Single Parents: Unsupported, and Feeling the Blame


Sometimes research results are politically incorrect, or even offensive for some of us, and still worth talking about.

“Wayward Sons,” a report on “the emerging gender gap in labor markets and education,” from Third Way, a center-left policy research organization, presents exactly that kind of opportunity. The M.I.T. economists David H. Autor and Melanie Wasserman took a “deep dive” into the economic trends, research and statistics regarding growing educational and economic disparities between men and women, and changes in family structure, and found that “the decline of two-parent households” is particularly hard on the sons of single parents, who are usually women.

Binyamin Appelbaum spoke to Professor Autor for The Times’s Business Day section (“Study of Men’s Falling Income Cites Single Parents”). He summed up the proposed problem: income inequality has soared, stretching the gap between rich and poor, and a smaller share of Americans are making the climb. The children of lower-income parents are ever more likely to become, in turn, the parents of lower-income children. A growing share of lower-income children are raised by their mother but not their father, and research shows that those children are at a particular disadvantage, with the consequences appearing larger for boys than girls. Single mothers spend more time with their daughters, and those daughters are both more likely to enroll in college, and more likely to finish, than boys raised in single-parent households.

It’s the very definition of a vicious cycle, and anecdotes about personal experience or presidents raised by single mothers can’t change the numbers or explain them. No one — not Professors Autor and Wasserman or anyone else — has a definitive explanation for the gender differences in outcomes. Causation is unclear, but correlation isn’t: over all, men and boys are struggling in a changed environment. But while the fact that the sons of single mothers struggle more than their daughters is the easy headline to take away from the work done by Professors Autor and Wasserman, it’s the wrong one. The focus on men and boys shouldn’t distract from a larger problem: single mothers and their daughters may be doing better, but they can’t be said to be thriving. Single motherhood is associated with poor health in middle age, financial hardship and depression. The statistical impacts of being raised by a single parent (like lower average scores on standardized tests, poorer grades and an increased likelihood of dropping out of high school or failing to attend college) may be stronger for sons, but they affect daughters too.

We as a society can do better for children raised by single mothers — and for families headed by single parents in general. All of the work-life-balance conversation that’s dominated this blog and much of the news media for weeks comes down to this same problem: It’s difficult to raise children in a society that assumes there’s a parent at home, and one in which the guiding philosophy for supporting families is “every man for himself.” That struggle is magnified for single parents.

In a comment on the Times article, Timothy Casey, a senior staff lawyer at Legal Momentum, a women’s legal defense and education fund, writes that “the U.S. does much less than its high-income peers to assure single-parent families basic economic security, and much less than its high-income peers to help single parents balance jobholding and caregiving.” His research (with his co-author, Laurie Maldonado) compared American single-parent families with single-parent families in 16 other high-income countries, and found that American single-parent families “are worst off”:

They have the highest poverty rate. They have the highest rate of no health care coverage. They face the stingiest income support system. They lack the paid-time-off-from-work entitlements that in comparison countries make it easier for single parents to balance caregiving and jobholding. They must wait longer than single parents in comparison countries for early childhood education to begin. They have a low rate of child support receipt.

American single parents also work more hours for less pay — not a circumstance conducive to raising young children.

The problems that create a cycle of poverty for men and boys catch women as well. We could improve the prospects of those single parents, and their sons and daughters, by finding ways to make it easier for all of us to raise our children and financially support them at the same time.


Why Isn’t Better Education Giving Women More Power?


 Garance Franke-Ruta.THE ATLANTIC. Mar 20 2013,
The false egalitarian promise of advanced degrees

                                Walter Newton

In her new book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, recounts a warning she delivered to Harvard Business School students in 2011. “About one-third of the women in this audience will be working full-time” in 15 years, she told them. “And almost all of you will be working for the guy you are sitting next to.”

Surveying the stubborn gender inequalities of the early-21st-century workplace, Sandberg has written what might best be described as a cross between a feminist treatise and an airport business book, in which she advocates for structural changes to make corporate America more hospitable to women—particularly mothers. She also issues a bracing call for women to propel themselves ever higher, take more risks, speak up, negotiate, and pull a seat up to the table. But for all the persuasive parts of her argument, a vexing contradiction remains mostly unaddressed. In one important arena, women have already, to borrow Sandberg’s phrase, been aggressively leaning in: school. Women surpassed men as a percentage of college students in the late 1980s, and by 2009 had become the majority of master’s-degree students and doctoral candidates. The majority of Americans older than 25 with college degrees are, today, women. Yet just 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. So why hasn’t women’s success in the academy led them to more leadership positions in the work world?

