April 16, 2008

What’s wrong with this article? Marriage and Taxes, part 2

Posted in economics, gender, gender roles, heteronormative, ideology, marriage, patriarchy, social justice, U.S. politics at 2:14 am by LB

Especially in light of my critique of ‘marriage’-centric social organization, check out this article from CNN.com:

Study: Single parents cost taxpayers $112 billion”:

Divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing cost U.S. taxpayers more than $112 billion a year, according to a study commissioned by four groups advocating more government action to bolster marriages.

hmm…what’s wrong with this so far? (hint: it’s something to do with the premise of the article)

Ok, I’ll tell you.

  1. It implies that divorcees and parents who are unmarried are not ‘taxpayers.’
  2. Thus, it positions those not divorced or single parents–married people, single people (aka not-yet married), and married parents–as the ‘ideal taxpayer-citizen’

And that’s just the first paragraph.

Next:

Sponsors say the study is the first of its kind and hope it will prompt lawmakers to invest more money in programs aimed at strengthening marriages.

Could it possibly be that our social and economic structures heavily favor married parenting, and that’s what needs to be investigated, rather than ‘strengthening marriage’??

Two experts not connected to the study said such programs are of dubious merit and suggested that other investments — notably job creation — would be more effective in aiding all types of needy families.

…which is good, especially since I heard on NPR recently (I can’t find the show reference! aah!) that divorce and income are correlated (and ya know, ‘the sanctity of marriage’ etc. is of utmost important to preserving ‘traditional’ –read: patriarchal capitalist –values).

There’s more:

Scafidi’s calculations were based on the assumption that households headed by a single female have relatively high poverty rates, leading to higher spending on welfare, health care, criminal justice and education for those raised in the disadvantaged homes.

Right, because there’s a natural connection between single mothering and poverty, apparently, so we need to fix the ‘single mothering’ rather than, say, the ‘feminization of poverty’ or the socio-economic structure that perpetuates single-parent (mother) poverty.

See, there’s two problems here with our socio-economic structure:

  1. The assumption of two parents present and sharing a home. The model used to be male breadwinner/female domestic servant. Now, women are ‘allowed’ to have economic independence but continue to bear the homemaking burden.
  2. Women are paid less money, plain and simple.

So in a single-parent family where that single parent is a woman, she’s doubly screwed economically.

At the end of the day, the article–along with the study and those who commissioned it–assumes the natural and neutral center of American life (ought) to be marriage and specifically, married-parenting. Further, they conclude that we should tell people how they should structure their networks of association in their life because it would cost less in government expenditures and because they are deviating from some sort of arbitrary ‘normal’. Sure marriage is the norm in American society; that doesn’t make it natural. It’s still an arbitrary primary structure of social relations.

Sure sounds like life, liberty, and all that jazz to me!

cross-posted to The Reaction

see my part 1 here

7 Comments »

  1. Arkhilokhus said,

    Interesting stuff. I think your conclusions are spot on, and this bit especially struck me:

    “Further, they conclude that we should tell people how they should structure their networks of association in their life because it would cost less in government expenditures and because they are deviating from some sort of arbitrary ‘normal’.”

    It seems like the “deviat[ion] from…’normal’” is really their main idea, doesn’t it? The discussion of taxpayer burdens is really just a rationalization for some sort of idea about how people ought to live. Probably there’s some sort of natural law argument in there. But it’s interesting that they feel they have to phrase their position in this way, because that suggests that they don’t feel the normalcy argument can stand on it’s own merits, but has to be snuck in.

  2. lindabeth said,

    I agree on your “deviation from the norm” assessment. Of course, this also comes into play in terms of the ‘official’ studies that look at the “importance” of two-parent households (in terms of raising children well). They look at 2-parents (husband and wife) vs. 1-parent, and conclude that kids need mothers and fathers…

    I’ll have to dig up the reference but others have concluded that kids just need attention and support, as well as financial means. Whether that comes from mom and a live-in aunt (who, of course, couldn’t be eligible to get the ‘spousal benefits from mom even though in this case she’s her partner in every way but sexual), from 2 married hetero parents, or a lesbian couple and their sperm donor seems to be irrelevant.

    But when ‘norm’ is 2-parents male/female, and the importance is on emphasizing how the ‘complementarity of the sexes’ the only ‘opposite’ to that is the single parent who without an opposite sex person to help is clearly outside the norm. No other ways of thinking are possible.

    And of course the conclusions get made in terms of ‘kids need a mom and a dad otherwise crime and other social deviation–with social costs–is more likely’…again putting the issue of norms in tax terms, which, as you say, is clearly the real motivation.

  3. Arkhilokhus said,

    I’d be interested in seeing that reference, if you can dig it up. I do think that the whole “mothers and fathers naturally fulfill separate roles” approach is responsible for a lot of the anguish surrounding fatherhood. There seems to be a fear (which I’ve noticed in myself occasionally in different contexts) that if women can economically provide for their children as well as men can, then men will be superfluous. Maybe the corrective to this is to suggest to men that they can nurture children as well as mothers? Not as men, but as human beings? If that were more generally accepted, we might see a difference in the way the courts assign custody, too. But instead apparently we have to go back to a model where fathers never interact with their children because they’re working 80-hour weeks. Hard to see what kind of positive influence they have on their children when they’re effectively absent.

    Pardon the digression, but this is a pet peeve of mine.

  4. lindabeth said,

    Maybe the corrective to this is to suggest to men that they can nurture children as well as mothers? Not as men, but as human beings? If that were more generally accepted, we might see a difference in the way the courts assign custody, too.

    ding ding ding!

    I completely agree with you-this is exactly it re: the courts situation. It is also the exact reason that when people (like Glen Sacks) blame feminism for the courts situation they are barking up the wrong tree, because feminism is all about breaking down those essentialist notions that assume men are less capacity to be nurturing and caring. I think most feminists would agree that’s pretty insulting to men.

    And as far as the “absence” you mention too…Absence ought not be necessary. Unfortunately, we live in a society where affordable health insurance and other benefits is usually attached to a privileged, full time employment position. And how does that encourage truly co-parenting? I suppose the exact point I have been raising in this and my other marriage and taxes posting (as well as in my Master’s thesis) is that several socio-economic problems are rooted in the assumption/expectation of particular (gendered) family structures, and that, for me, this is highly problematic and restricts real freedom and equality.

  5. Arkhilokhus said,

    With regards to co-parenting, are you familiar with Equally Shared Parenting and the Third Path Institute? They have some interesting approaches to balancing the home/work dichotomy which I think would dovetail well with your ideas about a broader range of familial arrangements.

  6. lindabeth said,

    Hadn’t seen them before but I browsed them and they look promising-thanks! From first glance, they do seem heterosexually oriented, which is too bad, but I guess it’s a start.

    I will look at them in more detail, but off the bat, I’m curious how they’re going to do deal with issues of class–what they’re proposing seems to require some economic privilege to be viable. But I’ll see what they say.

  7. […] I came across these two articles (”Thoughts on the Tyranny of Marriage” and “What’s Wrong with this Article“), both of which align with our stance over here at Onely. So I’ve got to plug this […]


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