There is a curious hypocrisy when it comes to unwed mothers. When those mothers are wealthy and/or celebrities, this is seen as a lifestyle choice on the part of the woman, courageous even, boldly taking charge of their own lives and changing society’s attitudes to traditional mores. But when the unwed mother is poor and/or black, it is deplored as if it were yet another sign of the lack of virtue that is presumed to be the cause that keeps them down.
So I was interested in this passage from the new book Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century (2012) by James R. Flynn. Flynn is the social scientist associated with documenting and popularizing the surprising phenomenon that IQ’s have been rising since the early 20th century at a rate of approximately 0.3 points per year. This is now known as the ‘Flynn Effect’.
On page 178 of his book Flynn addresses the issue of so many black women having children out of wedlock:
The black women of America have been castigated for bearing children out of wedlock, as if their social circumstances were identical to those of white women.
For every 100 American non-Hispanic white women of marriageable age, there are 86 promising spouses, that is, men who are alive, not in jail, and worked at least half-time over the previous 12 months. For every 100 Hispanic white women, there are 96 promising spouses, as a result of a huge (and partially illegal) influx of males from South America. For every 100 black women, there are 57 promising spouses, which is to say that almost half of them must either go childless or have a child by a man unpromising as a permanent partner (Flynn, 2008).
Their dilemma is also the product of limited racial intermarriage. In 1900, when Irish-American women found half of Irish-American males dysfunctional, they could marry Swedes, Italians, and even Englishmen. The fact that they could marry out gave them a huge pool of promising partners. Black women are trapped. Indeed, they are net losers from what interracial marriage exists: five black men leave the pool of potential spouses to partner nonblack women, while only two black women find a long-term spouse outside their race (Flynn, 2008). Every generation of black American women face a marriage market worse than that of Russian women after World War II, which left 70 Russian men alive for every 100 women. The USSR accepted that there would be many solo-mother homes. Black American women are given lectures. Their president advises them “not to lie down with any fool,” as if there were enough nonfools to go around.
Lynn (2002a) asserts that the fact that black American women have a more negative attitude toward marriage is a sign of psychosis. Their attitudes are not symptoms of mental illness but recognition of their social circumstances. We may see their plight as a collection of “personal problems,” but that says more about us than about them.
The real problem is not that so many black women are single mothers, but that there are so few black men who make promising life-partners. And note that the bar is extremely low for being considered promising (not in jail and have worked at least half-time over the previous 12 months) so the paucity of men who can clear it is shocking. For white women too, the numbers are not that great.
In Vietnam too, the number of eligible men dropped drastically because of the American invasion of that country and the resulting long war, creating similar pressures on women there who wanted to have children but could not find eligible partners. But the social stigma of being an unwed mother is extremely high in that country. The New York Times reports a moving story of how some courageous women in one small village decided to defy public opprobrium and have the children they wanted, and so they approached men to help them conceive. It was clear that the men would never interact with them afterwards and their paternity would be kept secret. And over time, at least some in the village grudgingly accepted them.