A Review of Dr. Stanford Braver's
Dads: Shattering the Myth
| July 2, 2001
HATES DEADBEAT DADS.
They are excoriated from the feminist Left to the family-values
Right. This has resulted in a national frenzy of efforts to tighten
up child-support enforcement, beginning with the Child Support
Enforcement Act of 1975 (amended in 1984) and including numerous
state statutes. Unfortunately, as a new book persuasively argues,
they are largely a myth. In fact, they are frequently victims
in their own right. Dr. Braver began his research intending only
to refine the received wisdom, but his empirical findings changed
his own mind. The prevalence of the myths he has exploded raises
serious questions about the entire structure of liberal social
science, on which our nation's public policies are based, and
the susceptibility of statistics to manipulation by liberal academics.
refutes six key anti-father myths one-by-one. He writes:
dads are not overwhelmingly deadbeats in terms of child support
compliance. They actually pay far better than assumed, especially
if they remain fully employed."
figures for non-payment of child support that are usually quoted
are wrong for a number of reasons. First, they are based solely
on maternal reporting. Second, they are based on lumping together
divorcees with never-marrieds, who pay at a lower rate. Third,
some studies of the problem record only payments made through
court clerks, not all payments. Fourth, most of the remaining
deadbeats are in jail, unemployed, in poverty, or otherwise unable
to pay for understandable reasons.
dads are not overwhelmingly disappearing or runaway dads. Most
continue a surprisingly high amount of contact with their children,
and much of whatever disconnection does occur can be attributed
directly to mothers impeding or interfering with visitation."
that divorced men are generally uninterested in their children,
a view that derives mainly from a single inaccurate study and
from the pop-culture stereotype of the divorced father with sports
car and girlfriend in tow. But, in reality, roughly three-quarters
of divorced fathers who live in the same town as their children
see them regularly, according to Dr. Braver's own research. And
they would frequently see them even more often if it were not
illegal for them to do so under the visitation rules to which
they are legally subject. Not to mention maternal denial of these
visitation privileges, which is a serious and under-appreciated
issue in its own right.
fathers do not end up noticeably more economically advantaged
by divorce than mothers... in the long run, many divorced mothers
will surpass divorced fathers in economic well-being. Divorced
mothers and children do not disproportionately end up in poverty,
and those few who do almost without exception would continue to
be in that state whether or not their ex-husbands paid full child
feminist obsession, which many non-feminists have been taken in
by, has been erected upon the so-called "feminization of poverty."
This turns out to be a statistical mirage generated by biased
studies. Those divorced mothers who end up in long-term poverty
turn out to be (surprise, surprise) those who were from poor backgrounds
in the first place, even when they were married. In only 2% of
divorces would full payment of alimony and child support lift
a poor mother out of poverty who is now in it.
fathers are not far better satisfied or advantaged in the negotiations
leading to their divorce settlements. In fact, fathers are significantly
disadvantaged and dissatisfied compared to mothers, who feel more
in control of the settlement process than fathers."
feminist-inspired mythology claims that because the judicial system
is run mainly by men, it favors fathers at every step in the divorce
process. Despite the fact that every major feminist demand (starting
with abortion and running right down the list) has been passed
by male-dominated legislatures and courts, this men vs. women
mythology is emotionally satisfying and therefore believed in.
But in fact, the court system has a demonstrable maternalist bias
in custody awards and other issues which can be traced in the
history of legislation and court decisions.
fathers are not more content and better emotionally adjusted after
divorce than mothers. In fact, overwhelming evidence suggests
that they are far more emotionally devastated by divorce than
mothers. Only with respect to calming their anger more quickly
than their ex-spouse do fathers have an emotional advantage over
holds that divorced dads don't have a care in the world, with
the possible exception of their new, younger, girlfriends. In
fact, they tend to be less well adjusted emotionally than their
ex-wives by standard measures of psychological well being. According
to a 1985 USA Today poll believed to be valid, 85% of divorced
women claim to be happier post-divorce, compared to only 58% of
men. Divorced women still usually have their children; divorced
men often end up with nothing, relationship-wise.
do not generally trigger the marriage's demise by abandoning their
wives and families."
holds that women are devotedly maternal while contemporary American
men are too immature to "commit" enough to make their marriages
work and are therefore responsible for most divorces. In fact,
2/3 of all divorces are initiated by the woman. And women tend
to initiate divorces not because they are abused or otherwise
objectively ill-treated, but for emotional reasons like "my husband
doesn't communicate with me."
does Dr. Braver exonerate deadbeat dads, but he documents a number
of ways in which post-divorce custodial mothers misbehave. The
big thing mothers do is deprive fathers of their lawful visitation
rights. The courts are set up to take very seriously the enforcement
of child-support payments by fathers, but they assign little seriousness
to the issue of visitation rights. Mothers in most jurisdictions
can arbitrarily deny court-ordered visitation rights without fear
of sanction from police or the judicial system. It would seem
that one appropriate reform is to enable fathers to withhold child-support
payments when visitation rights have not been honored.
practice more subtle forms of aggression. Because they have custody
of the children most of the time, they are well-placed to poison
their minds against their fathers. They are particularly prone
to do this if they remarry and wish to "reprogram" the kids to
accept their new spouse as their father. They also have a tendency
to do it simply out of spite at their ex-husband. Some mothers
cynically exploit the police to falsely claim harassment or domestic
violence to keep their ex-husband away, a tactic that the law
stupidly encourages in a number of ways. It seems that the maternal
instinct may not always be the good thing it is usually depicted
as, if it drives women to behave like enraged she-bears and clutch
their children at the expense of their fathers' legitimate rights.
did these myths come from, if untrue? Basically, our society developed
a massive emotional desire to believe the worst of divorced fathers.