Forty years ago, Title IX mandated equality for women. But it did so only in schools. In the decades since Congress passed this law, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education, women have flocked to the ivory tower. There, enforced equal standing is coupled with criteria for success that are transparent, and that reward industriousness. Many parts of the work world, by comparison, are still plagued by sexism, or reward a particular sort of self-promotion that many women shy away from. Studies have repeatedly shown that women get more criticism and less praise in the workplace than men do. They are offered lower starting salaries, and are judged more negatively by prospective employers than are men with identical backgrounds. And unlike in school, the burden of fighting discrimination rests almost entirely on an individual, who must initiate grievance procedures against her boss.

Just as important, the behaviors that school rewards—studying, careful preparation, patient climbing from one level to the next—seem to give women an advantage academically, judging from the fact that they get higher grades in college than men do. Yet these behaviors aren’t necessarily so helpful in the workplace. Out in the work world, people hire and promote based on personality as much as on formal qualifications, and very often networking can trump grinding away. As Whitney Johnson and Tara Mohr put it in an article on the Harvard Business Review’s Web site earlier this year, “The very skills that propel women to the top of the class in school are earning us middle-of the-pack marks in the workplace.”

It can take young women years to realize that the professional world is less of a meritocracy than the school world, and that the strategies that lead to success in one realm may not be enough to master the other. In the meantime, many suffer from what Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb, the founders of Negotiating Women Inc., a firm that coaches women in leadership skills, call “tiara syndrome”—the belief that if they “keep doing their job well, someone will notice them and place a tiara on their head.” This tends not to happen.

Women begin to fall behind the moment they leave school. Even controlling for their college major and professional field, they wind up being paid 7 percent less than men, on average, one year after graduating, according to a 2012 study by the American Association of University Women. One reason is that they take fewer risks right out of the gate: they are much less likely to negotiate their first salary—57 percent of men do this, versus 7 percent of women. Compared with their male peers, women also set less ambitious goals. A McKinsey study published last April found that 36 percent of male employees at major companies hope to be top executives, compared with just 18 percent of female employees. I’ve heard countless stories that reflect this same divide. Stephanie Mencimer, now a reporter at Mother Jones, told me that when she was a hiring editor at The Washington Monthly, she marveled at how, among comparably credentialed applicants just out of school, women were more likely to apply to be interns, while men would apply to be editors at the magazine.

The university system aside, I suspect there is another, deeply ingrained set of behaviors that also undermine women: the habits they pick up—or don’t pick up—in the dating world. Men learn early that to woo women, they must risk rejection and be persistent. Straight women, for their part, learn from their earliest years that they must wait to be courted. The professional world does not reward the second approach. No one is going to ask someone out professionally if she just makes herself attractive enough. I suspect this is why people who put together discussion panels and solicit op‑eds always tell me the same thing: it’s harder to get women to say yes than men. Well, duh. To be female in our culture is to be trained from puberty in the art of rebuffing—rebuffing gazes, comments, touches, propositions, and proposals.

Sensing that they are not prepared for the world they have entered, many professional women seek still more academic credentials. I’ve come to think of this as intellectual primping—the frequently futile hope that one more degree will finally win notice, and with it, that perfect job or raise. Eight years ago, Anna Fels, a New York City psychiatrist in her 60s, published a book called Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives. She told me she has since noticed that, in the wake of gains unimaginable when she was young, women today may have a harder time seeing the barriers before them than did the women of her generation. “Women may think the more degrees they get, the more chances they have of being hired,” she says, “but they are swimming upstream.”

In the 20th century, women often needed to be better-credentialed than men to get to the same place—for example, female Pulitzer Prize winners tended to be better-educated than men who won the same award. But in the 21st century, education is clearly no panacea

Japan: The worst developed country to be a mother?


Rupert Wingfield-Hayes.BBC News.22,March 2013

Mother holding child's hand

Japanese women are more likely to have a university degree than men, and the number of women in employment has been rising steadily for 10 years – but, for a range of reasons, a woman who has had children still has a hard time getting a good job.

Nobuko Ito is the very model of a modern professional Japanese woman.

She is a qualified lawyer and she speaks fluent English. She has years of experience working in international contract law.

