Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Responding to criticism that goes beyond mere dismissal - there's not much of it

On the back of the release of Child Poverty and Family Structure on Monday, I had a busy day talking to media, dealing with e-mails, etc.

The attacks started around midday from the likes of Nigel Latta, Max Rashbrooke, Susan St John, Marama Davidson  and Janet Wilson. In a nutshell, after much uncomplimentary preamble, Latta said "... correlation does not equal causation". Rashbrooke said my stats were high school level. Green MP, Marama Davidson said I had misinterpreted  the statistics and NewstalkZB panelist Janet Wilson said Bob McCoskrie had made me write stuff I didn't believe.

Susan St John is the only one who has chosen to actually argue against elements of the report.

So I am going to respectfully address her objections.

"To say that parental breakup is the prime cause of child poverty is a bit like saying spots are the prime cause of measles."

The report says that sole parent families are the poorest in NZ (quoting MSD). It identifies the various pathways into sole parenthood, with especial attention given to those females who are single parents from the time of their child's birth (sole parents from the get-go as Larry Williams puts it). 2015 birth registration data showed 5% of babies had no father details recorded, and a further 15% had fathers with different residential addresses to the mothers. This is further reflected in 17.5% of babies born last year being reliant on welfare by the end of the year. At no point in the report did I say "parental breakup is the prime cause of child poverty."

"We can agree with her that sole parents and their children have higher rates of child poverty compared to married or defacto couples with children.  But around 50% of poor children come from two parent households."

Again I address this in the report saying,

While child poverty also occurs among two parent families, its severity and longevity tend to differ, primarily because two parent families generally derive their income from the market which is subject to fluctuations; single parents are more likely to derive their income from a benefit which is reasonably static and not subject to market fluctuations. Ironically, while benefit income is more secure, market income is more likely to improve over time. Sometimes a reported low annual income can mask a family’s financially stronger position when home ownership and savings are accounted for. But home ownership rates are also low among single parents. In 2001 only 9.7%
of single parent householders owned their own home. The largest group of homeowners was couple-with-children at 42%.
When debt ratios – dollars of debt versus every $100 dollars of assets – are measured, single parents have $56 for three or more children whereas couples have $18 for three or more children. 18
 St John continues:
It is deeply offensive to read this:
“It is not the intention of this paper to explore at length why marriage has fallen out of favour with most social science academics and policy-makers. The aim has been to show that marriage provides the best economic environment for raising children. The evidence is overwhelming and incontrovertible.“
Apart from the blanket statement that marriage is best when often it clearly is not, her snipe at left wing academics is misplaced.
Marriage does provide the best economic environment. I demonstrate it with the statistics extracted from customised Census 2013 data. I couldn't doctor that data. St John continues,
"Thinkers on the left favour strong, caring, mature relationships of equals. The left reject the limitations of traditional marriages where the woman is assumed to be dependent on the man. Parents who are respectful and caring of each other do provide a good environment for children- this can often be found in ‘unwed’ groups,  but is too often not found in those who are traditionally  ‘wed’. "

All the paper differentiates between is sole parent families, cohabiting families and legally married families; their incomes and, in the case of two parent relationships, propensity to separate over time (though I do briefly comment on the increasing incidence of dual earner families with children, adding to household income inequality - these are hardly 'woman dependent on man' families.)

"Lindsay Mitchell wants to claim child poverty is caused by marriage dissolution at the same time as she claims policy encourages that dissolution because separated couples are better off on welfare."

It took me a while to sort this one out. What the report says is that benefit settings incentivised separations if a mother preferred to get an income in her own name because 1/ it would match her partner's unemployment benefit and 2/ she won't have to share it. But it'll still be a low welfare income leaving her and the children around or below the poverty threshold.

"What exactly does Lindsay Mitchell want here? Less welfare? Policy implications of this report might be taken that she intends a reduction in the safety net yet further to limit ‘incentive to separate’ and to further stigmatize the unwed. These moves would be extremely dangerous. It is best to accept the world the way it is, rather than make policy for the world the way family values ideologues think it ought to be."

