they are using are unhelpful.

  24. La Lubu says:

    “Stigma” has an explicit historical meaning that resonates with the average non-college-educated layperson much more than whatever iteration social scientists are using in journals that are not widely—or even publically—circulated. The social science definition is uncommon. The historical one is common. If you asked my 13-year-old daughter what “stigma” was, she might reference the Holocaust, Jim Crow, lynchings, or the eighth-grader at her school who killed himself last weekend. It wouldn’t occur to her to consider that of two good choices, recommending one choice as having certain advantages over the other means “stigmatizing” the other.

  25. Schroeder says:

    I will try not to use “stigma” any more, then, in this context, because it apparently obscures what I mean rather than clarifying it. Sorry.

    I certainly understand that words can have really strong negative connotations, even if someone doesn’t mean something bad by them (even when they explicitly state their meaning). And that fact is important.

    This:

    “of two good choices, recommending one choice as having certain advantages over the other means ‘stigmatizing’ the other”

    is roughly what I meant, except I wouldn’t necessarily say “of two good choices.” Instead I would say, “of two choices.”

    The only thing more I would say is that it’s important to recognize that other people might not mean what you hear, especially people using words as jargon like social scientists.

  26. La Lubu says:

    Also: Schroeder, thank you. But seriously, I’m not fishing for compliments here— want you to understand the process of thinking of why me and other single mothers become single mothers instead of getting shotgun-married. We aren’t comparing ourselves to the dysfunctional homes; we’re comparing ourselves to the functional single parent homes of people we actually have contact with. Not because we’re all full of ourselves (although that may be true too, LOL!), but because their situations most resemble ours. It never occurred to me to compare myself to someone who has a revolving door of dysfunctional partners not just because I knew that was harmful to children, but because that situation is primarily generated by poverty, and I’m not poor—even when I don’t have a job, I’m not that poor because I qualify for unemployment when I’m unemployed, I have lucrative job skills that mean I’m likely to find myself employed at a living wage, and if worse comes to worst I have relatives scattered all over the country, so if the bottom completely fell out of my world, I could at least crash somewhere and improve my employment chances, capisce?

    The rise in single parenthood is mostly happening among women like myself who have some education and are considered skilled labor. Our job prospects and prospects for raising a child are better than our marriage prospects. Meanwhile, our subsections of USian culture tend to be more affirmative and supportive of our efforts to maintain “marriageable” conditions in our individual relationship if we stay single than if we marry. We get more backup from our respective communities for not tolerating intolerable conditions when we are single than when we are married (and that’s directly connected to patriarchal definitions of family relations—-without marriage, there is no “patriarch”, thus, much more support for egalitarian conditions).

  27. Teresa says:

    I hope everyone gets a chance to watch this Conversation with Dr. Lawrence Mead. As I said, before, it was excellent.

    At the end of the day, here’s what we’re talking about: consequences. All behavior has consequences: some we intend, some we stumble upon, painfully. We, as individuals, most often try to engage in behavior that will end with positive results. Good choices (behavior) good results/consequences … wrong choices or behavior, bad consequences.

    Society, as a whole, lives with the totality of these consequences: one individual choice at a time, sums up to huge social consequences. Society, in my opinion, has a right and a duty to foster good choices and concomitantly to show disapproval for wrong choices. That disapproval has to have as its true end the object of stopping those bad choices: ending the wrong behavior.

    Socially, wrong behavior should have painful results. It has to, to accomplish its purpose. Stigma does that; has always done that. Every flourishing society has used it, and used it successfully. We see it at work, today, in the Amish community. It’s called shunning. It works.

    Is someone here arguing that having children out-of-wedlock is good behavior, a good choice?

  28. Matthew Kaal says:

    Teresa,

    I guess the struggle is, for folks who affirm that bad choices should and ought to have consequences, how do we structure our society in a way that, if someone makes a choice (or, as is also often the case, is a victim of circumstances) which results in negative consequences, that they aren’t forced to wear a scarlet letter the rest of their days?