But Nobuko no longer works in a big international law firm. In fact she hardly does any lawyering at all these days.

Instead she has three children. In Japan it is still one or the other. Doing both is extremely difficult.

“Before I had a child I remember one busy month where I billed the client for 300 hours!” Nobuko says.

Nobuko Ito
Nobuko Ito says Japanese men fear losing their job if they take paternity leave

“I’d get in the office at 09:00 in the morning, and leave at 03:00 the next morning, and I’d come in on Saturday and Sunday.

“If you want to keep working you have to forget about your children, you have to just devote yourself to the company.

“I can’t do this, it’s impossible.”

As Nobuko’s example shows Japan’s working culture can be brutal. It’s one of the reasons why 70% of Japanese women still give up work as soon as they have their first child.

Another is their husbands.

When it comes to helping out around the home Japanese men are still far behind their counterparts in Europe or America.

In Sweden, Germany and the US husbands spend, on average, three hours a day helping out with children and household chores. In Japan it’s one hour, and they spend just 15 minutes a day with their children.

The pay gap

Woman looking at sky

Many Japanese women still withdraw from the labour force upon childbirth and often cannot resume their regular employment pattern: in the dual Japanese labour market, women often end up in relatively lowly-paid non-regular employment.

The gender pay gap at median earnings is the second highest in the OECD.

Then there is paternity leave. Japanese men are entitled to take it, but only a tiny minority actually do – just 2.63%.

“My husband didn’t take paternity leave” Nobuko Ito says.

“Most Japanese men are very hesitant to use the system. They may want to come back home to help with the family, but on the other hand they think they need to work as hard as possible otherwise they may not get promoted, or they may lose their job.”

Despite all this many Japanese women do want to continue working after they have children.

But they then come up against the next problem – childcare, or rather the lack of it.

According to the Tokyo government’s own statistics there are 20,000 children in the city waiting for places in day-care centres.

The government centres that do exist are good, but they are far too few.  And even if you do get a place it’s means-tested and expensive.

Father helping feed children
Japanese fathers make a “limited” contribution to childcare, and do less housework than men from other developed countries, the OECD says

“I’d have to pay about $1,000 (£659) per month per child even at the state nursery,” says Nobuko Ito.

“Expensive private nurseries cost about $2,000 (£1,318) for one child a month. But those are really good!” she says laughing.

Kathy Matsui’s Womenomics

Mother and child

  • Japan’s female employment rate of 60% still ranks well below that of many other developed countries such as Norway at 75%, the US at 66%, and Germany at 64%.
  • Roughly 70% of Japanese women quit working after giving birth to their first child. This compares to around one-third of women in the US.
  • The ratio of Japanese mothers with children under six who work (34%) remains extremely low compared to 76% in Sweden, 61% in the US, 55% in the UK, and 53% in Germany.

All of this adds up to two things. Women who are having children are not working. Women who are working are not having children. Both are terrible for Japan’s future.

In her ground-breaking work Womenomics: Japan’s Hidden Asset, Japanese-American economist Kathy Matsui says getting more Japanese mothers to stay in work or go back to work should be a “national priority”.

She says it could add as much as 15% to Japan’s GDP.

But Matsui says there is another even more pressing reason. Japan is running out of people.

“Although a low fertility rate is common among other developed countries, Japan may be the only OECD nation where the number of pets exceeds the number of children,” she says.

Japan’s birth rate is just 1.37 births per woman, far below the 2.1 figure at which a population remains stable.

Evidence from Europe and America suggest helping women to stay in work can increase the birth rate.

Each Swedish child is guaranteed a place at a public preschool and no parent is charged more than three per cent of their salary.

The state subsidy for preschool services is more than the annual defence budget.

In countries like Sweden, Denmark and the US, where female employment rates are high, birth rates are also higher. In countries where female employment is low, like Italy, South Korea and Japan, birth rates are also low.

In Japan a demographic crisis is already under way. In 2006 Japan’s population began to shrink.

If current trends persist it will lose a third of its population in the next half century.

The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of Unwed Mothers: An Economic Mystery

Derek Thompson.THE  ATLANTIC.Mar 18 2013,
The real question here isn’t “Why so many babies?” It’s “Why so few marriages?” And we have an answer.

