Matthew Sanders: Focusing on single vs. married is the wrong battle

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16 2013 12:30 a.m. MST

The rise in single motherhood, particularly among women younger than 30, results in many challenges, not the least of which rest on the shoulders of courageous single women. Conversely, by forming families through marriage and having children in a stable family, parents invest in children in ways that will benefit the whole of society, including singles without children. By having children, parents add to the supply of labor and human capital, something singles don't have to shoulder but from which they benefit.

For instance, the very Social Security and health systems that the authors argue present unfair costs to singles are very dependent upon a growing labor supply to fund a pay-as-you-go and pooled risk systems. Children also represent the future tax base for funding local, state and federal government.

It is not a particularly challenging logical or mathematical leap to understand why government provides incentives for marriage and family formation. One only has to look to countries that are not replacing older generations like Japan to conclude that population slowing is very, very costly and disruptive. So, singles should be thankful to married couples willing to form and foster families and invest in children, who will eventually shoulder the burden of future taxes and social services.

Families with children also provide markets for consumer goods and major expenses that diversify the economy and jobs. Much has been made politically of "Soccer Moms." An estimated 5 million soccer balls sell in the United States each year at an average price of $15, generating around $75 million in sales revenue — with a healthy portion destined for child soccer leagues. Involved in that product alone is an extensive domestic and global value chain of goods that may involve employees in leather, rubber, paint, stitching, manufacturing, plastics, cardboard packaging, import/export, logistics and shipping, finance, accounting, marketing, advertising, construction and retail sectors. Now consider the myriad daily and weekly goods purchased by families for children, and the picture of the benefits to an economy from a growing population begin to emerge.

Third problem: Class conflict

While the flaws in Arnold and Campbell's analysis are perplexing, what is more disappointing is the tone they've introduced to a significant social challenge. They anchor their entire argument around a "zero sum game" mentality or an "us versus them" mentality, which naturally leads to classifications and conflict.

Women in our society and economy have made tremendous, courageous progress in the past century, including those single and married. It is true and should be acknowledged that singles in American society contribute to the economy, charities and communities in new and interesting ways. But it is also true that the deliberate choice to marry and parent children contributes to well-being worldwide. Thus, it is a mistake to pit single women against married women.

The authors also confuse the issue of discrimination. While I applaud their endeavors to shine a light on the needs of a meaningful segment of our society, to argue that society discriminates against singles is remarkable.

First, they are growing in number, voice and economic position in society on all levels. Second, as they argue on their blog onely.org repeatedly, being a committed, happy single is an individual lifestyle choice. Accordingly, the commitment of marriage and family is made by other individuals. That single individuals enjoy both economic mobility and can move from one status to another based on free will confounds their discrimination argument. To argue that child-friendly tax policies discriminate against singles is akin to the table-grape industry claiming they're penalized because a new movie studio gets a tax break.

What is clearly true, and is abundantly clear from the authors' other writings, is that being single in communities organized around families, family activities and marriage-dominated holidays and norms can generate feelings of discomfort and disenfranchisement among singles. Married couples, families and employers should strive to be more sensitive to the needs of singles and the remarkable, deliberate and vibrant contributions they make to society. Likewise, singles should acknowledge the substantial individual and social benefits they derive from those committed to forming families and investing in the next generation.

There is much to be learned from one another, but let us not devolve into class conflict.

Matthew studied economics at Brigham Young University and business and government at Harvard University. He is a GM at Deseret Digital Media where he oversees Deseret Connect and Deseret News Service. msanders@deseretnews.com or @Sanders_Matt

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