    Practices like shunning or excommunication are destructive to communities and families, even if effective at enforcing norms. Is there a way to build in narratives of grace, redemption, and acceptance at a societal level?

  29. Diane M says:

    Ouch. But this is actually a helpful discussion. I did not read your original comment LaLubu, but I am grateful that you spoke up about what stigma means to you and what it has meant in the past.

    One thing is very clear to me – marriage supporters need another word than “stigma.” It has too much history and even now is used by some people who advocate for very negative actions.

    What I want to see (and I am not sure what exactly others want to see) is first, a general willingness as a society to say, “you should get married before you have children. It is better for them.”

    Because the reality is, there are people now who say it doesn’t make a difference.

    http://www.yourtango.com/200916468/first-baby-then-love-if-career-allows

    And as I’ve said before, there is a huge resistance to believe the actual data on parenting without a second parent.

    Then I want to see people saying, marriage before children isn’t happening and that’s a problem.

    I’m not in favor of shotgun marriages or abortion. What I am concerned about is young women who live with a guy they are engaged to and think it doesn’t matter if they go ahead and have a baby or even that it will help their relationship. Or maybe they just make a mistake and are very fertile and active. Or maybe they can’t get him to cooperate with birth control.

    For me the point is not to label children (I am too much of a mom to ever want to see that). It’s to advocate for a path that works better and encourage people to change their behavior for their own sakes and the sake of their children.

  30. La Lubu says:

    Teresa, my decision to become an unmarried mother was hands down the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. It was a good choice with excellent consequences. My daughter is a fine young woman, and the pleasure of being her mother has enriched my life and imbued it with more meaning—a sentiment very common among parents towards their children It never ceases to amaze me that some people think this sentiment only exists—or only should exist—among the married.

    So yes…..I am making this argument. Staying unmarried was the right decision for me. It wasn’t planned that way, and it wasn’t the preferred arrangement, but given the actual circumstances as life went on it was clear that it was the right decision to make. I trust that people themselves are the best judge of their circumstances and the variables/parameters they have to work with, and are capable of making the right decisions for themselves, adapting as necessary as conditions change (the only constant in life is change). Decisions such as “should I get married” or “should I raise a child” should not be imposed from outside, especially since “outsiders” have no personal investment in such intimate matters and do not want to be involved.

    Stigma does work. Stigma towards various populations has been quite effective at increasing substance abuse, abusive behavior and anger management problems, depression, self-hatred, suicide, denial, mental illness, various forms of self-harm and other destructive behaviors…..need I go on? Stigma is not a positive force. A child at my daughter’s school hung himself last weekend; what did stigma do for him?

    The social contract is dead. People who did our part have been abandoned and ignored. Our once vibrant communities have been destroyed. Realize what you are asking: that people adhere to obligations while no obligations are offered back to them in return, while at the same time diligently, methodically removing all the means whereby they had any hope to uphold those one-sided obligations. Bah. Where was that much-vaunted “community” when my ex-husband was trying to kill me, and I was screaming at them to call the police? Hint: not dialing the phone.

    When people are shown time and again that they are on their own, they start making decisions that way, because those decisions offer better outcomes.

    Meanwhile, about stigma: I’ve asked this before here, and I’ll ask it again. Which decision am I making that has harmed society? For what do I or my daughter deserve stigma? The question is pertinent, because I’m pretty much “Jane Average” single mom. The women who are considering single motherhood are thinking of this life as their likely scenario, because for the most part, it is. If “you” (the royal “you”, society) are unwilling to shame the women who are getting up in the morning and fixing breakfast and sending the kids off to school for doing such things, you don’t have the stomach for stigma. If you aren’t willing to disown your own children for having children while being unmarried, you don’t have the stomach for stigma. And if you don’t have the stomach to advocate for hardcore punitive measures like kicking women out of school or their jobs for being unmarried and pregnant, then your stigma is going to be ineffective.

  31. fannie says:

    Teresa,

    “Socially, wrong behavior should have painful results. It has to, to accomplish its purpose. Stigma does that; has always done that. Every flourishing society has used it, and used it successfully. We see it at work, today, in the Amish community. It’s called shunning. It works.”

