In Stupid white man criticizes smart Chinese woman, I looked at David Brooks v. Tiger Mom. In a recent NYT piece, “Why Fathers Leave Their Children,” I think that he has outdone himself. He looks at a phenomenon that is roughly 3 percent of GDP and never considers that cash incentives might influence behavior.
My comment on the piece:
Touching sentiments, but hard to see how they can be squared with statistics. Compared to other developed countries with no-fault divorce, the United States has roughly twice the percentage of children living without both parents. In winner-take-all jurisdictions within the U.S., such as New York, Massachusetts, California, roughly 75 percent of divorce/custody lawsuits are filed by women (and, in more than 90 percent of the cases, the court declares that the mother will be the primary or “winner” parent). “fathers abandon their own children”? That’s a touching story, but if you look at what actually happens a better summary is “fathers discarded by courts as secondary parents”.
A shorter summary would be “If you set up a family law system in which the only thing that you want from fathers is cash, probably cash is the main thing that you’re going to get from fathers.”
(See http://www.realworlddivorce.com/MiddlesexMay2011 for an analysis of a month of cases in a typical U.S. jurisdiction.)
(I should point out that it is also much more lucrative in the U.S. to get rid of a “secondary parent” than it is in other countries. In Sweden, for example, if it were possible to get rid of a biological co-parent the resulting cashflow would be $2,000/year. The same child might yield $40,000 or $100,000/year (tax-free) in the U.S., depending on the co-parent’s income and the state. Americans’ behavior in mating and family court is exactly what you’d expect from the economic incentives presented by states. A resident of the U.S. will enjoy a higher spending power by having a brief encounter with a high-income co-parent than by being in a long-term marriage with a middle-income co-parent. Why be surprised that people avail themselves of the higher-spending-power option?)
Of course at the lower end of the income scale the behaviors are also economically rational. If neither biological parent has any income, the adult who can get custody of the child becomes entitled to a range of valuable welfare programs, including free housing.
How is it that there is a market for people to read this Brooks guy?