"The Family in America"    Online Edition    [SwanSearch] 

Volume 18  Number 10


October 2004




Time for a new ‘Moynihan Report’?
Confronting the National Family Crisis 

By Bryce Christensen*

*Bryce Christensen teaches at Southern Utah University and is a contributing editor to The Family in America.

Few government documents have stirred more controversy than that first issued in November 1965 by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy Planning, under the title The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.  Identifying “the deterioration of the Negro family” (attributed largely to the baleful heritage of slavery) as “the fundamental source of the weakness of the Negro community at the present time,” the soon-infamous “Moynihan Report” blamed the growing economic, educational, and social problems evident among blacks on a “family structure [that had become] highly unstable, and in many urban centers [was] approaching complete breakdown.”[1]

And because he saw the dynamic of family disintegration accelerating within the black community, Moynihan warned of even worse social consequences in the years ahead.  Pointing to “clear indications that the situation may indeed have begun to feed on itself,” Moynihan declared that “the tangle of pathology is tightening.”  The time had come, Moynihan asserted, for “a national effort towards the problems of Negro Americans ... directed towards the question of family structure.”[2]

Unfortunately, in the years that followed the release of the Moynihan Report, Americans did not witness the national effort it called for to stabilize the black family.  Rather, Americans witnessed a savage and unrelenting attack on the author of the report, accused of having produced a mean-spirited and racist document that blamed victimized blacks for the social misery an unjust American society had inflicted on them.  The report, as one prominent historian has noted, was thus dismissed as “racist propaganda and ... its author as a ‘fascist.’”[3] So hostile and punitive were the reactions to the Moynihan Report that its thesis — that family disintegration gravely threatened black social and economic progress — largely disappeared from public life for decades.

Belatedly, in the Eighties, the Moynihan Report re-emerged, its central argument finally acknowledged as valid and even prescient and its author cleared of the earlier charges of racism and mean-spiritedness.  Ironically, this belated respectability came to the Moynihan Report to a significant degree through the good offices of the one-time press secretary for a President (Johnson) who had pusillanimously refused to act on the Moynihan Report’s recommendations and who had passively looked on while its author endured abuse.  For it was with the much-acclaimed 1986 television documentary The Vanishing Black Family — Crisis in Black America that Bill Moyers largely effected the “resurrection of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s theories about the collapse of family life in creating the cycle of poverty among blacks.”[4] Thus by the late Eighties, it was actually respectable for mainstream media commentators and even politically credentialed liberals to affirm its central arguments.

By the time the Moynihan Report finally won the acceptance it deserved, however, it was tragically too late for the national action it had called for.  By the mid-Eighties, the cycle of black family disintegration that Moynihan could already see beginning to “feed on itself” in the mid-Sixties was so far advanced that it had utterly consumed the normative status of black marriage, especially in inner-city areas.  Between 1960 and 1987, the percentage of black children born out of wedlock rose from 23 percent (a level that seemed alarmingly high to Moynihan) to 62 percent,[5] while during roughly the same period the percentage of black women ages 25 to 29 who were married plummeted from 60 percent to 32 percent.[6]  And just as Moynihan had predicted, this unraveling of the black family incubated a nightmarish brood of social problems — crime, abuse, academic failure, economic distress, homelessness, and physical and mental illness.  Writing in the Nineties, one black scholar thus blamed the tide of black family disintegration that Moynihan had vainly tried to stem for producing a world of “cruelty, immorality, negligence, abuse, and death” for young blacks.[7]  With good reason, social historian David T. Courtwright argues that one of the prime reasons that the Moynihan Report was “politically rehabilitated” in the Eighties was that “so many of its troubling prophecies had come true.”[8]  The real — if rueful — consolation that Moynihan eventually took in the course of events was reflected in the title of a Newsweek article marking the 20th anniversary of his much-maligned report: “Moynihan: ‘I Told You So.’”[9]  Even 15 years after the Newsweek report, social scientist Glenn Loury could still use highly laudatory terms in acknowledging the uncanny accuracy of the Moynihan Report’s predictions:  “If we ask the question today of how the Moynihan Report looks, now we look back 35 years later, I’d have to say it’s looking pretty good.  A fairly prescient piece of social forecasting would, I think, have to be a fair person’s judgment.  I wish I could produce the document that would look as good 35 years from now.”[10]

How strange that Glenn Loury and others heaping belated praise for Moynihan’s 1965 Report do not recognize the urgent need for another “prescient piece of social forecasting,” one addressing the very same sorts of family problems that Moynihan examined — but this time among whites!  For the indices of disintegration that so disturbed Moynihan when he looked at the black family in the mid-Sixties — elevated rates for illegitimacy and divorce, low rates for marriage — are now just as high or higher among whites!  Once again, a few sober observers can see in the cycle of family disintegration — albeit white family disintegration rather than black family disintegration — “clear indications that the situation may indeed have begun to feed on itself,” so creating a new “tangle of pathology [that] is tightening” around a swelling number of whites.  If 1965 was the time for “a national effort towards the problems of Negro Americans ... directed towards the question of family structure,” perhaps 2005 — forty years later — is the time for “a national effort towards the problems of [white] Americans ... directed towards the question of family structure.”