    Well, I’m now curious how you square this view away with your objection to the word “bigoted,” which we’ve had extensive conversations about in this forum.

    I suppose we can view the word “bigoted” as a stigma as well – one that both describes views that some believe are harmful and/or a word that also perhaps accomplishes a purpose of changing behavior or opinions. Or, according to others (like Teresa?) silences people or shuns them from a community or forum.

  32. David Blankenhorn says:

    La Lubu:

    Thank you for your last comment. I don’t think people should ever use the word “bastard” to refer to other people, and I am very sorry that you had to hear that, in a church of all places, and with your daughter near by. And I have nothing condemnatory to say about your life and personal choices, in part because you seem, from what I can tell, to be a good, caring person; and in part because it’s not my place to point fingers of blame at specific situations that I really know almost nothing about. I personally know single mothers who, in my view, given the situation, made the right choice in becoming single mothers.

    But I do believe that we as a society should communicate to young people that, as a general rule, having children outside of marriage is wrong. By wrong, I mean, not a good idea, other things being equal.

    You are of course free to disagree with me. (You aren’t the only one!) But in my view telling your personal story, as valid and interesting to me as that is, does not amount to a special pass that gives you the right to shout other people down. And that’s basically what I think you were trying to do.

    Maybe I’m wrong; maybe I’m over-reacting. I thought the conversation with Mead last night was serious and good, one of the best so far, and not at all an example of meanness and of being despicable, even while I realize, of course, that many people of intelligence and good will are going to disagree with what he said, and with what I am saying.

  33. Teresa says:

    Fannie said:

    I suppose we can view the word “bigoted” as a stigma as well – one that both describes views that some believe are harmful and/or a word that also perhaps accomplishes a purpose of changing behavior or opinions. Or, according to others (like Teresa?) silences people or shuns them from a community or forum.

    Fannie, I quite like what you’ve said here. I see some merit in it. Where do you want to take it from here … if, anywhere?

  34. Wayne Wilkinson says:

    La Lubu is the most thoughtful and humane family scholar on this board. I always feel like I learn something significant from her comments. People who advocate stigma as good public policy also whine that they are being victimized when people say unpleasant things about them because of their opposition to same-sex marriage and fail to appreciate the irony. We’re they subject to the stigma routinely experienced by people they deem unworthy of equal rights, they might not think stigma was such good policy. At least, it is interesting to watch them squirm as they complain at how unfair it is when they are on the receiving end of a little stigma.

  35. mythago says:

    David, “wrong” and “not a good idea” are not synonymous at all. If our fresh-out-of-high-school teenager says “I want to give up going to college and make my fortune as a rapper!”, unless she’s a prodigy we might say, honey, that’s not such a good idea, but we wouldn’t say she was doing something wrong. On the other hand, if your co-worker who is the breadwinner for his wife and three small children says “I want to give up my stable, well-paying job because it’s boring and make my fortune as a rapper!” we might well say his choice is wrong – not because it’s simply a bad idea, but because he is jeopardizing the welfare of people who depend on him for the sake of a lark.

    Teresa, I can think of many situations where having a child out of wedlock is “a good behavior, a good choice”, and where even you would probably agree. Say, a rape victim who decides that rather than abort the pregnancy resulting from the rape, she will carry to term and give the child up for adoption, so that some joy and positive result will come of that crime. Or, say, a widow who finds out she is pregnant one week after her husband’s death and decides to raise their child as a single mother. Or a teenage couple who, on finding out the girl is pregnant, acknowledges they are too immature and have too little in common to marry and start a family, but agree to let a married couple adopt their child.

    Let’s stop tiptoeing around here and admit the “stigma” is not really about whether the parents were married at the exact moment the child comes into the world; it’s a condemnation of the mother’s sexual behavior, and of the child resulting from it. If it really were about marital status, then we would be looking down our noses at the rape survivor and the widow and the selfless teenagers.

