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Charles Murray on Class and Sexual Morality

 

I MISSED many stories last week, including this Wall Street Journal piece by Charles Murray, who points to the now familiar facts of class and family disintegration. He writes:

We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.

Murray’s solution to the explosion of divorce and illegitimacy among the less educated is for America’s elite to express disapproval of those who don’t raise their children in married homes. He never comes right out and says that the elite should vilify promiscuity, but that seems to be his point.

Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.

But his notion that there is a great American divide is problematic. America’s elite does not believe in sexual restraint. It does not believe in traditional sex roles any more than America’s working classes. The well-educated simply suffer less from the consequences of the cultural revolution. How could they possibly preach what they don’t themselves endorse? 

Texanne, who sent the article, writes:

Many can understand and agree with Murray:

“The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending “nonjudgmentalism.” Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.”

But given the hyper meritocratic nature of our culture, the issue is: how would one persuade the new upper class to do this? What is the incentive for the elite to take deliberate action to render themselves less elite by narrowing the gap? (It’s already pretty hard to “get good help” these days . . .)

Murray does note the rise of secularism. No coincidence, that.

                                                      — Comments —

Alissa writes:

But his notion that there is a great American divide is nonsense. America’s elite does not believe in sexual restraint. It does not believe in traditional sex roles any more than America’s working classes. The well-educated simply suffer less from the consequences of the cultural revolution. How could they possibly preach what they don’t themselves endorse? 

Spot-on. Forgive me but I am quite skeptical of all of these claims that college-educated women tend to have higher rates of families intact. In my observations college-educated women are perhaps some of the worst enablers and supporters of feminism. These claims normally strike me as suspicious and, dare say it, contradictory. It reminded me once of a study that championed the “low divorce rates” of a group of individuals when in reality the lower marriage rates led to the lower divorce rates (e.g. less marriage = less divorce). This entire business seems… fishy. I’m more apt to believe that neither the upper class nor the lower class frown on sexual liberation and that it is the middle class that does so to an extent.

Laura writes:

There are far fewer unexpected pregnancies among college-educated women and far fewer of these are brought to term. The class divide is real in that the less educated and less intelligent have much higher rates of illegitimacy, single parenthood and divorce. But they are operating upon the same principles that guide the affluent and those principles reduce marriage to a matter of personal fulfillment and sex roles to roles not vital duties.

Alissa writes:

There are far fewer unexpected pregnancies among college-educated women and far fewer of these are brought to term. 

My disagreement with Charles Murray is his erroneous line of thinking. These college-educated women do so, not because they frown on illegitimacy, but because they have been taught to eliminate their reproductive potential and to champion recreational sex. The typical attitude of the college-educated woman isn’t “Children have to be born inside marriage,” it’s “It’s better to not have children at all and if any only one or two.” Many college-educated women end up childless and never bear a child because they reject reproduction, not because they fear illegitimacy. They don’t fear the shame of having a out of wedlock birth. They have no shame.

[Laura writes: Yes. In fact, the class with the higher illegitimacy rate arguably is more pro-family not less. Many less intelligent women reject abortion altogether. They end up as single mothers who paradoxically believe in marriage.]

The class divide is real in that the less educated and less intelligent have much higher rates of illegitimacy, single parenthood and divorce.

Race is a prominent factor in this divide but various sources hardly target this aspect. If mentioned, it is only in passing.

A reader writes:

Murray’s solution: Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms.
 
He is deluded if he thinks that will turn things around. So long as there is financial incentive to have illegitimate children, there are people who will do so.
 
Art from Texas writes:

Alissa writes: “I’m more apt to believe that neither the upper class nor the lower class frown on sexual liberation and that it is the middle class that does so to an extent.”

And indeed a very limited extent.

Laura writes:

There is no stigma to premarital sex in the middle class. “Smart sex” means sex with contraception, not marital sex.

Lawrence Auster writes:

“But his notion that there is a great American divide is nonsense. America’s elite does not believe in sexual restraint. It does not believe in traditional sex roles any more than America’s working classes. The well-educated simply suffer less from the consequences of the cultural revolution. How could they possibly preach what they don’t themselves endorse?”