Unfortunately, the few academics and scholars who have so far recognized the real peril in family disintegration among America’s white majority and who have dared to raise their voices in ways even vaguely similar to that in which Moynihan raised his in 1965 (albeit without the visibility accorded to an Assistant Secretary of Labor) have experienced ferocious and mendacious attacks all too reminiscent of those that doomed the Moynihan Report to decades of neglect.  Thus, although the need is acute for a new Moynihan Report addressing the problems among families in the nation’s white majority, such a report is likely to suffer the same fate unless its authors can break through the shroud of dishonest and viciously ideological antifamily commentary. Otherwise, Americans can only anticipate a parade (beginning about 2025) of belatedly perceptive academics praising prescient predictions about the grim consequences of white family disintegration, predictions that were ignored too long to prevent their ugly fulfillment.

To understand both why America urgently needs a new Moynihan Report addressing the needs of white families and why America’s cultural leaders are all too likely to ignore such a report, it is necessary to examine carefully not only the ways in which white family life now resembles black family life in the Sixties, but also the ways in which today’s ideologues and political activists are renewing and extending the same sophistry used in the Sixties to deny the Moynihan Report the fair hearing it so urgently needed.

Black family life has unraveled spectacularly in the decades since Moynihan warned that the self-catalyzing dynamics of family disintegration would indeed accelerate the adverse trends he limned in his 1965 report.  This unraveling has been so dramatic that Americans lacking awareness of historical patterns may simply not recognize just how much weaker black family life is today than it was 40 years ago.  At a time when 7 out of 10 black babies are born out of wedlock, Americans may have forgetten that just one in four black babies were born out of wedlock when Moynihan sounded his alarm.[11]  Similarly, because they now live in a society in which over 6 out of 10 black children live in a single-parent household, Americans today may not recall how much it distressed Moynihan in 1965 that “almost one-fourth of Negro families [were] headed by females.”[12]  And because today less than half of all black women ages 25 to 29 have ever even been married, Americans may not remember that the black marital problem Moynihan worried about in 1965 was a divorce-separation rate that left 1 in 4 ever-married urban black women living “with husbands absent or divorced.”[13]

But the social amnesia that obscures the relative strength of black family life four decades ago may finally prove less dangerous than the cultural amnesia that prevents many Americans from realizing just how radically official elite attitudes toward the Moynihan Report shifted over the years.  Americans — especially younger Americans — may be well aware that the Moynihan Report was so widely respected by 1985 that Moynihan was named to deliver the prestigious Godkin Lecture to commemorate the 20th anniversary of its release, and they may be fully conscious of the high praise accorded it continually (especially after Bill Moyers’s much-acclaimed 1986 documentary belatedly affirming its thesis) until Moynihan’s death in 2003 — and since.

But Americans cognizant of the high respect given the Moynihan Report may know nothing of the fury with which it was denounced upon its initial release nor of the mendacious sophistry used to discredit it.  Upon the release of his document, Moynihan found himself the object of a vicious bombardment of ad hominem attacks: He was, as one historian has noted, “variously accused of racism, of being hung-up on middle-class family norms, or misunderstanding the strength and resiliency of black kin networks ... and, in a famous phrase, of ‘blaming the victim.’”[14]  Confessing that he was “angry ... really angry,” Civil Rights leader James Farmer accused Moynihan of laying the “blame [for] the roots of poverty in the Negro community upon Negroes themselves,” while failing to highlight what is “wrong in an ‘orderly and normal’ white family structure that is weaned on race hatred and passes the word ‘nigger’ from generation to generation.”[15] Leftist critic Frank Riessman complained in the pages of Dissent that in dwelling on “the supposed inadequacies of the Negro family,” Moynihan had ignored the “powerful coping endeavors” blacks had developed through reliance on “the extended, female-based family.”[16]

