We human beings love to choose sides, all the more so if the choices happen to be of the "either or" variety. Dichotomous choices not only help us make sense of our reality and decide how to interact with it, but are the source of seemingly every heated debate in seemingly every demographic group: Yankees or Red Sox? Pro-choice or pro-life? Democrat or Republican? The No Wedding, No Womb (NWNW) movement is no different in this respect. Those who support it are demanding to know: Are you with us or against us?
Well, I'm neither -- and not because I haven't given it some serious contemplation. I'm neither because I don't see single-parenting as inherently bad or double-teaming as inherently good. I'm not taking sides because if I were to rank-order our society's problems, out-of-wedlock births would be considerably behind poverty, unequal access to education, racial bias in our criminal justice system (and the skyrocketing incarceration rates, more generally), climate change, and probably a half dozen others. And also, this isn't a sports contest: It's possible to occupy a more nuanced position than merely "pro" or "con."
In case anyone's wondering, I'm married. I have two kids. I grew up in a two-parent family. I liked that my parents were married. I like being married myself. And if my kids ever ask for my opinion on marriage, I'm quite sure that I'll put in a good word. And why not? Data show that marriage is positively associated with any number of important outcomes, not least of all life satisfaction and happiness, and while this used to be only true for men, for several decades now it has been equally true for women. Factor in the documented gains in socioeconomic status (stronger for women) and health outcomes (stronger for men), and it's a no-brainer: Marriage rocks! Oh, and also: It's good for the kids.
That last point is what the NWNW movement is ostensibly about: The children.
For all the talk about out-of-wedlock births, marriage is not the only option supported by NWNW, a position that Karazin makes explicitly clear in this part of the NWNW FAQ.
In my opinion, marriage is the ideal. It is our opinion that it is the ideal situation for raising children. Statistically children thrive in two-parent homes versus single-parent homes. We understand that not everyone will agree with this point of view, but this is what we advocate. However, it is of the utmost importance that it is understood that in no way are we advocating marriage as the panacea for social ills with the black community. If marriage is out of the question, NWNW parents are "wedded" to their commitment to their children, providing daily emotional and physical nurturing.
In another portion of the same document, she writes, "NWNW calls for both MEN and WOMEN to put the needs of children first, and advocates that couples abstain from having children until they are emotionally, physically and financially able to care for them."
Well, there it is: When you put it like that, how can anyone with a soul not be for NWNW? After all, how could anyone not be in favor of anything that is in the best interest of a child?
But what does it mean to put the needs of children first? What does it mean to be emotionally, physically, and financially able to care for children?
More importantly, who gets to decide?
I need to take a detour here. As anyone following this movement well knows, No Wedding No Womb is a Black movement. To be sure, it has non-black allies and supporters, but in Karazin's own words in the FAQ, it is "a primary call directed to the black community to take action against the rampant births of children who are born without physical, financial and emotional protection." (Emphasis mine).
This is hardly a coincidence. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank reports that one out of two African-American children lives in a single-parent home (see chart on left). Karazin and other NWNW proponents cite numbers that are even more extreme -- a 72% out-of-wedlock birthrate in the Black community. The movement urges Black men in particular to take an active role "in the parenting of their children, and, more importantly, be cognizant of the fact that their role as fathers is paramount to the success of their children and in turn, the black community." This is vital, Karazin explains, because not having a father around is associated with all sorts of bad outcomes. As proof, Karazin cites David Popenoe, who, in "Life Without Father" (written in 1996), cited research showing that
- 60 percent of America's rapists came from fatherless homes
- 72 percent of adolescent murderers grew up without a father
- 70 percent of long-term prison inmates are fatherless.
I could point out that all three of these groups are quite small relative to the overall population. That is, when we talk about 72% of adolescent murderers, we are talking about 72% of a very small number. Put a different way, the vast majority of kids who grow up in fatherless homes are productive, law-abiding members of society. I could point out, as well, that given the findings from adoption studies (see for example, the well-known Stockholm adoption study by Cloninger, Bohman, and Sigvardson and the Cadoret at al 1995 study), it is likely that a very high percentage of these fathers were actually themselves incarcerated at some point in their life. That is, one could just as easily blame these undesirable outcomes on poor genetics as on poor environment (i.e., absent fathers). Indeed, it is almost certain that both genes and environmental factors are implicated (as usual, the dichotomous choice is a false one). This is not to suggest that the youth in these three groups were doomed from the start. They weren't. Unique environment can and does make a difference. The point is that it is unlikely that these particular youths would have benefited from having dad at home.
All that said, I have no doubt that a father's presence can make a significant positive difference, and I'd hate to say anything that might discourage fathers from being more involved in their children's lives. I'm all for such involvement. Apart from the intuitive notion that two people must be better than one, there are, in fact, empirical studies showing that youth in two-parent homes do better in a variety of ways (e.g., less substance use, higher academic achievement) than those raised by a single parent.