Your reply to Murray is (I think this is the first time I’ve ever used this overused expression in an Internet discussion, but the cliche is called for here) spot on. It’s remarkable that he thinks that the upper class believe in the sexual morality that he wants them to preach. I’m surprised. I’ve never seen him utter such an off-base statement.

Jesse Powell writes:

I have made the point before of rebutting the idea, put forth last week by Charles Murray, that “the upper class” is doing just fine in its family behaviors while “the lower class” is where all the problems are. It is indeed true that “the upper class” is doing better than “the lower class” but this is merely a class distinction; it does not indicate a cultural divide. The same overall culture has within it people who are “better off” and people who are “worse off” and not surprisingly the people who are “better off” are better off; their social indicators show fewer problems.

The key question is whether the “upper class” is maintaining its family cohesion while the “lower class” continues to deteriorate; if that was the case that would indeed indicate a real difference in culture between the two groups. When looking at the statistical evidence however both the upper class and the lower class continue to deteriorate.

To illustrate family deterioration among the white upper class below is a table showing the White Married Parents Ratio (White MPR) and the White Married Families Ratio (White MFR) in the top 0.1 percent of Census Tracts in California, Texas, and Florida from the 2000 and 2010 Census. The table shows deterioration in white upper class neighborhoods among whites even at the very, very top of the neighborhood distribution.

Definitions: “White” means non-Hispanic white alone. “Top 0.1%” means that 99.9 percent of white children lived in Census Tracts with lower White MPRs and lower White MFRs in the state. The White Married Parents Ratio is the proportion of white children who are “own children” that live with married parents. An “own child” is the biological or adopted or step-child of the householder. The White Married Families Ratio is the proportion of white families with ”own children” in which the parents of those children were married.

Top 0.1% Level of White Married Parents Ratio and White Married Families Ratio by Census Tract for the white child population; 2000 and 2010 Census

White MPR

White MFR

2000 2010 2000 2010
California 96.3% 95.0% 95.5% 94.1%
Texas 97.0% 95.7% 96.5% 94.7%
Florida 95.0% 92.6% 93.9% 91.8%

Ironically, the place in America that is the poorest is also the place with the highest level of intact families proving by example that poverty and family deterioration don’t necessarily go together. As the New York Times headline says “A Village With the Numbers, Not the Image, of the Poorest Place.”

“The poorest place in the United States is not a dusty Texas border town, a hollow in Appalachia, a remote Indian reservation or a blighted urban neighborhood. It has no slums or homeless people. No one who lives there is shabbily dressed or has to go hungry. Crime is virtually nonexistent.”

The New York Times article is about the village of Kiryas Joel, New York. Kiryas Joel is indeed the poorest place in America with over 10,000 people but it is made up of Ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews. According to the 2010 Census, the White Married Parents Ratio of Kiryas Joel was 98.9 percent and the White Married Families Ratio was 98.4 percent. In the 2000 Census these ratios were 98.0 percent and 97.5 percent respectively. The religiously oriented village of Kiryas Joel actually got better in its family formation from 2000 to 2010 while the rich white areas in the nation overall tended to get worse.

MJ writes:

I think there is a flaw in Jesse’s arguments. Kiryas Joel is 99+% Haredi Jewish so the religious belief/family formation basis of his statistics is correct. But this same city was the largest population-wise in the 2000 census list of 100 poorest cities in the U.S. The 2010 census figures are not yet available for economic and social characteristics. The 2010 census states 68+% of the population lies below the poverty threshold. The 2000 Census states 63+% of poverty level population receives some form of state/fed welfare aid–SSI, TANF, Medicaid, SNAP, etc. So I assume a large part of the reason for such fertility in the community is the income from welfare programs. A very curious statistic (income from accommodation/ food services-2010) was suppressed by the Census Bureau because such information would reveal ‘confidential information’?? I have my own guesses as to why!

Another curious statistic from the household statistics in 2000 census was that 50+% of married households were ‘married but separated’ defined as married but living apart. I found this is ‘social characteristics’ from 2000 census which are not yet available for 2010.