The report did not suggest any policy solutions. The only suggestions are St John's.

(On this post I won't publish any borderline comments.)


Jim Rose said...

You must have picked a nerve to get so much attention. Well done.

The reasons why marriage is not a desirable option among low skilled are complicated but he is a stab

Anonymous said...

When SJ finds something "deeply offensive" you know she's caught up in ideology rather than facts. Typical leftie.


Psycho Milt said...

At no point in the report did I say "parental breakup is the prime cause of child poverty."

But it's much easier to rebut it if she pretends that you did. Either it's that or incompetence - I noticed that a lot of the comments on the Stuff thread assumed the report was claiming that marriage was some kind of inoculation against poverty, which demonstrates the commenters didn't have a clue what it was actually about.

But around 50% of poor children come from two parent households.

I'm willing to be St John does actually know how to interpret statistics, so this is obfuscation. You see it a lot: "your theory doesn't explain 100% of instances of this, so the fact that it shows much higher incidence under particular circumstances is meaningless."

The left reject the limitations of traditional marriages where the woman is assumed to be dependent on the man.

We do. It's not obvious how that's relevant to your report, though.

What exactly does Lindsay Mitchell want here?

That really gets to the guts of her problem with this report. Social science academics are mostly interested in what the political agenda is. That's far more important than what the paper itself says or what evidence it provides - the main question is "What's the political agenda?", and any argument they present against someone else's research will be based on that, not what's actually in the research.

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Lindsay

There has been a lot of research in this space internationally, and it's great to see you bringing a New Zealand perspective.

I'm sure you are aware of Charles Murray's book "Coming Apart" that was written about the American experience, where the higher educated, higher socio economic classes lived in the same suburbs, married each others children, and tended to embrace the social capital handed down by their parents, even if they had (at least in part) rejected their religious roots.

On the other hand, those working in blue collar industries, lower socio economic suburbs had for the most part abandoned marriage, and lived more dissolute lives with all of the down stream consequences. Interestingly they had also abandoned religion in significantly greater numbers than than those living in the elite suburbs.

While there is no direct mapping into the NZ experience, there are parallels, and your report addresses them very succinctly.

Marriage in itself is no panacea but it is an institution that is embraced primarily by those with inherited social and/or religious capital. To that extent marriage is a social marker within any culture. The fact that we as a nation are abandoning marriage is therefore an indication that the centre is not holding, that we are ceasing to reproduce an environment that is ideal for raising children, and that we are (to put it bluntly) mainstreaming social dysfunction into the next and future generations.

These are the facts. What we do about it is an open question.

WWallace said...

I think you mean dual earners. :-)

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Indeed I do. Though marriage can be a bit of a duel at times:-)

Jim Rose said...

One of the oddities of the 21st-century left is if you are gay, your life is incomplete unless you can marry and have children. If you suggest others, in particular parents, have an incomplete life if they do not marry, you are some sort of throwback

Anonymous said...

Why do you expect anything at all of leftists?

If they understood economics, politics, philosophy or even primary school mathematics they wouldn't be leftists

That's why, ultimately, the most important role of the state is to protect us against leftism in all its forms.

Rufus said...

This is a classic - Susan suggests "It is best to accept the world the way it is, rather than make policy for the world the way family values ideologues think it ought to be".

Right. Perhaps she should have taken her own advice and not worked so hard to mess with society, the nuclear family, and marriage over the last 50 odd years.

The irony is strong in this one.

Anonymous said...

I heard Janet Wilson I think on ZB on the day of the report. She accused you of having an agenda and writing the report in a particular style to achieve your agenda. That's what she said as I interpreted it. Having read your blog for many years and love being challenged by your stats you present to your reader, I think she was projecting her own bias.
Your report is based on facts and stats. Facts and stats can be debated about how best to interprete them, but personal attacks only show that the person can't argue against them.

Well done and keep up the good work.

Brian Marshall.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Thanks Brian, She said that Bob McCoskrie made me write stuff I didn't believe. That I had been used and I should be angry about it. But Jock Anderson and Larry Williams both put her right saying I'd been talking about this kind of data for years. So I let it go.