This widely-discussed book seems to be about the differences between red states and blue states, between socially conservative and socially liberal America. In fact, it is about the differences between college educated women and everyone else. You could say this book is the “soft power” version of class warfare. The rich are deliberately making war on the poor, not to expropriate their material resources, but to establish social hegemony. They want complete social approval and legal support for a lifestyle from which they benefit and which harms others.
I was supposed to have written this review long ago. The time-consuming nature of unpacking the illogic and obfuscation in this supposedly scientific tract is not the only reasons for the delay. This book made me so angry I could barely read it.
The essence of the Cahn and Carbone’s version of class difference, which they wrongly attribute to “red states” and “blue states”, is delayed age at first marriage. Later marriage allows women to complete their education and enter into high-income, high-status jobs before beginning families. These high status women are likely to get married and stay married, which further enhances the family’s financial wealth and their children’s life-chances.
Cahn and Carbone, both academics specializing in aspects of family law, leave no doubt that they approve of this “blue state script”. If their only point were to encourage later marriage and childbearing, their book would be unobjectionable. They could join the legions of abstinence educators, religious leaders, school teachers and parents who have been trying to convey that message to the young.
What is objectionable is that their data leaves no doubt that it is not “maturity” or greater self-command that makes the later marriages of the well-educated possible. The elites rely on contraception, backed up by the unapologetic use of abortion, to establish their high-status late-marriage life-styles.
Cahn and Carbone plainly disapprove of “red state” advocates of traditional morality, who are more concerned with marriage than age per se as the prerequisite for childbearing. “Rather than ground family morality in investment in higher education and disciplined childbearing, these advocates continue to celebrate the unity of sex, marriage and reproduction. The reward in this system, particularly for those who may never reach the enhanced status that comes with dual college-educated earners, is family life itself.”
As a highly educated woman who nonetheless “celebrates the unity of sex, marriage and reproduction” I found passages like these hard to read. Carbone and Cahn are implicitly accusing us of opposing “higher education” and “disciplined childbearing”. In fact, there is nothing “disciplined” about the child-bearing of the upper classes. They are simply willing to use abortion to kill off the babies that arrive too early for the script. Contraception, not discipline, allows them to be sexually active and still postpone marriage.
And we do not oppose higher education, as they seem to imply. We simply recognize what Cahn and Carbone themselves recognize in the above quotation: not everyone has the aptitude or inclination to go to graduate school, and absolutely no public policy will change this basic fact. They know that the sexual revolution isn’t working for the lower socio-economic classes, yet their book drips with condescension and contempt for those who resist its continual march through society.
Cahn and Carbone direct their fire at advocates of abstinence education and parental notification for abortion. They do not seem to realize that the early sexualization of the young and the decline in parental authority are a large part of the problem. The combination of Supreme Court decisions and federal promotion of contraception education amounts to a complete government take-over of sexual culture. Against this and the social disorganization of the lower classes, abstinence education and parental notification are, admittedly, impotent weapons. Advocates of an organic holistic view of sex, marriage and reproduction have few weapons remaining in their armory. The federal government picked a fight with the traditional sexual culture and forced us to bring knives to their gunfight.
But Cahn and Carbone turn a blind eye to all this, maintaining that abstinence education and parental notification for abortion are to blame for the problems of the underclass. If only they had more contraception and more abortions, these unfortunate people would postpone marriage, go to law school and be just like “us”.
Let me add a few facts that they overlook. First, over half of women who come for an abortion say that they were using contraception during the month they conceived. Second, nearly half of all women who come for an abortion report that they have already had at least one previous abortion. Since they have obviously been to an abortion clinic before, someone could have told them anything they needed to know about contraception.
The most logical conclusion to draw from these facts is that we have probably gone as far as we can go down the road of handing out birth control. We are trying to use a technological solution to what is plainly a moral problem. Cahn and Carbone are simply illogical to suggest that “changing the subject” from abortion to contraception has even a remote chance of being helpful.
But really, the most appalling thing about this very appalling book is the insularity of the authors. Cahn and Carbone simply have no clue what the actual lives of real people look like. I kept asking myself, “Have they ever met an HVAC repairman? Do they know any home-schooling mothers of eight or nine? Have they ever encountered a grandmother with full-time childcare responsibilities, because her daughter is preoccupied with her newest boyfriend? Do they have any idea that women have babies for all kinds of reasons that contraception and government policy will never touch?”
I am writing this in the Tulsa Oklahoma Airport, after helping my son set up his first apartment to go to welding school, in this reddest of red states. During my trip, I had a chat with the cashier at Wal-Mart who told me her boyfriend makes good money as a welder. “But he travels from job to job. It is hard on our relationship. We live together. I don’t have to pay for nothing, he pays all the bills. But he don’t have nothing either. He spends all the money on fancy TV’s and stuff.” I said to her, “You all need to get married. You can help him manage his money and save some of it. You’d both be way ahead.” I’m thinking about the statistics: married men earn more, save more, and spend more on others and less on themselves. She said, with a grim look on her face, “I’m working on it.” The implication was clear: she had been trying to get him to commit to marriage for some time.
While I was taking a walk, I met a man who was resting from a bike ride. He had one shoe off and was massaging his foot. Turns out, he had a nerve injury and couldn’t put any weight on his foot. He rides the bike every day along the Arkansas River for exercise. I struck up a conversation with him about this devastating injury and his recovery process. I asked him if he lived with anybody. I’m thinking about the statistics: people who live alone (married or not) have a longer recovery process from illnesses and injuries. “No, this happened two months after I got divorced. It was a forced divorce. I didn’t want it. I put up with everything she dished out, because of the kids. But she found herself a rich old guy.” I’m thinking about more statistics: the vast majority of divorces take place against the wishes of one party, are initiated by women and do not involve any form of domestic violence.
This is the world that the elites have created for the lower classes: a world of loneliness, mutual suspicion and uncertainty. Contraception wouldn’t have helped either of these people. In fact, without contraception, the Wal-Mart checker would almost certainly not be living with the boyfriend who spends everything he earns and won’t commit.
Cahn and Carbone refuse to acknowledge that their preferred policies and lifestyles have greatly diminished the possibilities for a high quality family life for working class people. They have nothing to offer them, and they know it. But educated women still get to have the Leave it to Beaver lifestyle they denigrate in their classrooms and that they have done so much to destroy in the rest of the culture. They just get started at age 35 instead of age 18.
“The college educated, who postpone childrearing until the parents achieve a measure of financial self-sufficiency and emotional maturity, have become more likely to marry and less likely to divorce than the rest of the population, with two-parent families that remain intact, replicating the statistics that existed before no-fault divorce, the pill and legalized abortion.”
When I encountered this paragraph, I wrote in the margin, “Have these people no shame?” How dare Cahn and Carbone criticize the beleaguered and increasingly marginalized social conservatives who strive to bring back some semblance of structure to the lives of ordinary people? How dare the life-style left wine and dine these authors, and, with a straight face, claim to be “progressives” who care about the fate of the less fortunate?
After reading the entire book, that is still my question. Have they no shame?