In doing my research, I found that the populated Haredi communities are pretty well self-segregated and all are poor communities with a large portion of the male population of working age deliberately unemployed because they are ‘Torah scholars’ in their communities until at least 35-40 years of age. Most of these communities are in the U.S. northeast in New York and New Jersey.
I can provide several references regarding ‘ultra-orthodoxy’ Jewish sects–primarily Haredi but also Hasid and Chasid sects. Hasid is considered the least poor of this group because a large portion of the men work in the diamond district in NYC.

I also found that ‘ultra-orthodox’ is now considered derogatory among these sect-members. And the ‘Modern Orthodox’ do not consider them as modern orthodoxy. The desired ‘politically correct’ classisfication is ‘ultra-traditional’ but hasn’t yet filtered to the ‘universal politically correct dictionary.’

Laura writes:

It is no secret that a significant number of Orthodox Jews in New Jersey receive welfare payments. The Wikipedia entry on Kiryas Joel states:

Women in Kiryas Joel usually stop working outside the home after the birth of a second child.[6] Most families have only one income and many children. The resulting poverty rate makes a disproportionate number of families in Kiryas Joel eligible for welfare benefits when compared to the rest of the county; and cost of welfare benefits is subsidized by taxes paid county-wide. The New York Times wrote,

Because of the sheer size of the families (the average household here has six people, but it is not uncommon for couples to have 8 or 10 children), and because a vast majority of households subsist on only one salary, 62 percent of the local families live below poverty level and rely heavily on public assistance [government welfare], which is another sore point among those who live in neighboring communities.[6]

The marital statistics MJ cites are disturbing. [See comments below which maintain that these statistics are incorrect.] Are couples living apart (or reporting that they live apart) to collect welfare? I would like to know more about those figures. According to Wikipedia, “There were 2,229 households [in 2000] out of which 79.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 93.2% were married couples living together, 1.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 4.1% were non-families.”

MJ writes:

A very curious statistic (income from accommodation/ food services-2010) was suppressed by the Census Bureau because such information would reveal ‘confidential information’???? I have my own guesses as to why!

I’m not sure what MJ is getting at. Is she suggesting that the reporting rules for Kiryas Joel are different from those elsewhere in America? I strongly doubt it.

MJ also writes:

So I assume a large part of the reason for such fertility in the community is the income from welfare programs.

Welfare payments make the large families of the Orthodox more affordable. But the idea that these sects would dispense with their beliefs regarding fertility if they did not have welfare is unproven and an unfair assumption. It is wrong for the Orthodox to rely on welfare, but then welfare is wrong in general. The federal government could, however, encourage family formation and fertility in other ways, for instance by increasing the child tax deduction which is now a small fraction of what it was in the 1950s. Jewish charities presumably would be more motivated if welfare didn’t exist.

Mr. Powell responds:

Quoting from the New York Times article about Kiryas Joel:

“Moreover, some families may be eligible for public benefits because they earn low salaries from the religious congregations and other nonprofit groups that run businesses and religious schools. Nearly half of the village’s residents with jobs work for the public or parochial schools.”

And the end of the article states:

“Mr. Szegedin, the village administrator, said critics tended to forget that state taxpayers were generally spared because thousands of village children are enrolled in religious schools. Nearby, the Monroe-Woodbury school district, with roughly the same school-age population, spends about $150 million annually, about one-third of which comes from the state. (Albany provides about $5 million of Kiryas Joel’s $16 million public school budget.)

‘You also have no drug-treatment programs, no juvenile delinquency program, we’re not clogging the court system with criminal cases, you’re not running programs for AIDS or teen pregnancy,’ he said. ‘I haven’t run the numbers, but I think it’s a wash.’”

My impression would be to agree with the sentiment that “it’s probably a wash,” that Kiryas Joel does not cost the taxpayer more per resident than the average community in America does.

MJ said “Another curious statistic from the household statistics in 2000 census was that 50+% of married households were ‘married but separated’ defined as married but living apart.” In response to this, Laura said, “The marital statistics MJ cites are disturbing. Are couples living apart (or reporting that they live apart) to collect welfare? I would like to know more about those figures.”