  36. Teresa says:

    Stigma does more than make people feel bad (which, btw, is not altogether wrong). It makes people think once, twice, three times about consequences. Consequences that are harmful to them, and to society as a whole. It’s letting them know “the stove is hot, and you’re gonna get burned”.

    It’s society’s way of remaining intact. It’s society’s way of saying to us, “you’re here and you matter”. We want the best for you, and this choice has consequences that will make life more difficult for you and for all of us. There are few easier ways to get people’s attention than stigma … unless, of course, we want to look at the after-effects of consequences.

    We could choose, socially, to deprive unwed mothers of SNAP, rental allowance, child subsidy, cell phones, Medicaid. Yes, we could choose this. We know, though, that this hurts the child and we’re not going there; thankfully.

    Those that differ with the position I hold in any number of areas, have no problem stigmatizing me. Thanks to Fannie for seeing this.

    I no longer object to the word “bigoted”, Fannie, at least in respect to me or my views. But, it certainly is social stigma, isn’t it? The word has meaning, and it has purpose in its use. Because being called a “bigot” or adhering to what is considered a “bigoted position” causes one to reflect on oneself, one’s behavior and one’s views: hopefully, to change said behavior or view. And, yes, I still believe it can be a form of social shunning.

  37. Diane M says:

    @Mythago – I don’t think this is completely true:

    “stigma” is not really about whether the parents were married at the exact moment the child comes into the world; it’s a condemnation of the mother’s sexual behavior, and of the child resulting from it. If it really were about marital status, then we would be looking down our noses at the rape survivor and the widow and the selfless teenagers.”

    First, it could be a condemnation of the man’s sexual behavior.

    Second, it could be a condemnation of not being careful enough when using birth control.

    Third, it could be a condemnation of not getting married when you discover that you have made a baby.

    And fourth, it could be a condemnation of people making a deliberate choice to have a child without getting married, either through sex or through artificial insemination.

    I would agree, however, with you that for some people, the stigma is about having sex outside of marriage.

    I also think it’s an issue worth discussing.

    I suspect that some of us (me anyhow) want to convince people that they should not have children before they get married. They should not make a plan to do so. They should make every effort possible to avoid pregnancy if they have sex before marriage. And they should be cautious about living with someone and should only live together if they think the person is someone they could possibly marry and raise children with.

    I’m pretty sure that others would like to convince people to not live with someone or have sex before marriage, look for a marriage partner when dating, and be open to marrying earlier. That would also prevent having children outside of marriage.

    So I guess my question is – can we have different views on this but still promote waiting for marriage before having children?

  38. La Lubu says:

    There are few easier ways to get people’s attention than stigma

    What are your desired results? If your desired results are to clearly delinate the line between “us” and “them”, while casting “them” in a negative, hostile light, then yes—stigma is your tactic. It works so well for that purpose because it engenders hate, distrust and redoubled efforts for that clear line of separation. What stigma doesn’t do is convince people to change their behavior; it is hands down the worst tactic to engage if the goal is changed behavior.

    I find this fascinating:

    It’s society’s way of remaining intact. It’s society’s way of saying to us, “you’re here and you matter”. We want the best for you, and this choice has consequences that will make life more difficult for you and for all of us.

    As a lifelong denizen of the rust belt, the message that “society” has sent to me is: “Why are you here? You don’t matter. You’re worthless. The people like you are worthless too. Your only possible purpose is cheap labor when and if we need you, and other than that–meh. Cheaper labor is better, and we found cheaper labor. We just don’t care about you.” There has been a massive amount of disinvestment and neglect of my region. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that the rug has been dragged out from under us. Society? What society? Whose society? Not mine. The society of which you speak has put a great deal of energy into making life here as difficult as possible—busting unions, outsourcing jobs, neglecting the commons…you know what the only consistent bright spot is?

