On a long drive from Portland to the Bay Area the other day, I was flipping through some news articles and noticed Olga Khazan’s article entitled, “The Luxury of Waiting for Marriage to Have Kids” on The Atlantic. As a sociologist thinking about families and marriage, the titled piqued my interest and I began to read.
In the article, Khazan cites famous sociologist of the family Andrew Cherlin in arguing some not-so-new ideas about having children and marriage which kinda sounded like this: college-educated people because they’re college-educated plan their lives and wait to marry and wait to have kids. Implicitly, the article is arguing that because college-educated people are more educated they are able to think in the long-term, plan their lives and live happily ever after.
It’s sociology like this that I find problematic. Sure, these might be objective arguments backed by statistics but what this article does (and normative sociology like this does) is to normalize a theory of the culture of poverty (See Moynihan 1965, O. Lewis 1966) when it has long been defunct and criticized (See Stack 1974, H. Lewis 1971) It explains poverty or lack of access to education as a constraint of the “cultures” of the poor, as in their culture of having children early or not marrying at all. This kind of rhetoric crops up to fails to help a collective social imagination connect structural inequality, instead it leaves the burden of non-normative families to families themselves.
What frustrates me even more about these types of “the poor is poor because their poor” narratives is that it fails to incorporate any type of race analysis into its explanation of who is getting married and why. Sociologists have long showed that families of color have used so many different types of family formations to thrive (See Dill, Coontz, Stack, Nakano Glenn) under conditions of racism, discrimination, migration and poverty.
Further, this article upholds a heternomative view that the nuclear, pair marriage family is the gold standard that can be the only type of family that can produce good people in this world. The consequences for proliferating this type of argument is not only dangerous but limiting and harmful to millions of family that operate and thrive with chosen families, adoptive families, fictive and extended kin, non-married families, etc.
Sociologists who forward and popularize these normative narratives and arguments don’t quite understand that from their university institutions, behind their glossy computer screens, in interviews with writers from big-time national magazines, the luxury of reproducing inequality considerably invisibilizes millions of people who are creatively “doing family” and raising beautiful families.