The Right-Wing Solution to Poverty: An MRS Degree

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Successful MarriageHey ladies! Feeling down? Upset that your earning potential is only ¾ of what a man would make doing your job? Wondering how you can earn more and become a happier, more productive member of society?

Then you’re in luck! Conservatives have the solution to all your woes (and our societal woes as well.) It’s easy: Step 1, Find a man; Step 2, get married ASAP.

Feeling better? I didn’t think so…

The Heritage Foundation – part of the massive network of big-money conservative groups with ties to the Koch Brothers and organizations like Americans for Prosperity, ALEC, and New Mexico’s very own Rio Grande Foundation which frequently hosts Heritage Foundation “scholars” to promote conservative ideologies – had a conference Monday to celebrate Women’s History Month. Though the Heritage Foundation is notorious for advancing extreme, out-of-touch conservative policies and ideas, its latest is right out of an episode of Mad Men.

A panel of women at the Foundation’s event wanted to make sure women know how much feminism has hurt them and how effective a return to 1950’s-style gender roles would be. Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Post article about the retrograde revolution the Heritage Foundation is espousing:

“We’re gathered to celebrate Women’s History Month, but I don’t celebrate Women’s History Month,” announced writer Mona Charen, one of the panelists. “It doesn’t interest me whether a person who happens to share my chromosomes sits in the Oval Office. It doesn’t interest me how many women members of the Senate there are.”

What interests Charen and the other women on the stage is their belief, as Charen put it, that “feminism has done so much damage to happiness.” And the solution to this damage, it turns out, is matrimony — the same thing that will solve problems such as income inequality and the Republican Party’s standing among women.

“We should show concern for everybody by extending the marriage franchise to everybody,” panelist Mollie Hemingway proposed. “Everybody go out, right now, go get married if you’re not married,” she said to laughter, “and we should be able to solve all these problems.”

Though you might be rolling your eyes and wondering how women (and the mostly male audience they were speaking to) could believe such things in 21st Century America, their ideas are actually mainstream within contemporary conservatism. You might even remember the recent outcry over New Mexico’s own Woman Can Open It

Instead of focusing on how women need better access to birth control and family planning services (which would reduce single-parent families) or how a stronger social safety net (and better education) would reduce the number of women in poverty, the only solution to these social problems conservatives can muster is a return to a time when the highest position a women could hope for was an MRS degree and a bundle full of kids.

As usual, the “data” behind such claims confuses correlation with causation in an attempt to fit the square-peg of their specious arguments into the round hole of reality. A New Mexico-specific Heritage Foundation report from a few years back claimed that the number one way to reduce poverty was…marriage. The report claims that because single-parent families tend to be low-income, heterosexual marriage would reduce such poverty. Here’s their report’s main conclusion:

The higher poverty rate among single-mother families [in New Mexico] is caused by two factors: (1) the lower income caused by the absence of the father from the home, and (2) the lower average education levels among single mothers.

At least they acknowledge that education levels are a factor – the problem is their insistence that heterosexual marriage is a cure-all for social woes like poverty. This conservative tack is, of course, undergirded by the erroneous belief that “welfare mothers” are gaming the system by having multiple children just so they don’t have to work and can continue to receive government assistance. As ThinkProgress points out:

Overall, those who use public assistance have the same average family size as those who don’t. There’s little evidence that low-income women on welfare are having far more children than those who aren’t enrolled.

While it’s true that the poverty rate is far higher for single parents than for married couples, that doesn’t necessarily mean that getting married is the answer. It can leave low-income women more unstable and worse off financially. What they really need is better access to contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies and a much stronger social safety net to help them raise the children they do have.

As Republicans attempt to revamp their image (with women, Hispanics, and youth – three groups they’re notoriously bad at wooing) they might want to rethink their insistence on taking women’s rights back sixty years. Younger people, in particular, have radically different conceptions of what healthy relationships are than did their parents. For example, just 26% of Millennials are married – in contrast to 48% of Baby Boomers and 65% of the Silent Generation at the same age. Millennials also value parenthood over marriage and “are less likely than adults ages 30 and older to say that a child needs a home with both a father and mother to grow up happily and that single parenthood and unmarried couple parenthood are bad for society.”

Dana Milbank, the author of the Washington Post article mentioned above, summarizes the nostalgic conservative insistence on heterosexual marriage nicely:

Essentially, they’re saying that Republicans aren’t the ones who need to change — women are…If Republicans want to appeal to more unmarried women, they might reconsider the no-exception opposition to abortion and, increasingly, birth control that dominates the party.

Welcome to the 21st Century!