Saturday, June 18, 2005

Sociology: Study Ties State Laws, Unwed Child Births

Tough child support laws may dissuade men from becoming unwed fathers, as states with the most stringent laws and strict enforcement have up to 20 percent fewer out-of-wedlock births, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Washington and Columbia University said Friday that child support laws' power to reduce single parenthood is an unintended consequence of a policy designed to help children and cut public welfare costs.

"Often the unintended effects are bad, so it's refreshing to see that," said lead study author Robert Plotnick, a University of Washington professor of public affairs. "Women living in states that do a better job of enforcing child support are less likely to become an unwed mother."
I'd like a bit of subset analysis on this study, as I imagine that first-child husbandry isn't affected much at all by these sorts of laws. Now, a guy would surely think twice the second time around when he knows his pocketbook is going to get nailed if he doesn't put that condom on. However, I also wonder if women in these states are placed under excessive pressure by their husbands to have abortions they may not want to have, as the father would have greater financial fiscal interest in pushing such an abortion.

As a primary purpose, laws which demand child support have no excuse for laxity. But we do live in a doublethink society, even in the liberal realm. The liberal (and my personal) push allows women to have absolute control over their bodies and their reproductive rights. As a baseline, progression towards that ideal is positive.

But feminists and gender studies folk have little answer for the male role in all of this other than ignoring it. Is it proper that a man loses all control over his reproductive rights the moment his sperm leaves his body? Should a man who would choose an abortion for a child, if it were his decision, be liable to pay child support?

The answer, as a necessity to the child's well-being, seems to be a resounding yes. But I think we disservice ourselves if we believe we are making absolute progress of equality by merely negating male control over reproduction and transferring it wholly to the female realm. History has places the ball unfairly in the court of masculinity, and that's tragic in and of itself. But simple reverse unfairness doesn't quite seem to be the ideal either.

To summarize any convolution, practical matters demand that any man who contributes to the a child entering into the world should be prepared to take at least financial responsibility for that child's well-being. But, as intellectuals, we should be well aware of the dissonance this creates as we advocate for the advancement of the rights of women to include absolute control over her reproductive potential.

Women still have a long way to go, and I don't mean to imply any hesitancy towards advancing the rights of women. But I imagine that if women are finally given full control over their own bodies, there will be new issues to tackle regarding the diminished role of the male. Those issues currently are moot, and tossed around by social conservatives often enough, as women aren't anywhere close to where they need to be. But if we're all lucky, these are issues we will one day have to address.

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