    If you guessed “family”, ding ding ding!! you just won the Grand Prize Game!! (Chicago reference—did they show “Bozo” elsewhere? anyway…) All your talk about children (of single parents) being harmful is a total disconnect for me; I experience parenthood as a profound improvement on my life, and I’m not alone in this. This isn’t just a sentiment held by married people. I’m more connected to the community now that I’m a parent, not less. I….I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s begin here: you know the book “Promises I Can Keep” written about poor single mothers? Well, most of the same things are true about women who aren’t poor and who have some post-high-school education. One of those things is that we experience parenthood as a positive choice, and are more likely to make and continue making positive choices after becoming parents. We’re literally better off as single parents than our counterparts who are not parents. And whether you want to admit it or not, we’re just as unlikely to find a husband as the more economically-struggling women of “Promises I Can Keep”.

  39. Rhonda says:

    Stigma is about shaming, and shaming is all about control. Control of others, attempting to force them to do what you want them to do under the guise of “I only want what’s best for you”. Who are we to determine what is “right” for someone else? If you want people to do certain things, entice them, make them want it for themselves as much as you want it for them. If they do it because they fear the alternative, it usually won’t work out.

  40. Shalom says:

    To the (debatable) extent to which stigma is necessary, we ought to stigmatize absent and abusive parenting, not single parenting. For every person doing the good work of sticking around and raising a kid alone, there is another person who is either unable or unwilling to do the same. Except for some difficult cases (e.g. untimely death), it’s that second person who has done something wrong. Single parents deserve our support, not scorn.

  41. mythago says:

    We know, though, that this hurts the child and we’re not going there; thankfully.

    Yet you’re willing to ‘go there’ when the stigma is social rather than purely economic.

    Stigma is also society’s way of saying “toe the line” – regardless of whether that ‘line’ is a good or healthy or fair one that actually keeps the society functioning.

  42. Diane M says:

    @Mythago “Yet you’re willing to ‘go there’ when the stigma is social rather than purely economic.”

    In general, I think that’s okay. Community pressure in general is a good way to make people behave without having to involve the government.

    For me the issue in this context is what exactly do we mean by stigma and what kind of disapproval do we want people to get?

  43. mythago says:

    @Diane M, we are not talking about “in general”, but about Teresa’s belief that it is OK to punish children for their parent’s perceived wrongdoing as long as the punishment is not economic. How do you think stigmatizing La Lubu’s daughter would “make people behave”?

  44. La Lubu says:

    Mythago, perhaps that’s why there’s nothing but the sound of crickets chirping when folks are asked about the specifics on how they’d like to stigmatize people, and the specifics of for what. For not reliquishing our children to strangers? For not having a discreet abortion? For not rushing to the altar? For getting pregnant? Or for having sex prior to marriage?

    I wonder why some people think the “right” thing to do is parse out the exact line of activity than can let others know how contemptible they are without going so over the top they might have some blowback—especially guilt. “How can I reach that line of treating others badly without crossing into the territory where I feel guilty about it, or responsibility for any of the blowback of that bad treatment?”

    And that’s without getting into the question of “do people consider the opinions of those who hold them in contempt?” I think it’s telling that the Amish are mentioned; whatever else the Amish have going for them, they *are* a bona-fide community. Community requires mutual relationships. There is no such relationship between the women in my neighborhood and those who would like to stigmatize us (further). By “further” I mean it’s blatantly obvious how much contempt working class women are held in regardless of our childbearing status.

  45. Matthew Kaal says:

    Well – I’ve already said I don’t think stigma is a good strategy, but I think something like a honest, facts-based public awareness campaign (coupled with good educational programs promoting sexual responsibility in high schools) that inform vulnerable populations of the benefits of waiting to have kids until they can have them in specific contexts can be effective. I also think communities (real communities) can promote civic ideals, or norms, or best practices, or whatever we want to call them, without making others feel alienated. I think this line of reasoning that all stigma is equivalent to shaming isn’t true, and certainly isn’t what the advocates of it in this conversation seem to be talking about, but I also realize the term’s baggage is making it unproductive for moving the conversation forward.

