We flew down to Texas this past weekend for a wedding. We got to the airport early enough for lunch before we flew out. no-angel was sitting in a highchair at the end of the table, my wife and I on either side, while we waited on our food. At one point, she reached to her left and squeezed my wife’s arm, then reached to the right and squeezed my arm. That’s a baby who appreciates being raised in a stable two-parent home! Even a little baby with a brain a third the size of that of an adult (it’s science) knows the value of a two-parent home. That is the sort of thing you have to miseducate out of a person.
Some people have been known to claim that being a straight white male is living life on the lowest difficulty setting there is. It just ain’t so. While I can see why you might think that if you are a straight white male mediocrity who has had anomalous success, an anecdote does not empirical findings make. Other things matter more.
I have a big problem with how we talk about privilege. It isn’t that male privilege and white privilege don’t exist. It’s that we talk about them to the exclusion of any other form of privilege, including those that are, to put it bluntly, more important. And the discourse on privilege seems to curiously silent on the privilege of the speakers. The folks at Columbia University seem awful quiet about cognitive privilege and the privilege associated with an elite university and the privilege associated with an upper class upbringing (median family income of over $150,000 a year). All that matters.
But is there any greater privilege than growing up in a stable, two-parent home? Especially a home in which the parents are married. Married people are much more likely to report that they are happy than people who are not married (even if they are cohabitating). Cohabitation is no substitute for marriage. The children of cohabiting parents have outcomes as bad as the children of single parents.
No matter what the outcome being examined—the quality of the mother-infant relationship, externalizing behavior in childhood (aggression, delinquency, and hyperactivity), delinquency in adolescence, criminality as adults, illness and injury in childhood, early mortality, sexual decision making in adolescence, school problems and dropping out, emotional health, or any other measure of how well or poorly children do in life—the family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married.
(Quote from Coming Apart by Charles Murray.)
I could tell you that I grew up working class, that I grew up in a blue collar family, that I grew up in a rural area, that I grew up in Appalachia. I could complain about all that. But the truth is that I am immensely privileged because I grew up in a stable, two-married-parent home. A lot of people today are not so lucky.
Divorce rates are drastically higher than they were half a century ago. You may have heard that divorce rates are going down, and they are. A lot of kids from Generation X who grew up in broken homes wanted to do better by their kids. But if you compare divorces to marriages, the change appears to be driven not by people getting married and staying married but rather by fewer marriages.
What does my privileged upbringing mean for me? One, it means I owe it to no-angel to give her the same thing. I might have more money than my parents did, but I would be giving my kid a worse life than mine if I take that two-parent home away from her. Two, it means I owe it to my fellow man to be honest. It’s hard to get miffed at the term “broken home” when you are familiar with the sociological research. There is also something particularly egregious about the taboo we have about talking about this stuff.
Two-parent homes are not distributed evenly across the socioeconomic spectrum. Divorce rates for upper class Americans (Belmont on Murray’s graph) went up after the 60s but plateaued or dropped over the last few decades. Divorce rates for lower class Americans (Fishtown on Murray’s graph) just kept climbing. The percentage of upper class Americans reporting they were in happy marriages dipped but returned to almost the same high level. The percentage of lower class Americans reporting they were in happy marriages plummeted.
This is a large part of what I mean when I say that the benefits of the sexual revolution mostly flowed one way and the costs flowed the other way.
Upper class Americans refuse to preach what they practice. They get married and stay married and reap the benefits. But the benefits of marriage aren’t reflected in popular culture despite their outsized influence over it. Partly it is out of ignorance of society outside of their bubble. Partly it is out of apathy for society outside of their bubble. Partly it is out of a misguided reluctance to lecture. I won’t be a part of it in either action or rhetoric.
 Being born today rather than at some time in the past and being born in the United States, probably. But we will set those aside for now.
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4 thoughts on “The Lowest Difficult Setting There Is”
White privilege, which I detest, is popular because it fits in with identity politics, but as you rightly reason, it only makes sense in a bubble. There is only privilege and it applies across the board. In our daily bible study we thank God for our blessings, for having a roof over our heads, for having food to eat. These can also be considered privilege things because there are people across the world who do not enjoy what we consider as normal. To them we are privileged. Your stats are correct, though.
I grew up with a mom and a dad and I will forever be thankful for that. I will never be ashamed to say that it equips a child far better than any of the modern familial arrangements.
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