i’m confused

I just read David Brooks’ editorial about the outcome in Iowa. First, I’m worried that he praises Obama. Why would he do this? I suspect something sinister, like he hopes to deflate his candidacy. But that’s paranoia. I’m more confused by his statement, outlining what Huckabee knows that all others in the field don’t: “A person’s lifetime prospects will be threatened more by single parenting than by outsourcing.” Really? What does this mean? I’m curious where he gets this from. I’ve emailed him for the data he’s used to make the claim. I don’t expect a response.

I understand that more people will be raised by single parents than lose their jobs to outsourcing. So in that sense, the likelihood of experiencing the former is greater than the latter. But in terms of the effects of one or the other, I’m guessing that losing your job is worse. Brooks follows, “Huckabee understands that economic well-being is fused with social and moral well-being, and he talks about the inter-relationship in a way no other candidate has.” What’s notable about Brooks is that he is perhaps the most prominent voice of cultural analysis in the US (which frustrates me). And given our recent discussions of privilege, I would note that he’s one of the few columnists I know of who has taken up the idea (particularly when it comes to social and cultural capital).

I am periodically surprised that there aren’t more conservatives in sociology. The Right has adopted Tocqueville; they have begun to make strong moves at doing the same with Weber; I would argue that the dominant readings of culture in the public consciousness actually come from conservatives, not sociologists. In reading Durkheim one could easily see him being picked up by the conservative movement. There was even an article in the NYTimes several years ago about how Capital was picked up by Wall Street for its particularly insightful understanding of how production worked. If you think of some of the central concepts we draw upon: norms, culture, agency, power, the family, etc., one could easily imagine conservatives picking them up and using them.

Our variable-based trinity of race/class/gender may be what puts them off (that, and sitting through classes probably feels like indoctrination to young conservatives). Obviously, there are more structural reasons. But it is something I wonder about.

10 thoughts on “i’m confused”

  1. i can’t guess about mr. brooks’ motives, but he seems to take social science more seriously than most pundits.

    [warning: blatant plug ahead] jerry jacobs interviews mr. brooks in the next issue of contexts.


  2. Brooks has been positive about Obama for some time.

    People who lose their jobs to outsourcing mostly get other jobs, albeit usually not as good. If single parenting damaged kids it would be presumably more long-lasting. A different question is how bad it is on average to be raised by a single parent, for which there is a vast but wanting literature.


  3. BTW, I would support an affirmative action program to get more conservatives into sociology. Too much sociology is arguments against a politically conservative position in a context where there are no conservatives there to speak up as to whether it is a good or bad argument.


  4. And there is also the question as to how much outsourcing (or job loss more generally) correlates with family breakups.

    I teach in a fairly conservative area and conservative students are indeed bothered by the whole stratification bloc (class / race / gender) and more generally by the Durkheimian idea of social facts.

    They also have a hard time not thinking in preachy / moralizing terms and assigning blame to certain categories of people (you can guess which ones).

    They tend to flock to our marriage and families class, hoping to get reinforcement for their “family values” perspective… in my class, they get to read Stephanie Coontz’s “Marriage: a History” instead… quite a culture shock for them! :-)


  5. Brooks is lifting directly from the pro-family movement here, where think tanks have used the correlations between being raised by one parent and things like unemployment, delinquency, and crime, and poverty to argue that marriage would save the day.

    They are mistaking correlation for causality here. There is a lot of evidence that increased poverty rates for single-parent families are the causal mechanism for these outcomes. This could be alleviated by some good old welfare-state policies, an increased minimum wage, etc.


  6. Marriage as the most important solution for social problems — that’s the central idea of the Bush administration, and Brooks buys it completely.

    Here’s the abstract of an article by E. Michael Foster and Ariel Kalil, “Living Arrangements and Children’s Development in Low-Income White, Black, and Latino Families,” Child Development, November/December 2007, Volume 78, Number 6, Pages 1657 – 1674

    This article uses longitudinal data from approximately 2,000 low-income families participating in the national evaluation of the Comprehensive Child Development Program to examine the associations between preschool children’s living arrangements and their cognitive achievement and emotional adjustment. Policies seeking to change the living arrangements of low-income children may do little to improve child well-being.

    I can’t remember the link I used to find it. But if you want a copy and can’t find the link, e-mail me, and I’ll send you the pdf.


  7. What most upsets me about Brooks’ analysis is that it assumes families operate independently of larger socio-economic-political trends. Instead, they’re couched as only reflecting cultural trends. So it’s seen as economics on one hand and families/culture on the other. BUT, (warning: a nerding out coming on) on an individual/couple level, the key factors predicting divorce or nonmarital childbearing are economic. On the population level, family composition & economic trends are related, but probably such that family composition trends reflect economic trends. (Trends in family composition are not key to explaining periods of large increases in income inequality (Martin, Demography 2006 – embarrassing self-cite, but, hey, http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/demography/v043/43.3martin.pdf )).

    But I agree with Jeremy – the literature on the causality of all of this a LOT needs work, but increasingly research is at least using time to help sort out effects.


  8. I don’t think the link to the Demography article works (novice here). So the full cite is: Martin, MA. 2006. “Family Structure and Income Inequality in Families With Children, 1976 to 2000.” Demography 43(3): 421-45.


  9. I agree that it’s somewhat foolish of Brooks to separate economic displacement/financial distress and family disruption. It’s not as if the two aren’t related.

    Though Brooks is really hit-and-miss on a lot of things (i.e. try reading his woefully policy-blind analysis of new suburban developments and “Patio Man”), it really is nice to see columnists who take social science seriously.

    I wouldn’t go as far as affirmative action for conservatives, but I think that discussions in sociology classes (and a lot of others) would be much better with more conservatives. (Okay, I’d support AA for conservatives at universities if the AEI and Hoover Foundation do AA for liberals.) Nonetheless, it’s probably worthwhile and important for sociologists to encourage good conservative students to stick with sociology. After all, there’s plenty of stuff (like Toqueville and Parsons, etc.) for social conservatives, particularly, to latch onto, even if lots of sociology classes don’t cover it today.


  10. Damn. I forgot the “c” in Tocqueville. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t get taught. Weber is much easier to spell.


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