    One thing about what I said about communities above: these real communities have to exist to be effective, and they’re not something the state can’t just will into existence; they have to organically grow out of groups of like-minded, dedicated people working together – something we really only see in special town/neighborhood cultures, or healthy religious communities, or well established and functioning social groups. Within these groups there needs to be openness to accept new members and grow, to sacrifice for the greater good, to meet people where they are and to encourage them as they settle into the group. I realize for many people in the US, these cultures don’t seem to exist anymore, but I think they actually do (in small pockets) and we just need to find ways of encouraging them to grow, and to replicate them so that more people experience real community. I think, for those that feel like they no longer live in community, we need to look seriously at the institutions in their towns and neighborhoods and ask “what is going wrong?” I am not so naive as to think a process of renewal will be easy, but I am not so pessimistic as to say its impossible either.

    On the question of single parents – real communities, in my honest opinion, are places where individuals of all types come together and share something they equally value (be it faith, a safe and quiet street to raise kids, or even just playing bridge every Thursday). Single parents become single parents for various reasons – some good, some bad, some the result of circumstances outside human control. Almost all overwhelmingly love their children, which can be said of almost all parents generally, and sacrifice for them (often at a much higher personal cost) – they deserve to be equal members in their communities, encouraged and embraced like anyone else. There should be nothing inherent in the single-parent narrative that should cause them to be singled out as “other” as long as they are a contributing, participating member of the community.

    If the community values marriage as the ideal context for families, that doesn’t mean the community naturally ostracizes all single parents, seeks to confiscate their kids, or promote abortion, or shame. That isn’t a community, that is a group of judgmental jerks tied together by some arbitrary identifier that they seek to pass off as community. A real community that values marriage as the context to raise kids will rather act in these ways:

    1. Acknowledges that an ideal is not something that any real couple, even a happy one, is actually meeting – that all relationships are hard, take work, face serious challenges, and fail in one way or another. High standards and ideals are worth pursuing because they give us a goal to strive towards.

    2. Seeks to understand the circumstances that lead to some parents becoming single parents. Every individual has a different story, understanding and listen are essential to fostering community.

    3. Corrects the issues contributing to single parenthood if there are systematic problems (such as a lack of education and resources for young women to be able to approach sex responsibly, or a lack of community support for married couples facing challenges where the continuation of marriage is the best hoped-for solution). In cases of abuse where one spouse is in danger, obviously continuation of a marriage is not the best hoped-for solution. In such cases the community needs to model a value of solidarity with the wronged spouse, and offer support and protection. When this doesn’t happen, it is impossible to say that community exists, which is just wrong and profoundly sad.

    4. Supports single parents in order to help them approach the ideal of parenting as best they can, recognizing that they are working as hard or harder to ensure their kids a good life, and that more community support is the best way to help them succeed. Regardless of the circumstances that lead to single parenting, real communities acknowledge reality and seek to foster growth and community within that context.

    5. Seeks to help others who want to have kids have them in the way the community desires by promoting the ideal as a community value.

  46. Diane M says:

    @Mythago – I don’t think Teresa is saying that we should use stigma against the children. I read her comments to mean that we should use it against people who have children outside of marriage. But obviously, Teresa can answer this better than I can.

    “@Diane M, we are not talking about “in general”, but about Teresa’s belief that it is OK to punish children for their parent’s perceived wrongdoing as long as the punishment is not economic. ”

    I think one problem with talking about stigma is that it is not clear to me what exactly people are advocating. The word “stigma” clearly has a history, but I am not convinced that everyone who uses it is saying they want to go back to the old days.

    @Teresa – What are you talking about when you talk about stigma against having children outside of marriage?

    @LaLubu and mythago – Would you be opposed to things like:

    telling students in a health class that it is better for children to be born to two married parents and giving them the data on why

    PSAs about the advantages of waiting until marriage before having children (possibly with information on birth control added)

    articles and books and blogs saying that people should wait until marriage before having children

  47. La Lubu says:

    Diane M., I think it’s important to remember that most of the folks having children prior to marriage already agree that in general, it is better to be married than single—they’re (we’re) not against marriage, but rather acting on our particular circumstances. So, all those campaigns would do is to reinforce the status quo; it wouldn’t change anything. There’s nothing in those messages that are going to change the behavior of adult men and women.