Then social scientists, despite their pretensions to objectivity
and hard statistics, lamely translated these biases into research
findings. The negative stereotyping of divorced fathers that routinely
appears would get people arrested by the PC police if it were
applied to minorities, women, or any other category of person.
Dr. Braver suggests that our society is experiencing a great deal
of stress over the ongoing decay of the traditional family and
needed to find a scapegoat. Deadbeat dads conveniently appealed
as villains to both feminists and family-values types, guaranteeing
political support and ideological cover on both sides of the aisle.
Conservatives also sought to cultivate respectability with the
liberal bestowers of moral respectability by endorsing the liberal
line (a classic case of the negative consequences of allowing
the Left the moral high ground.) There was also an appeal to a
pseudo-scientific version of sociobiology, which claimed that
it is the nature of males to seek polygamous or serial-monogamous
relationships because of an evolutionary incentive to spread their
DNA around. This has been called the "Darwin made me do it" defense
and raises obvious questions on its own that this is not the place
for. Once again, truth was intimidated out of people by the sheer
self-assertion of liberals who arrogated to themselves the right
to decide which ideas are "offensive." We have got to learn to
simply ignore them, and to use their mistakes on issues like this
one as a battering ram to destroy their credibility. Fortunately,
and partly due to Dr. Braver's research, which was expressed in
a Presidential commission in 1996, the political system is starting
to recognize the necessity of fathers again. For example, more
states are establishing joint custody as the norm.
But the most
disturbing thing Dr. Braver shows has nothing to do with divorced
families per se, but pertains to the shabby standards of social
science research. This research, which forms the picture of society
on which government policy is based, is conducted almost entirely
by liberal academics, and yet is taken by legislatures and courts,
not to mention the general public, as being simply objective truth.
He documents in devastating detail the degree to which sloppy
research standards have opened the door to liberal bias. Properly
disciplined research has epistemological safeguards built in to
protect it from the biases of the researchers. Naturally, this
makes one wonder what other received truths of our society are
myths generated by biased research.
scientists have mangled their research on divorce in a number
of ways. Here are a few:
all studies have been based on what people report to be true,
not on verified tax returns or bank statements.
2. This reporting
hasn't even included the father most of the time.
3. One notorious
study that claimed to show a 73% decrease in maternal incomes
after divorce used income-adjustment figures based on Labor Department
raw data gathered in... 1961!
4. This same
study also measured pre-tax income, not after-tax, ignoring the
fact that child-support is tax-free. (There is also a tax credit
for child care.) Head-of-household mothers are taxed at a lower
rate than now-single divorced fathers, and can claim their children
fathers spend substantial amounts of money on their children beyond
simple child support. They spend significant undocumented amounts
on visitation and buying necessities and other items for their
children. They must maintain larger residences than they would
without children visiting now and then. They bear most visitational
fathers are often ordered to pay for their children's medical
insurance over and above child support. Not only do most studies
not count this, some even falsely assume the mother is paying.
fathers and never-married fathers behave very differently, the
never-marrieds being consistently worse in almost every way. Studies
tend to lump them together.
of the decline in maternal standard-of-living tend to ignore the
fact that after divorce, mothers tend to upgrade their job skills
and otherwise move up the economic ladder, as is the general pattern
over time of the whole population.
9. In the
reams of studies being done about divorced fathers, almost none
of the studies ever asked these fathers why they were abandoning
their children, which the received wisdom claimed they were doing.
Naturally, if they had, they might have found there was no reason,
because they weren't.
No one on
the peer-review committees that oversee the publication of this
research in academic journals, or the giving of grants to fund
it, ever blew the whistle on these errors. The system failed.
But it gets
worse. Many of the bad figures and illogical analyses are from
the Census Bureau – reinforcing the view that, like the National
Endowment for the Arts, the Census Bureau and its budget should
be ruthlessly gutted as soon as possible to restrict it to the
narrow duty prescribed to it by the Constitution and keep it from
spouting liberal nonsense by collecting figures the Constitution
does not authorize it to.
great intellectual villain of divorce mythology is one Prof. Lenore
Weitzman of Harvard University. She was the author of an immensely
influential 1985 study that claimed that after divorce, mothers
experience a 73% drop in their standard of living and fathers
a 42% rise. This study was the basis for several pieces of legislation.
It turns out that her finding was based on a simple misprogramming
of the computer analyzing the data which reveal that mothers end
up with 73% of their former standard of living, (a 27%
drop) not 73% less.
not an innocent "computer error." The computer did what it was
supposed to do; the investigator mangled the result. The idea
that vast policy changes can come from such incompetence is nothing
less than mind-boggling. This incident needs to be treated as
the My Lai of academic social science, which needs to be dethroned
from its privileged position in policy disputes. Dr. Braver, who
investigated this error and gave Prof. Weitzman a chance to respond,
documents her mendacity and evasive behavior throughout this episode,
which ended in her admitting the charges against her, for which
she has never been disciplined.
has chased conservative social scientists who could have blown
the whistle on these shenanigans out of the academy. When will
people learn that having a conservative presence in academia really
does matter? If there had been an adequate number of conservative
sociologists in the academy, someone could have critiqued these
figures when they came out and before they had the chance to mislead
the public and influence policy. Frankly, it is time to start
pruning government funding for sociological research, which always
seems to just prove we need more government spending, and to start
cutting back sociology departments at the universities.
Deadbeat Dads is thus probably the most important work
of conservative social science in a decade, easily in a class
with Charles Murray's Losing Ground.