Abstract

In this article I argue that public discussions of demographic issues are often conducted in a troubling pattern in which one extreme position is debated in relation to the opposite extreme. This pattern impedes our understanding of social problems and is a poor guide to sound public policies. To illustrate this thesis I use the case of social scientific research examining how children are affected by not living with two biological parents while they are growing up. Over the last decade, I maintain, most of the public, and even many social scientists, have been puzzled and poorly informed by this debate. In particular I consider Judith Wallerstein’s clinically based claims of the pervasive, profound harm caused by divorce and, at the other extreme, Judith Rich Harris s reading of behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology, which leads her to dismiss the direct effects of divorce. Neither extreme gives a clear picture of the consequences of growing up in a single-parent family or a stepfamily.

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