    People have a higher standard for what they want in a marriage partner than what they are willing to settle for in a dating partner. Part of that standard is economic, part is behavioral….but it is what it is. Given the choice of no companionship and/or sexual relations with the opposite sex at all, versus dating someone a person would rather not marry, most people will take the latter. “Courtship”, or dating with the purpose of finding a marriage partner, is something they want to do later, when they are ready to get married; “ready” meaning: have a decent job, some savings, a healthy bedrock of life experiences and adventures. People are going to keep associating marriage with financial and emotional stability and a certain amount of independence; neither men nor women are seeking a dependent in a spouse, but a partner.

    And let’s go on ahead and say it: women have more options. “Shotgun marriages” faded because women can support themselves now. That’s a good thing. Young women aren’t getting kicked out of high school or sent to visit “distant relatives” anymore. That’s a good thing, too. Children born outside of marriage are warmly embraced by their families in most cases. That’s a good thing. But….standards for who makes a good marriage partner have gotten tighter while the economic landscape and cultural backdrops haven’t caught up.

    At the risk of repeating myself, fix the economy and promote egalitarian relationships and more people will marry.

  48. Teresa says:

    Diane asks:

    @Teresa – What are you talking about when you talk about stigma against having children outside of marriage?

    I’m talking about society putting the brakes on a behavior that endangers both the mother and the child, and society as a whole. Societies, cultures from the beginning of time have used stigma to keep the society intact, to discourage behavior that endangers social cohesion. Instead of disapproving of this behavior, because it endangers the opportunities for the women to lift themselves from poverty; we’re fostering dependence instead of independence.

    Lack of jobs has little to do with this behavior. We have the Great Depression to prove this. This behavior was not prevalent during those years. Dr. Mead made mention of this fact.

    I’m considered cold, mean, hard-hearted, because I think stigma would be a step towards curtailing, what I consider, destructive behavior. Many persons on this thread think that this behavior is not destructive: that it is OK, for a number of reasons; not the least of which, the girl/woman wants to have a baby.

    I thought the NYC Posters were a good attempt to minimize stigma, and at the same time, simply stated facts that would help young persons. Quite like the whole campaign over the years to eliminate smoking. Has anyone here taken the time to visit the NYC Poster website? Listened to the stories of the young persons? Followed the links for all kinds of instructive information, as well as peer support?

    Have we become so sensitive as to be unable to understand certain behavior has consequences? Consequences that for many will keep them stuck in poverty, will hinder any opportunity to lift themselves up.

    Does anyone here on FS have aspirations for their sons or daughters to conceive children out-of-wedlock? Is that your fondest hope for your children? If not, why not?

  49. Diane M says:

    I guess I tend to like specifics. So what I mean, Teresa or anyone else, is what would you support society doing to show its disapproval?

  50. La Lubu says:

    I guess I tend to like specifics. So what I mean, Teresa or anyone else, is what would you support society doing to show its disapproval?

    Yes, this. First of all, what behavior(s) are harmful, and to whom are they harmful? Next, what methods of disapproval do you support? Finally, are these methods of disapproval harmful to anyone, and if so, do you regard that as a problem?

    Have we become so sensitive as to be unable to understand certain behavior has consequences? Consequences that for many will keep them stuck in poverty, will hinder any opportunity to lift themselves up.

    Again, when you say, “certain behavior has consequences”, to what are you referring? If you read “Promises I Can Keep” you will learn that single mothers are better off on many measures, including financially, than their counterparts who remained childless. For most people, children are a source of joy and inspiration. For poor women, children are likely to be the only source of joy and inspiration, since low-wage jobs and neglected neighborhoods aren’t likely to be. The childless women were less likely to “lift themselves up”, as you put it.

    Is that your fondest hope for your children?

    My fondest hope for my daughter is that she achieves her dream of becoming a wildlife biologist, and that she finds joy and meaning in her life, creativity, relationships and work. And while single motherhood can be a challenge, there isn’t anything morally wrong with it. I would rather she stay single than be in a bad marriage; bad marriages are actively destructive, while being single is a neutral state.