Picking up a similar theme, feminist Laura Carper defended female-headed black households in the context of “‘Matriarchy’ [as] a cultural formation common to many oppressed people throughout the history of western civilization,” adding in any case that Moynihan had no grounds for objecting to the non-marital sexuality of black males that accompanies black matriarchy, since “it is for the Negro male to determine his sexual and social style.”[17]  Sociologist Herbert Gans lent additional credibility to feminist critiques of the Moynihan report by arguing that “the matriarchal family structure and the absence of a father has not yet been proven pathological, even for the boys who grow up in it. ... [O]ne could argue that at present, the broken and matriarchal family is a viable solution for the Negro lower-class population.”[18]  One prominent feminist went further in attacking the report with the certitude only ideology can provide: “The assumption that Moynihan makes that leadership is necessarily male in our society is not correct.”[19]

It is no wonder that in October 1965, as he surveyed the responses to the Moynihan Report, sociologist Christopher Jencks expressed concern that so many were “irate, and to [his] mind somewhat paranoid.”[20] Looking back at the whole episode 27 years later, journalist Philip Gailey marvels that “there was seemingly no untruth to which some would not subscribe” in their attack on Moynihan.[21]  Writing in 1995, one commentator characterizes Moynihan as the victim of “an armed assault team of social scientists, black and white, [who] set out to discredit [his] findings.”[22] No wonder that at the height of the critical assault Moynihan felt like the victim of medieval executioners: “If my head were sticking on a pike at the South West Gate to the White House grounds,” he wrote, “the impression would hardly be greater.”[23] Indeed, after such an experience Moynihan had solid reason for saying, as he later did, “The liberal left can be as rigid and destructive as any force in American life.”[24]

Predictably, of course, over time most Americans forgot the ferocious destructiveness the liberal-left visited upon the head of Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 and 1966.  For when his report re-emerged from decades of neglect, almost everyone — academics and journalists alike — joined in a chorus of praise and respect.  Writing not long before Moynihan’s death, Jencks (who — to his credit — had been a lonely voice of protest against the ire and paranoia in the initial responses to the Moynihan Report) could see little scholarly dissent from the main points of the Moynihan Report: “Today,” he wrote, “most social scientists would agree with Moynihan’s view that single-parent families really have adverse effects on children and this contributed to the problems of African-American communities in the 1960’s and since.”[25] And Gailey speaks for most journalists in frankly acknowledging that “it appears Moynihan was right,” but then ruefully adding that, largely because of the initial rejection of his report, “we lost a generation ... And every generation makes it more difficult to untie the knot of poverty, social distress, and despair in black America.”[26]

It was, of course, the sheer enormity of black distress and despair that ultimately exposed the dishonesty and fatuity of the arguments initially deployed against the Moynihan Report.  To be sure, a few hardened ideologues have stubbornly held out against the Moynihan thesis, still obdurately arguing against “a white patriarchal (and thus, sexist) model of the family which does not accord with today’s social and economic realities for either African-Americans or Anglos.”[27]  And a few Marxist True Believers still “refuse to seek explanations for the fate of Blacks in White America as somehow a mere reflection of a non-economic force such as family structure.”[28]

But analyst Nicholas Lehmann sees all too clearly why — except among the ideologically blind — “the most refuted document in American history” finally won nearly universal acceptance: “its dire predictions about the poor black family all came true.”[29] Tragically, as the rates for out-of-wedlock black births skyrocketed and rates for black marriage plummeted in the Seventies and Eighties, social scientists saw not evidence for the strength of black matriarchy or for the irrelevance of middle-class morality, but rather massive and sobering justification for Moynihan’s darkest warnings.

The remarkable disintegration of black family life during the Seventies and Eighties plunged much of the black community into a social cesspool of poverty, crime, homelessness, academic and career failure, and physical and mental illness.  The social science research linking black family break-up to black misery is compelling — and depressing.  That research shows, for instance, that the family failure which was putting more and more black children in single-parent households was also condemning more and more black children to lives of grinding poverty.  With good reason, researchers confronting data showing that almost 60% of black children are living in poverty comment that “black children ... pay a high price for the breakdown of the family.”[30]  Underscoring the economic hardship borne by children because of black family failure is a 1989 study showing that “among black families more than 7 out of 10 poor children live in families without a father”[31], coupled with a 1991 study concluding that “changing black family structure in the 1980’s accounted for roughly 65 percent of the increase in official poverty among black children.”[32]  And unfortunately, the chances are slim that poor black children from single-parent households will find their way out of poverty through academic achievement.  Black adolescents from single-parent households are so much more likely to drop out of high school than black peers from married-couple households that a 1989 study established that “differences in family structure account for most of the difference in high school graduation between whites and blacks.”[33]  Even before black children from single-parent families drop out of school, researchers find them earning poorer grades and engaging in more troublesome classroom behaviors than black peers from intact families.[34]