I think that MJ was confused in interpreting some data. Household data from the Census doesn’t usually include a category for “married but separated” at all. There is data for “Husband-wife” family and then the categories “Male householder, no wife present” and “Female householder, no husband present” but these alternative categories do not represent married couples that are separated, they merely mean a family with no spouse present. I think the origin of the confusion is that a “family” in Census terminology does not mean “married”; “family” in Census terminology is much more broad than only looking at married couples. Regardless of that though in Kiryas Joel the great majority of family households are headed by married couples anyways.

The below is some data from the 2010 Census regarding what is called “Household Type” (Definitions: “All Whites” means non-Hispanic white alone nationwide; “H/W Family” means Husband and Wife Family where both spouses are present):

H/W Family

Other Family

Non Family

Kiryas Joel 91.8% 1.7% 6.4%
All Whites 51.1% 13.2% 35.6%

The issue of how many married couples are separated can be found under marital status, not under data for households. If a married couple is separated then each married partner simply constitutes their own household.

The below is some data from the 2000 Census regarding marital status. (Definitions: “Married” means both spouses present; “Separated” means the woman is married but separated; “Cohabiting” refers to women living with men romantically but not married to them. The population under consideration is all women 15 years and older; women who are Never Married or Widowed are excluded. The categories “Married, Separated, and Divorced” add up to 100%. The quantity given for “Cohabiting” is expressed as a fraction of the “Married” category.)

Married

Separated

Divorced

Cohabiting

Kiryas Joel 99.6% 0.1% 0.3% 0.0%
All Whites 81.5% 2.3% 16.1% 6.9%

So, looking at the above table it is clear that MJ is totally wrong about separated but still married couples being common in Kiryas Joel; instead such circumstances are virtually unheard of within Kiryas Joel and are much more common in the general white population. Laura’s resulting speculation about Kiryas Joel’s residents lying about being separated in order to gain welfare benefits is therefore equally unfounded.

Something of interest not shown in the tables above is that “living in sin” appears to be completely unacceptable in the community of Kiryas Joel. There were zero co-habiting heterosexual couples in Kiryas Joel reported in the 2000 Census, by contrast there were 27 gay couples. The number of homosexual co-habiting couples as compared to married couples was about the same in Kiryas Joel as compared to for whites overall; about 1 homosexual couple for every 100 married couples. In Kiryas Joel however heterosexual cohabitation was completely absent while for whites overall heterosexual cohabitation was more than six times as common as homosexual cohabitation.

Next I want to address the issue of the work habits and welfare receipt of people in Kiryas Joel as compared to that of other populations. In the below tables I will look at the white population (non-Hispanic white alone) in Kiryas Joel, Lakewood, Naperville, and in the nation overall. I will include Lakewood to give two examples of Haredi Jewish communities. Naperville, Illinois is included to represent the kind of rich white community that Charles Murray argues is the ideal for the rest of society to emulate. I will also include the white population of the nation overall so that people will know what is “normal.”

The below table gives information on the work behavior of men and women and the median earnings of those men and women with earnings.

Definitions: “LFPR” means Labor Force Participation Rate; “Male LFPR” is the Male LFPR 25 to 54 years old; “Female LFPR” is the Female LFPR 25 to 54 years old; “W/chil LFPR” is the LFPR for women with children under the age of 18; “Med/M Earn.” is the Median Male Earnings among men who had earnings 16 and over; “Med/F Earn.” Is the Median Female Earnings among women who had earnings 16 and over. Earnings are given in 1999 dollars. One 1999 dollar is equivalent to $1.35 in 2011 dollars. Only people who are “white”; non-Hispanic white alone; are included.

Work Behavior and Median Earnings from the 2000 Census

Male LFPR

Female LFPR

W/chil LFPR

Med/M Earn.

Med/F Earn.

United States 89.7% 76.3% 71.7% 32,110 20,001
Naperville 96.1% 69.4% 59.3% 65,781 27,315
Lakewood 68.1% 59.4% 59.6% 22,854 12,374
Kiryas Joel 45.3% 12.0% 14.3% 16,020 8,276

The below table gives information on the income sources of Households from the 2000 Census.

Definitions: “Earn.” stands for Earnings, “SS” stands for Social Security, “PA” stands for Public Assistance. The “Avg.” column that follows after each category gives the average amount of income each household received from each source. The amounts given are in 1999 dollars. One 1999 dollar is equivalent to $1.35 in 2011 dollars. Only people who are “white”; non-Hispanic white alone; are included.

