Robert Samuelson Picks Up Misrepresented Claims on Single Parents from "Liberal" Third Way

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Monday, 15 April 2013 04:25

The Washington think tank Third Way has managed to make a lot of news lately by misrepresenting its research. It put out a paper by David Autor and Melanie Wasserman with some tentative results concerning the impact on children of growing up without a father present in the household. The paper found weak evidence that boys were less likely to graduate college under such circumstances, while girls were less affected. While the piece itself notes the tentative nature of this finding (the impact of growing up in a rural household on college graduation rates was equally strong), Third Way touted this "startling discovery." (Fans of this finding are no doubt troubled by same sex marriage, since it implies that boys raised by lesbian couples will be less likely to graduate college.)

Anyhow, Robert Samuelson naturally picks up on this finding to warn us about our future in a piece titled "family meltdown." Complaining about single parent families is old news, as is the growth of single parent families. (The increase in single parent households was largely a story of the 60s and the 70s. The percentage of children being raised in a household with just one parent has been relatively stable over the last quarter century.) What is new is that this complaint is coming from "a liberal think tank" rather than conservatives like Charles Murray.

It is not clear what makes Third Way liberal. It has called for cutting Social Security, focusing on deficit reduction at the expense of economic growth, and taken a variety of other positions that are not ordinarily associated with being liberal. There is nothing wrong with an organization adopting eclectic positions on issues, but it is certainly misleading for it then to be described as "liberal." Samuelson's description of Third Way may lead readers to believe that there is a consensus on the societal risks posed by his family meltdowns which is not at all true.