Father’s Day is Sunday.
If reading that induced momentary lack-of-gift panic, you’re probably white. And not just because your first two thoughts were “necktie” and “golf balls.”
Relax. There’s still time to get 24-hour shipping on that Kindle Fire.
But while you’re at it, you should probably do a victory lap – because you’re one lucky son-of-a-dad (or daughter-of-one).
It’s been nearly 50 years since Daniel Patrick Moynihan released his provocative report on “The Negro Family” and its implications for social and economic equality. His major finding? The decline of the two-parent family in African American communities imperiled blacks’ prospects for progress.
Today, the Urban Institute released an update. Their major finding? The (continued) decline of the two-parent family in African American communities (continues to) imperil blacks’ prospects for progress.
To be sure, the last five decades have seen African Americans make striking progress on many fronts. Child poverty rates are down. Residential mobility and college enrollment are up. The high school graduation gap is nearly gone. Soon, so too may be affirmative action. Barack Obama is President.
But on one measure, the black-white divide remains stubbornly persistent – and pernicious: fatherhood.
Three out of every four black children are born to unmarried mothers, compared to just three in ten among whites. More than half of black children grow up in fatherless homes, more than double the rate among whites. Half of black women never marry; just a quarter live with their spouses.
The really scary part is things are getting worse, not better. The share of extra-marital births among blacks has tripled since the 1960s; the share among whites has increased by a factor of ten.
The same is true of single-mother-headed households: the rate for blacks is now 2.5 times greater than it was in Moynihan’s day; for whites, it is nearly 3.5 times greater. And by greater, we mean worse.
Disentangling cause and effect in social science is notoriously difficult, but the negative associations with paternal absenteeism are striking.
Part of it is arithmetic: two wage earners are better than one. Four in ten families with children headed by single moms are poor – four times the rate among married families. Because blacks are less likely to live with their fathers than whites, parental disparities beget socioeconomic ones. A third of black children live below the poverty line, more than double the rate among whites.
With poverty, of course, comes disadvantage. Compared to their more affluent peers, poor children perform worse in school and have diminished labor market opportunities. Surrounded by suffering, violence, and the other afflictions of concentrated poverty, they are often bereft of role models, deprived of dreams, and more likely to commit crimes and have out-of-wedlock births themselves.
With growing frequency, children raised poor remain poor. The cycle perpetuates itself.
But fathers play a more direct role in well-being as well. Paternal presence is associated with improved cognitive and social development as well as physical and psychological health. Children with actively involved fathers are less likely to suffer mistreatment, less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, less likely to become teen parents, and less likely to have behavioral problems, including engaging in crime. And they also do better in school.
It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that America doesn’t have a racial gap so much as it has a fatherhood gap.
So what can we do to make up the dad deficit?
First, it’s important to acknowledge the playing field is still not equal. Discrimination – especially the kind that is unconscious and structural – is still alive and well in America. Black men face challenges from which their white counterparts are immune.
The unemployment rate among black men is more than twice that among whites. White men earn 50 percent more than black men. Black men are about as likely to spend time in prison as they are to graduate college – and are incarcerated, often for nonviolent crimes, at 5.5 times the rate of white men. According to the Urban Institute report, affluent blacks are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods than poor whites.
Second, we must provide better funding for evidence-based programs for fathers and young minority men. Mayor Bloomberg’s $127 million Young Men’s Initiative in New York City is a great example.
Finally, as a nation we must work to cultivate – and celebrate – a culture of responsible fatherhood. Norms can change. Just look at women in the workplace, democrats in the Middle East, and smokers out on the sidewalk. But norms don’t change themselves. It’s up to us to move them.
A good place to start is by remembering to give your dad those golf balls – and a hug.