Income Sources for Households from the 2000 Census

Earn.

Avg.

SS

Avg.

PA

Avg.

United States 79.3% 60,178 28.4% 11,822 2.1% 2,761
Naperville 91.5% 103,488 13.6% 12,690 0.5% 2,165
Lakewood 78.6% 46,552 21.6% 11,180 7.1% 7,091
Kiryas Joel 82.9% 26,325 5.5% 9,321 11.8% 5,450

Looking at the above tables gives an interesting picture of what is going on in the Haredi Jewish communities I am holding up as an ideal. Regarding Kiryas Joel, their social indicators really are amazing, probably better or “more strict” than what prevailed as an average in the United States in 1900. It is true the proportion of women with children in Kiryas Joel who are working does seem higher than what would have been normal in 1900 so that is a negative but in terms of divorce and children with married parents and co-habitation Kiryas Joel holds up a very difficult standard to beat. On the other hand less than half of men 25 to 54 years old working seems pretty insane. That is an extraordinary effort towards learning the Torah and brushing up on God’s message for a virtuous life. One would assume that for so many men to be out of the labor force implies some kind of subsidy to the community from the outside. In 1900 in the United States one would expect 95% or more of men of prime working age to be in the labor force.

Sources: US Census Bureau, American FactFinder; 2010 SF1 100% Data: Tables P18, P18I; 2000 SF4 Sample Data: Tables QT-P18, QT-P24, PCT080, PCT136, PCT094, PCT098, PCT100, PCT103, PCT107, PCT109

 Laura writes:

Judging from these figures, the government is heavily subsidizing the non-remunerative activities of the men in Kiryas Joel. Less than 50 percent of the working age men are employed and the public assistance rate is quite high.

MJ writes:

This is the summary sheet that I used.  Click on upper right hand  for individual tables for Kiryas Joel–there you will find the demographic, social and economic groups.  Only the demographics are from 2010 census figures.  Social and economic categories are from 2006-2010 surveys and estimates.  The social characteristics from the 2010 census will not be released until Apr. 1, 2012.  The economic from 2010 census should be available by/before June 1, 2012.

I didn’t research nearly as thoroughly as Jesse, but some more ‘finely-tuned’ Census 2010 groupings are not yet published.  I found a number of statistics from demographics that did not seem to completely correlate to 2010 demographics.  For example; total population in demographics over 65 are less than 1% but 50+% are below poverty level and 400+ of over 65 people are non-citizens which probably means they don’t qualify for Social Security.  And not all SS recipients necessarily need to be over 65.  But since the social/economic groups are only estimates from 2006-2010 surveys, we’ll have to wait to have completed 2010  census groupings.  The social group is where I found ‘married but separated’ stats.  The economic group is where I found percentages of incomes less than $25,000 for households and individuals (males and females).  The economic group is also where I found income from different group sources, i.e. ‘accommodation and food serveces’ that is not reported because it ‘would reveal confidential information’–see footnote at bottom of summary.

A large number of the population is employed in the grouping of ‘health, education and social service’ and many of those in education may be employed in close-by public schools [Laura writes: I highly doubt they are working in local public schools. They are almost certainly working in Jewish schools.]  But Kiryas Joel has its own school district and there are no public schools in that district according to Census figures.  For those who are employed, the average commute time is 30.5 minutes so I assume that a large portion works outside the community.  But I did not look for the population that lives inside the city limits vs. those who live outside city limits.  The city has area of 1.1 sq. mi and the pop. density is 18,000+ per sq. mile so a large portion of the population lives inside the city limits.

Without putting a LOT more time in searching, I still maintain that part of the reason for so many children in some families is largely possible only because of welfare income whether it is from
“Jewish social service agencies” or governmental sources.

Laura writes:
 
Obviously public assistance makes it easier for the people of Kiryas Joel to have such large families. But even if you found that 95 percent of the people in Kiryas Joel relied exclusively on welfare and had ten children each, you could not prove that the fertility rate is dependent on welfare. That is pure conjecture and the implication of what you are saying is that the attitudes toward birth control and family among the Jews of Kiryas Joel are not principled.
Ella writes: 

I’ve just read some of the conversation about the ultra-Orthodox Jews in relation to Charles Murray’s ideas. I have probably had much more direct contact with Haredi Jews than most of your Christian readers.

