Why Aren't We Talking More About Deadbeat Dads?

Illustration for article titled Why Aren't We Talking More About Deadbeat Dads?

Apparently, it's awful to be a single mother in America. They're are more likely to have lower levels of education, lower income, and if they're uneducated they're much less likely to get married than their more educated counterparts, which shuts them out of the added income a husband can provide for a family. To make matters worse, single mothers are much more likely to be solely in charge of children than single men. Why, oh why can't women get it right? Why are they so bad at making decisions? Why the fuck aren't we talking more about men?

In yesterday's New York Times, Jason DeParle explores a growing economic gap between married couples with children and unmarried women taking care of children on their own. Married couples are more likely to be more highly educated, higher earning, and have children who are more likely to go on to complete college and not grow into adult screw ups who show up to their old high school cafeteria during lunch hour and stand around like some kind of big shot. Single women, on the other hand, are getting shat on. They're often less highly educated, less "marriageable," and stuck taking care of the kids.

College-educated Americans like the Faulkners are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women like Ms. Schairer, who left college without finishing her degree, are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.


But lost in the discussion of who is getting shat on is identification of who is doing the shitting — it seems that single women stuck with children must, at some point, have had interactions with men who helped them get into the mess they're currently in, and it stands to reason that every one of those interactions wasn't the result of a baby-crazy semen stealing spree. Pregnancy isn't just a magical happening that befalls a woman like a pimple; in order for a woman to be left alone with children, at some point, there must have been a man around to do the leaving. But that point gets glossed over in the Times piece; in six pages of web text, there are only passing mentions of the male partners who leave the mothers of their children slipped in with little finger pointing or blame,

She got pregnant during her first year of college, left school and stayed in a troubled relationship that left her with three children when it finally collapsed six years ago. She has had little contact with the children's father and receives no child support. With an annual income of just under $25,000, Ms. Schairer barely lifts her children out of poverty, but she is not one to complain. "I'm in this position because of decisions I made," she said.

Wait, what? A single woman making under $25,000 a year and trying to raise three children that she had with a long term boyfriend is to blame for forcing her boyfriend to leave and then forcing him to not pay child support? How was this her decision? The dance doesn't make sense if we pretend it only takes one to tango.

So, Ms. Schairer must have been the one who pushed for a family, right? The one who convinced a boyfriend to become a reluctant father, right?

Abortion crossed her mind, but her boyfriend, an African-American student from Arkansas, said they should start a family. They agreed that marriage should wait until they could afford a big reception and a long gown.


Single mothers, you should know better than to trust the word of a person who says they love you! Then maybe you wouldn't be in this mess!

The Times piece also makes a few more points about how it sure sucks for low-income women when men act like scumbags without actually coming out and saying that men in at least some of these scenarios must be acting like scumbags — women without college degrees are more likely to have children with multiple men (or, alternately, men are more likely to bail on women without college degrees after they have kids with them), low-education women tend to have an unstable male presence in their home (or unstable men are more likely to glom on to low-educated women with kids), and children with absent fathers are more likely to get into trouble (or fathers who abandon their families are more likely to end up messing up their kids).


Of course, in some circumstances, not having a shitty dad around may be beneficial for families, and not every breakup is the man's decision. But a discussion of the negative economic impact of single motherhood, and the negative social impact of fatherless childhood is incomplete without examination of the men's role in the steady but dramatic rise in single motherhood over the last two decades. If unmarried men are leaving their out-of-wedlock families, why are they leaving? Where are they going after they leave? How many of them are paying child support, and how does paying child support affect their qualities of life? If they're kicked out, why are they kicked out? Surely something must be becoming of the men who aren't there — they're not disappearing from society, off to a Never Never Land of discarded deadbeat dads, where they play blackjack and have go kart races all day. Although, come to think of it, that sounds an awful lot like Florida.


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Thank you for writing this. It's actually quite comical - it seems like this is a topic people want to avoid at all costs. My father left my mother and I when I was young yet whenever I mention it to a friend or family member, every single time, the person I am talking to either tries to quickly change the subject or goes on to try to justify his actions even though they don't know him (or, worse, if they DO). Only other people with deadbeat dads tend to sympathize.