Besides fostering poverty and academic failure, family failure has exposed blacks to significantly elevated risk of physical and mental illnesses,[35] and has sharply increased the likelihood that blacks will compromise their own health or that of their unborn children through the use of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs.[36]

But none of the effects of black family disintegration have been sadder or more calamitous than the loss of tens of thousands of fatherless black males — adolescents and young adults — to lives of street crime.  In their studies of inner-city blacks, sociologists have compiled more than a little evidence that “boys reared in father-absent homes gravitate to gangs and gang activities,” apparently in part because these fatherless boys lack a healthy domestic exemplar of masculine identity and are therefore trying to “demonstrate compensatory masculine development,” a kind of pathological “hypermasculinity” evident in aggressive gang activities.[37]  And the activities of black gangs are rarely restricted by law.  Looking at the ghastly rise in the American homicide rate in the Sixties and Seventies, Courtwright highlights as all-too-representative the 320 percent rise in Cleveland between 1958 and 1974, noting that “most of the slayings were black-on-black ghetto slayings.”  By the early 1990’s, Courtwright further remarks, “there were more black murderers than white murderers, although blacks made up only an eighth of the population.”  In any case, “blacks were on both ends of the gun. ... Most of the killings were of the intraracial player variety, black men killing other black men who were involved in drugs and street life or who had committed violent crimes themselves.”[38]

The firestorm of street crime has not only put a tragically high number of young black men in early graves, but it has also sent a phenomenally high number to prison: by the mid-1990’s, nearly one-third of black men in their twenties were in jail, prison, or other form of correctional supervision!  In Baltimore, over half (57 percent) of black men between the ages of 18 and 35 were reportedly “in prison, on probation or parole, out on bail, or being sought on an arrest warrant.”[39] And although racial prejudice and adverse economic pressures helped foster this eruption of black criminality, the fundamental cause lay exactly where Moynihan located it in 1965: in black family disintegration.  “The root cause of the wave of black inner-city male violence that began building during the 1960’s and 1970’s and rose again in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s,” writes Courtwright, “was the decline of the stable two-parent families and the institution of marriage in the context of an entrenched culture of poverty in an isolated, youthful subsociety with diminishing opportunities and a chronically low gender ratio.”[40]

Any doubts about the causal linkage between the upsurge in black crime and the disintegration of black family life are quickly quelled by investigation of the relevant sociological research.  A careful 1987 study, for instance, established that “black family disruption substantially increases the rate of black murder and robbery, especially by juveniles.”  What is more, the author of this study especially stressed the statistical tie between family breakup and crime: “The effects of family structure are strong and cannot easily be dismissed by reference to other structural and cultural features of urban environment.”[41]  In a similar vein, a 1988 study found that the percentage of single-parent households with teenage children strongly predicted crime rates in a neighborhood regardless of the race of the residents.  The authors of this study further complained that because many of their colleagues had not paid attention to “community family structure,” they had produced studies that seemed to show that blacks are particularly prone to commit crimes, thus “mistakenly attribut[ing] to racial composition an effect that is actually due to the association between race and family structure.”[42]  The need to keep family structure in view when analyzing black crime was made even clearer by a 1987 study of juvenile delinquency finding that “the total effect of broken homes [on juvenile delinquency] is much larger for blacks than nonblacks.”[43]

But if black family dissolution catalyzes black crime, black crime also fosters family dissolution.  For the high rates of homicide and the even higher rates of incarceration leave young urban black women with distressingly few marriage prospects.[44]  Moynihan would not have been surprised.  After all, he already understood in 1965 how “the tangle of pathology [began] tightening” as black family disintegration started to “feed on itself.”

The tangle of family pathology is now so tight in the black community, especially in the inner-city, that it is hard not to despair.  Among young blacks, sociologists now detect a deep “disjunction in both attitude and behavior between childbearing and marriage,” a disjunction so deep that they worry about “the very fabric of relationships between poor black men and women.”[45]

