Earlier this week a story dropped into my inbox that was ideally suited for meeting the Stage's stated  mission to investigate "intersection of governance, ecology, demographics, culture, history, and security":

Christine Armario and Dorie Turner. Associated Press. 21 December 2010.
Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can't answer basic math, science and reading questions, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The report by The Education Trust bolsters a growing worry among military and education leaders that the pool of young people qualified for military service will grow too small.

"Too many of our high school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career — and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the AP. "I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America's underperforming education system."

Mr. Duncan is mistaken. It is not America's education system that is underperforming. It is her social system.

Several months ago I wrote a post titled "Connecting the Dots: Social Mobility and Family Structure." The conclusions of this post were clear. In America, as in most places across the world, education is the key to upward economic mobility. But in America, unlike most places in the world, educational success is tied quite closely to class.  Children born to uneducated, low-income, single parents are very likely to become uneducated, low-income, single parents themselves. Family structure is the key explanatory variable in all of this. Students from stable mother-father households are more likely to succeed in school settings than peers from alternate family structures, even when race, class, and other variables of this type are adjusted for. Single parenthood also limits the educational prospects for the parent, as children consume time and resources that might otherwise go towards the attainment of higher levels of education. Caring for children without the institutional support provided by a stable marriage is a poverty trap.

America has one of the highest rates of illigimacy and single parenthood in the world. A great majority of the  illigimate children are born poor. Likewise, most single parents live in poverty. Their educational prospects are nil - and thus their poverty is perpetual. As I concluded:
 This is the crisis of the American community. Poverty has existed throughout America's history, but only with the disintegration of the lower class family has it become a perpetual condition. The United States must now cope with all the ills that plague any polity with a permanent underclass.

Millions of young men unable to pass the military's entrance exams is just one such ill.

This entry was posted on 01 January, 2011 at 3:40 PM and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I totally disagree.

There are many countries with similar statistics of single parenthood as the US, and some do significantly better on international standardized tests (e.g. the Nordic countries). Likewise there are also numerous countries with strong family institutions - e.g. any Arab or L. American country - where performance is much, much poorer than in the US.

I don't claim to know the causes of these discrepancies, though I think the national IQ factor is neglected far too much out of PC considerations. That said, I'm sure ascribing it to single parents is largely or wholly wrong, and the easy way out.

January 2, 2011 at 12:31 AM

@Sublime Oblivion:

"There are many countries with similar statistics of single parenthood as the US"

This is not true. A quick google search reveals that Norway, Denmark, and Sweden have similar levels of illegitimacy, but single parenthood rates are higher in the U.S. Looking at the most recent OECD data, we find that “the share of sole-parent families in all households with children” is:

Denmark 18.2%
Norway 21.8%
Sweden 19.6%

United States 28.3%

The United States has the highest percentage of all OECD countries listed. (The OECD average was 19%)

It is also worth noting that the Nordic countries are some of the most egalitarian in the world. The “trap” Norway’s poor are stuck in is quite a bit better than what is found in America.

January 2, 2011 at 1:07 PM

I should add that the argument is a bit more nuanced than "Single parents cause all of America's education ills." This post is a condensed version of the full thing. The longer version is available here:

Connecting the Dots: Social Mobility and Family Structure

January 2, 2011 at 1:11 PM

thanks for posting.

September 28, 2012 at 9:53 PM

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