800 single mom.jpg

This was the most shocking statistic I read this weekend: 58 percent of first births in lower-middle-class households are now to unmarried women. Meanwhile, two in five of all births are to unwed mothers, an all-time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


The thesis of this fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal says the real mystery here isn’t “Why so many babies?” but rather “Why so few marriages?” — particularly among less-educated men and women.

This is a complex economic mystery that we’ve explored often at The Atlantic, but we can take a big bite out of it by focusing on three factors: (1) The changing meaning of marriage in America; (2) declining wages for low-skill men; and (3) the declining costs of being a single person.

A New Union Marriage has changed. Once upon a time, the typical marriage, as Justin Wolfers has explained, involved special roles for the husband and wife. He would work. She would stay home. It was an efficient arrangement where opposites attracted. Men who wanted to be executives would marry women who wanted to be housewives. And, since almost half of women had no independent earnings 40 years ago, there were a lot of women who just wanted to work at home and raise a family.

Several factors mussed up this traditional union. Today women expect to work much, much more than they used to — and they do. They make up the majority of new college graduates and their  labor participation rate has soared over 60 percent. Since 1950, hours of work by married women have increased by roughly a factor of three, according to the Minneapolis Fed.

Now that women are better educated, with greater control over both their fertility and their earnings, modern marriage has changed from an arrangement where men marry for a housewife to a “hedonic” model where both partners can be the breadwinner. As marriage has shifted from opposites-attract to like-attracts-like, researchers have found that sorting has increased all along the educational scale. College graduates are more likely than ever to marry college graduates, as Charles Murray has written. High school dropouts are more likely to marry high school  dropouts.

Think of marriage like any other contract or investment. It’s most likely to happen when the gains are big. So we should expect marriages among low-income Americans to decline if women perceive declining gains from hitching themselves to the men around them.

That’s precisely what we’ve seen…

Cheap Wages, Cheap Technologies Low-skill men have had a rough two generations. The evaporation of manufacturing work has gutted their main source of employment, while globalization has held down their wages. Marriage has declined the most among men whose wages have declined the most. Here’s a remarkable graph from the Hamilton Project comparing change in earnings (the RED LINE) and change in likelihood to be married (the BLUE BARS).


In a dating pool where poor women are more likely to be surrounded by men with low and  falling fortunes, more women have ditched a union for good economic reasons: It could be a financial drain. In The Truly Disadvantaged,  William Julius Wilson, argued that “high rates of unemployment and incarceration meant that the local dating pool was populated by unmarriageable men–and the result was that women chose to live independently.”

It is hardly easy to do anything with earnings near the poverty level. But it is relatively easier to raise a child and keep up a home with modern household innovations. The connection between Lunchables, detergent and marriage rates is not often made. But perhaps it should be. The development of time-saving technologies — cheap prepared  foods, cheap clothes, machines to wash, dry, and vacuum — has not only encouraged more women to seek work, but also made it relatively easier for single parents to raise a child. Put starkly, technology makes it cheaper and easier than ever to be single. It makes marrying a financially unstable man even more risky.

That women find themselves drifting “unintentionally” into parenthood with men they have no intent of marrying creates another generation of problems. Children raised in two-parent households are more likely to go to college, more likely to be employed, and more likely to earn a high wage. The rise of unwed mothers might be logical for many of these women. But there is too much evidence that it deepens the divide between the haves and have-nots in America.


U.S. Corporate Executives Aren’t the Only Ones Making Tons of Money


Olga Khazan. THE  ATLANTIC.Mar 19 2013
CEO pay has been skyrocketing on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, a flurry of policies in the EU aims to put the massive earnings in check.   





Restraining the disproportionate growth of CEO salaries has long been on the agenda of the American left, but it’s recently been taken up by several European governments — a somewhat unexpected priority for a continent known in the U.S. more for short workweeks and long lunches than for pay inequality.

This month, the European Union capped bonuses for investment bankers at

    Switzerland approved a referendum that makes company shareholders responsible for setting the chief executive’s salary.

The Dutch government is drafting a law that would limit golden parachutes to a maximum of 75,000    euros. France and Spain are also both raising taxes on severance packages.

And several German political leaders recently announced that they would raise the executive pay    issue in the country’s parliament.

“Exorbitance cannot be allowed in a free and socially minded society,” German Chancellor            Angela Merkel sa    in a recent interview with a local newspaper, adding that she understands “when people shake their heads over salaries that tip the scale and want them to    stop.”