Much of the responsibility for this horrible tear in the black social fabric rests on the heads of liberals and leftists who, as Moynihan came to realize, collectively make up a force as “destructive as any force in American life.”  For it was their destructive force that so discredited the Moynihan Report that government leaders did nothing to stem the tides destroying the black family.  But they bear responsibility for this horrible tear for another and perhaps even more important reason.  For as Jencks has astutely pointed out, the dramatic shift in the Sixties in “elite attitudes toward sex, marriage, divorce, and parenthood” was itself a potent cause of family disintegration among poor blacks. “Couples with neither money nor education,” Jencks remarks, “have always had more trouble keeping their marriages together than more privileged couples.”  Nonetheless, many poor black (and white) couples made the heroic efforts necessary to keep their marriages and families together because their cultural leaders continually told them it was worth doing so.  But in the Sixties prominent figures in law, the media, and entertainment — including those savaging the Moynihan Report — began to send the message that Americans who were “morally superior” looked down not on  “anyone who had a baby without marrying ... [but rather] on anyone who disapproved of unwed mothers.”  When poor blacks began to hear that message from the liberal-left cultural elite, they naturally gave up making heroic efforts to keep their marriages and families together. It was then that black divorce and illegitimacy rates soared.[46] 

Some commentators have suggested that the Moynihan Report fared so poorly because it was “published when the high follies of the 1960’s were in full swing.”[47]  But many of the most zealous younger participants in those Sixties follies have now taken their places in the liberal-left establishment as tenured professors, as senior policymakers in government, and as seasoned commentators in media.  This “long march through the institutions” by young Sixties radicals is not good news for those who care about family life in the United States.  For the cultural prominence now enjoyed by former leaders of the counterculture makes it a very difficult time to create and promulgate the new Moynihan Report the nation desperately needs, focused this time not on the family life of the nation’s black minority but rather on the family life of its white majority.  Indeed, though no definitive government report has yet to emerge, the few brave academics and commentators who have gamely done their best to sound the alarm have discovered that when it comes to family issues, the liberal-left is still as “destructive as any force in American life,” still commands “an armed assault team of social scientists,” and is still rhetorically vicious enough to make those who voice unacceptable truths feel as though their heads had been impaled on a pike.

That family life among whites today resembles family life among blacks in the mid-Sixties, no one who has examined the relevant statistics can deny.  Indeed, Moynihan’s 1965 pronouncement that “the white family has achieved a high degree of stability and is maintaining that stability” counts as one of the few non-prescient statements in his report.  For by 1998, 26% of all white births were out of wedlock, compared to 23% of all black births in 1963, the last year for which Moynihan had statistics when he issued his report.  In 1999, 27% of all white families with children under the age of eighteen were headed by a single parent, compared to 26% of all black families in 1960, the last year for which Moynihan had statistics when he issued his report.  And while Moynihan found the white divorce rate 40 percent lower than the black in 1965, the overall American divorce rate (reflecting chiefly trends among the white majority) has climbed by more than 30 percent just since 1970.[48]  What is more, the overall U.S. marriage rate (again reflecting chiefly trends among the country’s white majority) has dropped by over 40 percent during that same period in a remarkable “retreat from marriage” that startles leading American demographers.[49]  

The resemblance between white family pathologies now and black family pathologies in the Sixties has received very little attention.  But it has not gone entirely unnoticed.  On the 20th anniversary of his report, Moynihan himself recognized that problems associated with family disintegration had “so intensified” that although they were still “obviously worse” among blacks than among whites, these problems had grown “ominous ... for all races.”[50]  Consequently, in 1985 Moynihan “urged adoption of a national policy aimed at saving the American family,” a policy framed “without regard to racial distinctions.”[51]  But Senator Moynihan issued no new report (once burned, twice shy?) and introduced no relevant new legislation; consequently, his comments to the media about the “ominous” state of white family life amounted to the barest blip in the national media — a blip easily ignored by the liberal-left establishment.

No Assistant Secretary of Labor or other prominent official has seen fit to issue the new Moynihan Report that the times so desperately call for.  Therefore, the peril of family disintegration in the nation’s white majority still has not received the public attention it demands.  A few social scientists, it is true, have tried to alert the general public to the disturbing implications of recent trends in white family life.[52]  Even more important, a group of notable scholars (including law professor Mary Ann Glendon, sociologists David Popenoe and Norval Glenn, political scientists Jean Bethke Elshtain and William Galston, and historians Martin Marty and Allan Carlson) formed a Council on Families in America and issued a manifesto entitled Marriage in America: A Report to the Nation, in which they warn of the “insupportable social costs,” especially “the deteriorating well-being of children,” resulting from the increasingly pervasive “culture of divorce and unwed motherhood” in mainstream (that is, white) America.[53]

Marriage in America is probably the closest thing Americans have yet seen to a new Moynihan Report warning of the dire consequences of family disintegration in the nation’s white majority.  But compared to the original Moynihan Report, it has received little attention.  Lacking the bully pulpit given prominent federal officials, the courageous handful of scholars trying to raise public consciousness of the great dangers all Americans — white as well as black — face because of family disintegration have yet to capture the public spotlight they deserve.