(I should note, although many of MJ’s comments are correct, that ‘Hasid’ and ‘Chasid’ are just different anglicisations of the very same term, and Hasidism itself would not normally be called a sect – the various different Hasidic groups could be called sects, though. The Jews of Kiryas Joel are just as Hasidic as those who work in the diamond district, but they’re a different sect. Also, I strongly suspect that MJ has misread the marital data when reporting that 50+% of married households ‘married but separated’; I note that there is a category ‘married except separated’ – i.e. actually married and living together, and not counting the married-but-separated people.

Anyway, my main point is that I’m not sure why Jesse brought up the Haredi Jews at all. In the context of mainstream American life, they’re an outlier. Their patterns of life are simply far too different from even the most religious Christians that they can’t be used to generalize about religious/family/prosperity interdependence.

In Christianity, we have the concept of duties of state of life. A married Christian layman is expected to be the main breadwinner; the support of his family is a priority; there’s nothing wrong with working at materially remunerative labour; and having to take charity or welfare is somewhat shameful, and certainly to be avoided if at all possible. I recall an old manual I read once, which said that laymen owe God eight hours of work, and one hour of prayer every day, with four hours left for leisure; priests eight hours of work and four of prayer, leaving one for leisure, and religious eight hours of prayer, four hours of work, leaving one for leisure. (I may not be remembering this exactly accurately, but you get the idea.)

For Haredi Jewish men, the ideal is full-time prayer and religious study – as much or more than would be expected of a priest or monk, insofar as it is possible – and at the same time to raise large families of observant Haredi Jews.

In particular, they prioritise religious learning much higher than material prosperity. In fact, it is considered humiliating to be bad at Torah/Talmud but good with business; a man who has no head for Torah and Talmud but is good at money will probably pour money into his sons’ Jewish education and will dream of having scholarly sons and sons-in-law whom he can help support in the scholarly lifestyle.

In the opposite case, in such communities, it is perfectly respectable and even admirable to be a full-time scholar while most of your material sustenance comes from your wife working outside the home (as well as raising a large family) and charity – and if the government will give you benefits as well, fine!

I am absolutely certain that if government assistance was reduced or removed, they would still have as many children as possible and strive to spend as much time as possible learning Torah/Talmud. But equally, as long as there is government assistance on offer, I am certain that they will make the most of it.

Ella adds:

Also, I should have mentioned that the Hasidic Jews are a subset of the Haredi, not a different group (as MJ suggested).

Mr. Powell responds:

Ella said “Anyway, my main point is that I’m not sure why Jesse brought up the Haredi Jews at all. In the context of mainstream American life, they’re an outlier. Their patterns of life are simply far too different from even the most religious Christians that they can’t be used to generalize about religious/family/prosperity interdependence.”

The reason why I brought up the Haredi Jews is to contrast their already extremely good and improving family life compared to what the best of rich upper class but still secular white America has to offer.  Though upper class whites are definitely “better than average” in their family statistics (as one would expect from the “upper class”) there is still no comparison to the Haredi Jew enclaves.  The devout insular religious communities of the Haredi Jews do much better on family indicators than even the richest most successful secular whites.

Now, you say “In the context of mainstream American life, they’re an outlier.”  Well of course these communities are outliers, that is the whole point of bringing them up; if they weren’t outliers they wouldn’t be worth talking about.  The point is that the rich white communities are not outliers in their family statistics; they are merely better versions of the average.  That is the problem with Charles Murray’s hypothesis; that the model upper class communities he holds up as the ideal are actually still securely within the overall value system of American culture and so cannot provide a way out of the current cultural mess America is in.

