Department of kind of awful statistics

I should probably just shutter the blog and redirect it to Ta-Nehisi Coates, but he keeps coming up with neat stuff. This on black illegitimacy. The stunning statistic that 70% of black babies are born out of wedlock is driven, to be sure, by the fact that many poor black women have a lot of children. But it turns out it is also driven by the fact that married black women have fewer children than married white women.

Ta-Nehisi suggests a reason for this that makes sense to me:

I'm effectively--if not legally--married. Been with the mother of my eight year old son for ten years now. More on this later. (I promise!) But basically when he was born I felt that he was the bond between us. In other words, he literally was the marriage ring. We'd both love to have more kids, but we simply can't afford it. Furthermore, we don't have particularly wealthy parents to fall back on. I think that's the situation a lot of married black folks find themselves in. They simply feel that they can't have more kids.

It's well known that the black middle class has a lot less in the way of assets than whites of similar income levels--hardly surprising, given the legacy of generations of discrimination and poverty. But that also means that things that a lot of white middle class people take for granted--like help with a down-payment on a house when you have your first kid--are less available. Middle class black parents have less in the way of a parental safety net than their white equivalents, so they're less likely to have a second kid.

So even though the statistic is basically correct--as Ta-Nehisi says, "Even if married black parents had kids at the rate that white married parents did (or better yet, Hispanic parents), black babies would still make up a disproportionate share of kids borne out of wedlock"--it's still worth interrogating, because the picture is considerably more complex than is generally implied.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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