Still, even laboring in relative obscurity, these scholars have provoked a remarkably strong and hostile response from a liberal-left establishment fiercely determined to prevent the general public from hearing or taking seriously their warning about the social costs of family decay in America’s social mainstream. Feminist Stephanie Coontz, for instance, has accused such scholars of falling into “the nostalgia trap” and has indicted them for lacking “tolerance for alternative family forms.”[54]  Psychologists Louise B. Silverstein and Carl F. Auerbach allege that such scholars have advanced “a pseudoscientific rationale for defining nontraditional families as deficient” and for promulgating “the claim that there is one family structure, that is, the two-parent heterosexual married family that [is] best for children.”[55]  Social scientists Mary Jo Bane and George Masnick can see only one reason for “resistance to changes in our households and families”: ignorance.  Those who resist such changes evince a “genuine lack of understanding of what is happening and why.”[56]  In the same spirit, researchers David Schulz and Stanley Rodgers compare those worried about “the survival of the nuclear family” with 19th-century physicists unable to outgrow the primitive conception of “the atom as the elemental building block of the universe.”[57] In a more mean-spirited vein, historian Paul Berman sees the reactionary spirit of those who resisted Brown v. Board of Education at work among those who have persisted in “counting up the numerous downsides” of family change instead of celebrating how these changes have made “women ... freer to pursue careers outside the home” and how these changes have allowed “homosexuality ... to be looked on by a great many people as an ordinary sexual orientation, instead of something shameful, sinful, et cetera.”[58]

Quite understandably, sociologist Norval Glenn has marveled at the ferocity of the attacks on those asserting that family life is in dangerous decline in the American mainstream (that is, among the white majority), seeing in these attacks “a vehemence uncharacteristic of most intellectual and academic debate.”[59]  In such attacks, sociologist David Popenoe finds reasons to grieve that colleagues will go to “sad, even heartrending ... lengths ... to distort the overwhelming evidence and undeniable truths” about the traditional family as they “serve their own agendas.”[60]

But the mendacity and ferocity of the response would surprise no one familiar with what happened to Moynihan in the Sixties.  To be sure, Berman stands almost alone in raising the charge of racism so often brandished against Moynihan. But the Berman analogy linking contemporary resistance to family change to Fifties-era resistance to racial progress defies logic and reason.  Those trying to check the erosion of family life among whites, after all, are not trying to keep it from resembling family life among the blacks in 1950 when illegitimate births accounted for less than 18% of all black births and when only 4 in 1000 black women headed a single-parent family.[61]  And they are working just as hard to prevent white family life in contemporary America from resembling white family life in contemporary Iceland or Sweden as they are to keep it from resembling black family life in contemporary America.  For though it has received almost no play in the media, even the generous welfare states of Scandinavia have not been able to fully prevent unmarried Scandinavian women and their children from experiencing “substantially lower economic status than two-parent households,”[62] nor prevent fatherless Scandinavian children from developing significantly more educational and psychological problems than peers from intact families.[63]  What is more, in relying on the welfare state to mitigate the effects of family failure, Scandinavian policymakers have fostered more family failure, so increasing the number of women and children suffering the sad consequences.  Popenoe — a scholar of family life in Sweden as well as America — remarks that whenever Swedish authorities have enlarged the welfare state to compensate for family failure, “the very acceleration of welfare-state power weakened the family still further. ... The effect of welfare states on the family may thus be viewed as a ‘cultural contradiction’: while assisting families in pursuit of the goal of social welfare, actions of the welfare state unwittingly helped to undermine the achievement of that very goal.”[64]

No, the fight against American family disintegration finally has nothing to do with whether the families in peril are white or black.  But that fight has everything to do with social health.  If the next generation of Americans is watching a television documentary in 2025 called the Vanishing White Family — Crisis in White America, that social health will be long gone.  And no amount of belated praise for Moynihan’s 21st-century epigones will bring it back.


1  Daniel Patrick Moynihan, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, in The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy, ed. Lee Rainwater and William L. Yancey (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1967), 51.

2  Ibid., 91, 93.

3  William Manchester, The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1974), 2:1297.

4 Cf. Howard Fineman, “Family Affairs: The Next Political Battleground?” Newsweek 17 Feb. 1986: 31.

5  Cf. Christopher Jencks, “Is the American Underclass Growing?” in The Urban Underclass, ed. Christopher Jencks and Paul E. Peterson (Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1991), 28-100.

6  Cf. Robert D. Mare and Christopher Winship, “Socioeconomic Change and the Decline of Marriage for Blacks and Whites,” in The Urban Underclass, op. cit., 175-196.