You say, “Their patterns of life are simply far too different from even the most religious Christians that they can’t be used to generalize about religious/family/prosperity interdependence.”  First of all, I will point out that shunning birth control and advocating large families is indeed common in the Christian subculture; the most famous example of this being Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 kids.  More importantly though I can make some generalizations about the connection between religion, family functioning, and prosperity based on the example of the Haredi Jewish communities.  The Haredi Jews prove it is possible to practice and maintain a very conservative culture even within the boundaries of the United States in the year 2012.  The Haredi Jews prove that it doesn’t require a lot of money to have many children and maintain one’s family life intact.  The best of secular American culture is still declining and unable to maintain itself while an alternative culture based on religious practices is thriving.

Lastly you say, “In the opposite case, in such communities, it is perfectly respectable and even admirable to be a full-time scholar while most of your material sustenance comes from your wife working outside the home (as well as raising a large family) and charity – and if the government will give you benefits as well, fine!”

The claim that the Haredi Jews are perfectly okay with women working outside of the home to support the family while the men do nothing but study the Torah all day is not fair and not backed up by the statistics I found.  You’ll notice in the village of Kiryas Joel only 45% of the men of prime age worked but accompanying this an even lower 12% of the women worked.  When comparing the Haredi Jewish community of Lakewood to the Haredi Jewish community of Kiryas Joel one finds that more men work in Lakewood but at the same time much more women work in Lakewood.  The Kiryas Joel man is not abandoning his wife to work so that he can spend his time studying the Torah; the increased religious scholarship of the men instead in some way allows the women to focus on their family lives even more.

Ella writes: 

Thank you for your reply, Mr Powell. Perhaps I was confused about some of the original conversation and misunderstood your position, because I agree with a great deal of what you say here.
“The devout insular religious communities of the Haredi Jews do much better on family indicators than even the richest most successful secular whites.”
I absolutely agree. They also do much better than the devout family-oriented Catholics of my acquaintance – among my close friends, the largest families have 7 and 10 children, whereas the two Haredi families I know best have 11 and 12 children (and the mother of one of these families has a PhD and an academic career –now a professor emeritus, but still working). They also spend far more effort on their children’s religious education than any non-homeschooling Catholics I know. In particular, they would not dream of sending their sons to a school using full national curriculum, since that would take too much time away from religious studies, so the boys all go to private yeshivas with no state funding whatsoever. If only the most-committed 10% of Christians put in half as much effort in as the Haredi Jews do, we would be an unstoppable force in Western society.
My main purpose in mentioning the women working outside to the home was to stress that for Haredi Jewish men, praying and studying full-time is far more important than supporting his family, so to them it’s perfectly okay and not at all shameful for the material support of an able-bodied man’s family to come from his wife, charity and welfare. In this case I think it’s *good* that the Christian model of duties of states of life is different, and I’m sure that devout Christian families will normally have men in full-time remunerative work, and are capable of maintaining a large family on his income alone.
However, I would still say that you can’t necessarily generalise from Kiryas Joel even to other Hasidic or Haredi communities. The fact that Lakewood has a much higher percentage of women working outside the home than Kiryas Joel is no coincidence, because Lakewood is mainly Litvish and non-Hasidic, and Kiryas Joel is Satmar Hasidic. Satmar women typically drop out of formal education as soon as legally possible (and only have enough Jewish education to say their prayers and run a kosher home) and Satmar kosher rules are so strict that it takes considerably more time and effort to keep a kosher home than in most other Haredi groups, which is itself far more time-consuming than running a non-Jewish household. So it’s much more difficult for Satmar women to work outside the home, and I would guess that most who do are part-time and employed within the Satmar community. I am not sure that your description of “The Kiryas Joel man is not abandoning his wife to work so that he can spend his time studying the Torah; the increased religious scholarship of the men instead in some way allows the women to focus on their family lives even more,” is entirely accurate in the sense that you may be thinking. The women are busy making a kosher home: not necessarily spending a lot of time focussing on their children above and beyond the necessities, but rather checking the fruits and vegetables for bugs with a magnifying glass, making nearly everything from scratch because so few kosher foods (even canned goods!) are Satmar-approved, and deep-cleaning the kitchen yet again. She can’t even help her sons with their homework, because her seven-year-old is already studying subjects she was never taught.
Other Hasidic groups as well as non-Hasidic groups are much more likely to have educated women who can and do work outside the home. They are likely to be expected to contribute non-trivially to the family income, because the husband’s studying is a major priority and stay-at-home mothering simply is not.
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