The Problem: Sad Women & Baby Daddies; The Answer: Sexual Stigmas?

In an article that came out yesterday, a columnist mused on a recent study (by […]

In an article that came out yesterday, a columnist mused on a recent study (by two economists at the National Bureau of Economics Research–the most boring club in Cambridge, MA, except when Larry Summers shows up) that showed women to be unhappier than men across the board–rich or poor, black or white, punk or prep. Here’s what the study’s authors say: 


“By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries.”

In other words, things are better for women than they used to be, but their happiness is declining.

Why? The columnist offers some possible answers. But he ultimately lands on the fact that there are more and more single mothers out there, and that the single parenting gig is, if I may be a little faux-folksy here, a tough row to hoe. He writes that “the steady advance of single motherhood threatens the interests and happiness of women.” Now there’s an understatement.

What’s really interesting is what he says next. How to reduce single motherhood-ism? Public policy will only get you so far, he says. Instead, “some kind of social stigma is a necessity.” We used to have a stigma that ostracized the “fallen woman,” he notes, and that this kept a lid on what we have today. The problem, he rightly observes, was that it was unfair because it was one-sided and misogynistic: all the stigma was on women. What we need now, he says, is “a social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the ‘fallen women’ of a more patriarchal age.” So, instead of unfairly making women feel bad for being single moms (and this stigma is still very real, I might add), we should create real social pressure on men who father these children–either outside marriage or those who father children within marriage, but then divorce their wives.

Is he right? Would this kind of social stigma work?

We talk a lot on this blog about God’s Law, and how we are unable to follow it. The key idea here (primarily from St. Paul’s writings in the New Testament) is that the Law actually produces rebellion. That’s why there are stereotypes of pastor’s kids being the biggest troublemakers (like Rev. Lovejoy’s daughter on The Simpsons). And that’s why in the Old Testament, Israel always rejected God’s prophets. But there do seem to be some very powerful social pressures that actually do compel people’s behavior, positively or negatively. (Think about: smoking, Crocs, high school, fur, anorexia, and Rush Limbaugh.) So would a social stigma against baby-daddies work? How would it affect men’s behavior?