7  LaWanna K. Gunn, “Is the Black Family Falling Apart?” Journal of Social and Behavioral Sciences 36 (1995): 107-115.

8  David T. Courtwright, Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 230.

9  Mark Starr with Jerry Buckley, “Moynihan: ‘I Told You So,’” Newsweek 22 April 1985: 30.

10 Quoted in “The Moynihan Report: Where Politics and Sociology Collide,” in The First Measured Century, segment for 1960-2000, sost Ben Wattenburg, Public Broadcasting System, 16 September 2004 http://www.pressroom.com/ ~afrimale/moynihan.htm>.

11 Cf. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2000, table 85, 21 Sept. 2004 http://www.census.gov/prod/www/statistical-abstract-us.html; Moynihan, The Negro Family, op. cit., 105.

12 Cf. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract, op cit., table 64; Moynihan, The Negro Family, op. cit., 55.

13 Cf. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract, op cit., table 149; Moynihan, The Negro Family, op. cit., 52.

14 Courtwright, op. cit., 230.

15 James Farmer, “The Controversial Moynihan Report” [18 Dec. 1965], in The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy, op cit., 410.

16 Frank Riessman, “In Defense of the Negro Family” [March-April 1966], in The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy, op cit., 475.

17 Laura Carper, “The Negro Family and the Moynihan Report” [March-April 1966], in The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy, op cit., 471, 474.

18 Herbert J. Gans, “The Breakdown of the Negro Family: The ‘Moynihan Report’ and Its Implications for Federal Civil Rights Policy” [October 1965], in The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy, op cit., 450-451.

19 Quoted in “Opposition in Permanent Government,” in The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy, op cit., 186.

20 Christopher Jencks, “The Moynihan Report” [October 1965], in The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy, op cit., 444.

21 Philip Gailey, “‘A generation lost’ Series,” St. Petersburg Times, 9 February 1992, 2D.

22  “The Moynihan Report: 30 Years Later and Counting,” Issues & Views Winter 1995 8 Sept. 2004 http://www.issues-views.com.

23 Quoted in Nicholas Lemann, “Postscript: Daniel Patrick Moynihan,” The New Yorker 21 September 2004, 22 September 2004 http://www.newyorker.com.

24 Quoted in Les Kinsolving, “Remembrance: Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan,” World Net Daily 1 April 2003, 22 Sept. 2004 http://www.worldnetdaily.com.

25 Quoted in “The Moynihan Report: Where Politics and Sociology Collide,” op. cit.

26 Gailey, op. cit.

27 Cited in Eddie Reeves, “Magazine focuses on social ailments of Black families,” Austin American Statesman 5 August 1989: A21.

28 Cf. Sidney Willhelm, “The Economic Demise of Blacks in America: A Prelude to Genocide?” Journal of Black Studies 17 (1986): 201-254.

29 Quoted in Sally Johnson, Rev. of The Promised Land: The Black Migration and How It Changed America by Nicholas Lehmann and Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work and the Family from Slavery to the Present by Jacqueline Jones, Department of History, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs 8 Sept. 2004 http://web.uccs.edu/history/samples/johnson.html.

30 Daniel T. Lichter and Nancy S. Condale, “Parental Work, Family Structure, and Poverty among Latino Children,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 57 (1995): 346-354.

31 James P. Smith, “Children Among the Poor,” Demography 26 (1989): 235-248.

32 David J. Eggebeen and David T. Lichter, “Race, Family Structure, and Changing Poverty Among American Children,” American Sociological Review 56 (1991): 801-817.

33 Gary D. Sandefur, Sara McLanahan, and Roger A. Wojtkiewicz, “Race and Ethnicity, Family Structure, and High School Graduation,” Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Paper No. 893-89, University of Wisconsin — Madison, August 1989.

34 Cf. Tom Luster and Harriette Pipes McAdoo, “Factors Related to the Achievement and Adjustment of Young African-American Children,” Child Development 65 (1994): 1080-1094.

35 Cf. Catherine K. Reissman and Naomi Gerstel, “Marital Dissolution and Health,” Social Science and Medicine 20 (1985): 627; John Guidubaldi and Helen Gleminshaw, “Divorce, Family Health, and Child Adjustment,” Family Relations 34 (1985): 35-41; David R. Williams, David T. Takeuchi, and Russell K. Adair, “Marital Status and Psychiatric Disorders Among Blacks and Whites,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 33 (1992): 140-157; Paul R. Amato, “Parental Absence During Childhood and Depression in Later Life,” The Sociological Quarterly 32 (1991): 543-556.