Der Spiegel recently published            a long, impassioned   article in support of stronger executive-pay legislation, in which the magazine detailed the plight of blue-collar German workers:

The poverty and wealth report released by the German government last week suggests that this gap has reached disconcerting proportions in Germany. Many    can no longer support themselves with the money they earn in a full-time job. Almost one in four workers earn less than 9.15 euros an hour, which    translates to about 19,000 euros a year. This is less than one-seven hundredth of what the CEO of VW makes.

    Der Spiegel‘s argument here might strike some Americans as a first-world problem. Sure, 19,000 euros a year — or roughly $25,000 — doesn’t exactly    mean you’re rolling in dough, but it still beats the $15,000 that U.S. minimum-wage workers make.

Still, chief executives of Germany’s biggest companies took home 14 percent more in direct pay in 2011 than the previous    year, and in some cases CEO salaries there rose by double-digit percentage points even when company earnings were flat.

Compared to American standards, that’s not unusual. The U.S., along with other G20 countries,enacted a law in 2009 to tie executive pay to company performance, but it hasn’t exactly    solved the problem of outrageous CEO-to-worker salary ratios. Here’s a look at the growth in salaries for America’s C-suite, compared with those of their employees, over the past few decades at 350 top U.S. companies, via the left-leaningEconomic Policy Institute:


There’s a similar trend going on in corporate headquarters all over the world. In the U.K., a 2011 commission found that “the 30 year trend of increasing top pay that has left the earnings gap between the very richest and the rest of society wider than at any point since Queen Victoria was on the throne.”The Guardian reported:

The report cites the example of Barclays, where top pay is now 75 times that of the average worker. In 1979 it was 14.5. Over that period, the lead    executive’s pay in Barclays has risen by 4,899.4% – from £87,323 to a £4,365,636.

Here’s the chart, via the High Pay Commission:


    A 2003 study by a professional services firm called Towers Perrin, which later became Towers Watson, captured the growth in CEO salaries in a handful of countries just in the previous 15-year period. Here’s how it breaks down, according to data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute:

chart_1 (2).png

    Another paper from the OECD found similar increases in executive pay between 2004 and 2007, a period when the organization said overall wage growth was only about 2 to 3 percent:


    American CEOs do earn more than their foreign counterparts, and the disparity between U.S. executive pay and that of average American workers is much    greater than the gap between those two groups in most other countries. But the runaway growth in CEO salaries has been so dramatic in recent years — even    in the notoriously worker-friendly E.U. — that it isn’t all that surprising that European policymakers are acting to halt it.

    “Average employee wages have increased by 6.1 percent since 2000, while the salaries of senior executives at companies traded on Germany’s DAX stock exchange index have risen by almost 55 percent during that time period,” Der Spiegel  notes.

    Research on the CEO-to-average-Joe pay gap across countries is hard to come by, both because of differences in reporting among countries and differences in    the structure of the firms themselves. The most recent data that’s frequently cited comes from a 2006 paper by Towers Perrin. Here’s how the salaries for average U.S. and European workers and executives stacked up in 2006, according to their study. The numbers are somewhat outdated, but they give you a sense of the    big picture, with the U.S. ratio still nearly twice that of the other countries:


    That might make the U.S. look like the land of caviar-munching fat cats, but the truth is, many European countries aren’t far behind. A 2012 paper, aptly    titled, “Are U.S. CEOs Paid More? New International Evidence,” found that American executives don’t necessarily earn that much more than their    European counterparts — it’s just that CEOs everywhere earn astronomical amounts, no matter where they are:


    Overall, American chief executives made 26 percent more than their foreign counterparts, according to the 2012 report, if you control for the size of    firm, its sales and the type of board and ownership it has.

    These days, large companies everywhere are likely to pay their executives rates that would be considered competitive in any country, thanks to the    increasing globalization of the workforce and the entry of more and more firms into international markets.

    “Non-U.S. firms implement U.S.-style compensation packages to attract global managerial talent, customers and investors. Foreign firms    attempting to attract executives in competition with equivalent U.S. firms will need to offer packages that are competitive with US levels, including …high overall levels of expected total compensation,” the authors of the 2012 study wrote.

    And that’s part of the reason why it’s hard to regulate these golden parachutes, golden handshakes, and even golden paychecks — a company might    technically be German, but its leadership and customers consider themselves “global.” Which might be why, in attempting to rein in their 1 percent, European governments are    acting in unison with one another, for once.