36 Cf. Gilbert J. Bolvin et al., “Predictors of Cigarette Smoking Among Inner-City Minority Youth,” Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 15 (1994): 67-73; Frederick D. Harper, “Alcohol and Black Youth: An Overview,” The Journal of Drug Issues 18.1 (1988): 7-14; John M. Wallace, Jr. and Jerald G. Buchman, “Explaining Racial/Ethnic Differences in Adolescent Drug Use: The Impact of Background and Lifestyle,” Social Problems 38 (1991): 333-352; Mark S. Scher et al., “The Effects of Prenatal Alcohol and Marijuana Exposure,” Pediatric Research 24 (1988): 101-105.

37 Michael E. Connor, “Teenage Fatherhood: Issues Confronting Young Black Males,” in Young, Black, and Male in America: An Endangered Species, ed. Jewelle Taylor Gibbs (Dover: Auburn House, 1988), 195; Patricia Moran and Allan Barclay, “Effects of Fathers’ Absence in Delinquent Boys: Dependency and Hypermasculinity,” Psychological Reports 62 (1988): 115-121.

38 Courtwright et al., 221, 226.

39 Ibid., 227.

40 Ibid, 244.

41 Robert J. Sampson, “Urban Black Violence: The Effect of Male Joblessness and Family Disruption,” American Journal of Sociology 93 (1987): 348-382.

42 Douglas A. Smith and G. Roger Jarjoura, “Social Structure and Criminal Victimization,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 25.1 (1988): 27-52.

43 Ross L. Matsueda and Karen Heimer, “Race, Family Structure, and Delinquency: A Differential Association and Social Control Theories,” American Sociological Review 52 (1987): 826-840.

44 Cf. Gary L Rolison, “Black, Single-Female-Headed Family Formation in Large U.S. Cities,” The Sociological Quarterly 33 (1992): 473-480.

45 Naomi Farber, “The Significance of Race and Class in Marital Decisions Among Unmarried Adolescent Mothers,” Social Problems 37 (1990): 51-63.

46 Christopher Jencks, “Deadly Neighborhoods,” Rev. of The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass and Public Policy by William Julius Wilson, The New Republic 13 June 1988: 28-29, emphasis added.

47 “The Moynihan Report: 30 Years Later and Counting,” op. cit.

48 Cf. Moynihan, The Negro Family, op. cit., 50, 57, 105; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract, op cit., tables 64, 85.

49 Cf. Moynihan, The Negro Family, op. cit., 55; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract, op cit., table 144; Robert Schoen, “The Continuing Retreat from Marriage,” Sociology and Social Research 71 (1987): 108-109.

50 Cf. David E. Rosenbaum, “Moynihan Reassessing Problems of Families,” New York Times 7 April 1985, Sec.1, 1.

51 Cf. Starr with Bailey, op.cit.

52 See, for instance, David Popenoe, “The Breaking of the Family: Can We Reverse the Trend?” USA Today Magazine May 1991: 50-53.

53 Cf. Council on Families in America, Marriage in America: A Report to the Nation, New York City, 1995.

54 Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (New York: Basic, 1992), 1-3, 225.

55 Louise B. Silverstein and Carl F. Auerbach, “Continuing the Dialogue About Fathers and Families,” American Psychologist June 2000: 683-684.

56 Mary Jo Bane and George Masnick, The Nation’s Families: 1960-1990 (Cambridge: Joint Center for Urban Studies of MIT and Harvard University, 1980), 1-2.

57 David A. Schulz and Stanley F. Rodgers, Marriage, the Family and Personal Fulfillment, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1980), 206-207.

58 Paul Berman, “50/50: The 50 Biggest Changes in the Last 50 Years, The Home and Family,” American Heritage August/September 2004: 16-17.

59 Norval Glenn, “A Plea for Objective Assessment of the Notion of Family Decline,” Journal of Marriage and Family 55 (1993): 543.

60 David Popenoe, “Ideology Trumps Social Science,” American Psychologist June 2000: 679.

61 Cf. Moynihan, The Negro Family, op. cit., 105; Roger A. Wojtkiewicz, Sara McLanahan, and Irwin Garfinkel, “The Growth of Families Headed by Women: 1950-1980,” Demography 27 (1990): 19-30.

62 Annemette Sorensen, “Women’s Risk and the Economic Position of Single Mothers,” European Sociological Review 10 (1994): 173-188.

63 Aina Siksna, “Educational and Emotional Problems in Students in Sweden,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 23 (1988): 262-263.

64 Cf. David Popenoe, Disturbing the Nest: Family Change and Decline in Modern Societies (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1988), 168-187, 196-197, 226, 237-239.





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